Chapter 38 : A Star to Steer Her By
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‘You’re chartering a boat?’ Lily grinned at her brother. ‘That’s so cool.’
Albus couldn’t help but smile as he shouldered his new bag, packed with replacement clothes and gear. After Kythos he intended to keep his belongings close to hand, even if he couldn’t perfect internal enlargement charms like Rose’s. ‘You can’t tell anyone, Lily, you know that?’
‘Pfft. I was going to tell the Prophet. Sell my story, make some money on the side. Do you think maybe they’d let me be the Potter in the headlines if I did that?’
His fiddled with the bag strap to avoid meeting her gaze. ‘Yeah.’
‘Hey.’ She bounced over and swatted his hands away. ‘That was a joke. You can tell, because I was wearing my joking face.’
‘Sorry. I’m out of practice.’
‘And James is a great big smelly-face.’ Lily nodded sombrely, and he couldn’t help but crack an abashed smile in response. ‘I mean it. We’re fine, Al. Sure, we’re more fine knowing you haven’t been murdered by Nazis, but we’re okay.’
His expression tensed. ‘He said Mum and Dad have been - that Dad’s been running -’
‘That was then. They came here together, didn’t they? James is just guilty. When Phlegethon kicked off he had to be at home, ground zero to disaster. And sure, it was a bigger disaster than his tabloid-thrilling exploits, but I think it made him finally realise what happens to us affects Mum and Dad. I hurt Mum and Dad by being plagued, but it wasn’t my fault. You hurt Mum and Dad by being a heroic hero, then and now, but that’s important. Him? He hurt Mum and Dad because he and Frank had to go on a bender across Diagon Alley with every single Holyhead Harpy under twenty-five and get into fights. In Voldemort costumes.’
Albus remembered that. He remembered the saga of fuzzy photographs and increasingly outrageous details coming out, day after day and yet still not necessarily fictional. He remembered the renewed attention from the press; how shopping for his Hogwarts books for Sixth Year had been like running a gauntlet. He remembered his father making the abrupt decision to take them to Prague for the two weeks before the school year started, just to dodge the heat and drama.
James had called it, “an all right sort of night.”
That was ten months ago. Feels like another life.
‘I’m still not sure why the Harpies wanted to go with them when they were dressed like that.’ Albus made a face. ‘He said you were winding yourself up into a mix of hero-worship and fear.’
Lily tossed her head. ‘He’s jealous. I mean, he’s scared and he’s angry, but a small bit of him resents that his little brother is running around saving the world. We’ll never get out of Dad’s shadow. Even playing Quidditch, he’ll be in Mum’s shadow, and because Dad never had a Quidditch career, everyone’s convinced that he would have been better. But you? You stand a chance of being your own man.’
‘And all it’s taken has been being presumed dead.’ His shoulders slumped as he looked at his sister. Of course she could analyse James like this. Despite the four-year age gap, the two of them had always been closer. Even before he’d been Sorted into Slytherin, away from his whole family, it had been James and Lily around the home as the daring duo. Not him. There was a reason he and Rose had been so close before Hogwarts. They were the Sane Ones.
‘Yeah. Try to not do that again?’
Albus’ expression creased, and he pulled her to him in a tight hug. ‘You take care of everyone, okay? Especially yourself.’
‘Only if you promise to take care of especially yourself. Or I’m just going to have to shoulder the woes of the world.’ He would have argued with that, but there was a knock on the door and Lily pulled back, smile impish. ‘I’m proud of you, Al. And I believe in what you’re doing.’
She’d said that right before he had to stop the conversation on purpose, and he knew it. But it was too late, so he just gave her a look as he opened the door to see Rose. Her gaze flickered between them, and idly Albus wondered when his cousin had got so good at reading him, too. He was surrounded by astute Weasley women.
‘Sorry,’ said Rose. ‘But we’re down at the docks in twenty minutes. And I bet some of the others have gone.’ She paused. ‘That is, assuming you’re coming.’
‘No, this backpack’s for show,’ Albus said with a sigh.
‘You could have been going home.’
‘No,’ he said again. ‘I couldn’t.’
Rose gave a sad smile. ‘You any closer to figuring out why we’re still doing this?’
‘Other than, “I have to”? Nope.’
‘Good. Me neither.’
‘I’m glad,’ said Lily, ‘that you’re giving risking your necks on an international relic hunt serious consideration.’ She looked at Rose. ‘I thought Hugo was with you?’
‘He tried helping me pack.’ That was all the explanation Albus needed. He knew better than to interfere with Rose’s packing process. ‘He should be in the lobby.’
Lily rolled her eyes and led the way down the corridor. ‘And to think I worried your experiences would leave you forever changed.’
Albus squeezed Rose’s shoulder as they followed. He’d spotted her perturbed expression, and knew it well. It was the face she always wore when a family member made a crack about her being uptight - if he and her had always been the Sane Ones, everyone else had been the Funny Ones, and he’d made his peace with that a lot better than her.
‘So where are you staying over there?’ said Lily as the lift wound them down.
‘Not sure we should say,’ said Rose awkwardly.
‘And I don’t know, yet. Scorpius said he had a plan for that,’ said Albus.
Rose glanced at him, lips pursing. ‘He does. Do you think…’
Her voice trailed off, and Albus cocked his head. How much do you know? ‘Do I think what?’
They studied each other for a moment like poker players both clutching good hands, unsure if it was time for a showdown. In the end, Rose continued the bluff, tossing her hair over her shoulder. ‘D’you think he’s going to find somewhere else fancy in the Bahamas?’
I have no idea if that was you knowing that I know, or not knowing if I know and not wanting to tell too much. I’m also no longer sure what Im thinking. Albus sighed. ‘Probably.’
The doors swished open to let them into the lobby, and though the hotel was full of the hustle and bustle of late morning checkouts, it was impossible to miss the flash of red that was Hugo’s hair on the far side. He wasn’t alone, though - next to him, expansive gestures accompanying the story he was in full swing of retelling, was Scorpius.
Rose rolled her eyes. ‘Oh, no.’
‘…so, we’re being shot at.’ They could hear Scorpius before they got there. ‘We’re about twenty floors up. And my broom’s just had its head blown off. There was only one option.’
‘You jumped,’ said Hugo.
Scorpius looked put-out at the anticipation of his story. ‘“Jumped” would imply a free-fall. I flew us, both of us, on a broken broom, through a broken window, with dissipating magic, away from casino security and to the ground.’
Albus couldn’t help but grin as they sauntered up, and Rose gave another eye-roll. ‘It was a crash,’ she said.
‘A controlled crash,’ said Scorpius, waggling a finger at her. ‘That’s a technical term, you know. It means I did something technical. And cool.’
‘I heard about that,’ said Lily. ‘It did sound pretty badass.’
‘Thank you, Ultima Potter. In the littlest of Potters do I find the greatest of allies.’
‘What does that make me? Chopped liver?’ Albus raised an eyebrow.
‘Think carefully on if you want our little siblings as your allies now, or Al and I as your allies for the coming weeks together,’ said Rose, arch but amused.
‘And if you want anything from Rose, ever again,’ muttered Lily. ‘If you know what I mean.’
Both Albus and Hugo looked pained. ‘I didn’t need to think about that,’ they said in unison as Rose went pink.
‘Hugo. Lily. Could we meet you two at the boat? I need to have a word with the guys before we set off,’ she said, and indulged Hugo’s good-natured grumbling as the younger members of the family left. But she kept her fixed smile intact until they were out the door, then she reached into her bag and pulled out a folder. ‘This is everything the Parisian government was prepared to give us on Lisa Delacroix.’
Albus winced, but took the file. ‘I… yeah.’
‘She does, apparently, check out. Lillian did the investigating, and Mum seemed satisfied with what she found,’ said Rose. Then she shifted her feet. ‘What - okay. I know this is the thing we don’t talk about. But what happened to her at Ager Sanguinis?’
He scratched his nose. ‘I’m not sure,’ he admitted at length. ‘I do know that she’s… that she’s got a dangerous past. A bad past, and that she’s done things she’s not proud of. Fought. Killed. But that was before she went to work for the government. She says she’s changed, that she wants to do better, and I believe her.’
Scorpius shifted his weight. ‘I want to believe her, too, mate. And she saved our arses from Thane, I saw that plain as day. But the more we learn about her, the more crazy her history seems.’
‘Maybe. But Thane hurt her; hurt her badly. And she’s never done anything wrong by us, and if her credentials check out then she’s spent the last few years working legitimately for a French security service - if they think she’s a cleared and acceptable professional, why shouldn’t we?’ Albus thinned his lips. ‘Stop looking at me like that. I can separate personal and professional.’
‘I was - I don’t disagree with you, mate.’
Albus looked at Rose, who had turned more pink. ‘What?’
‘I -’ She closed her eyes. ‘You know how you asked me to check her out with Legilimency? And I said that would be a horrible thing to do, a violation of her privacy and trust?’ Silence fell, neither answer nor explanation needed, and Albus tried to fight the twisting in his gut as realisation sank in.
I did ask you to do that. And I don’t know if I was wrong to ask you. But I know you were right to say no.
Rose had begun to examine a wall hanging as if it was the most exciting thing in the lobby. ‘She checked out,’ she said at length. ‘She has no love for Thane’s people. She trusts you, she has faith in you.’ Another hesitation. ‘And she knows it happened and was oddly okay with it.’
Scorpius gave a long, low sigh. ‘Bugger this life, honestly. There’s nothing about this that doesn’t stink.’
She bit her lip. ‘Yeah.’
Albus grimaced. ‘What’s done is done. But then I think we need to agree that this is the end of it. Rose has checked her out. Lillian Rourke has checked her story. We’ve seen her fight with us, and we know she’s got our backs. She’s with us. She’s one of us. Is that agreed?’
‘Agreed,’ said Scorpius.
Rose just gave an unhappy nod, and Scorpius reached for her hand - only for her to yank it back, and then look mortified. ‘I don’t - sorry. I agree.’ She looked away from his hurt gaze to the doors. ‘We should get to the boat. Get to the others.’
Scorpius drew his hand back, gaze flickering. ‘If they’re there.’
‘They’ll be there.’ Albus sighed, turning away from them. He wasn’t unsympathetic, but now was not the time to get into another Scorpius and Rose bicker, and his head was swimming with the revelations of the last few moments. ‘Even if they don’t know why.’
You couldn’t come up with a good reason. But you’re here anyway.
Somehow, she’d got through the last twenty-four hours without her cover getting blown and winding up in prison. Lisa still wasn’t sure how this had happened.
She’d tried to not panic through their arrest and incarceration. She didn’t think that any of the Council wizards who’d been taken prisoner were Thane’s band, were people who knew of her mission. But Santiago could have taken a Legilimens to her if he’d been of a mind to, maybe even with Veritaserum. It was one thing for her to be able to deflect a light, surface read from Rose. There was no way she would be able to Occlumens a professional-level Legilimens working for the Portuguese Auror Department in controlled circumstances.
It would have all been over.
But then Hermione Granger and Lillian Rourke had arrived and confirmed the other five were who they said they were, and she’d been freed with them. Trusted alongside them. Sat face to face with two of the most powerful people in Britain, two of the most powerful people in the world and two of the Council of Thorns’ greatest adversaries - and been listened to. Briefed by them, even.
Why shouldn’t she be? She’d helped their children out in their time of greatest need. Warned them about the attack on Kythos, fought through Syria, and then, yesterday, she’d been front-and-centre battling against the Council of Thorns. Thrown herself into the combat whole-heartedly, was the reason why Raskoph’s ritual had been disrupted, really, because there was no way that Matt and Selena could take down those wizards. She’d fought like she meant it.
And she’d done it without thinking. Even against Thane.
If they suspected her, they would have thrown her into a cell and shaken her until the answers came out. That she made it to the chartered magical boat winding its way across the Atlantic to the Caribbean meant she had succeeded in the most integral part of her mission. She was accepted. She was trusted.
It was not as reassuring as Lisa had thought it would be.
She’d stayed out of the way for most of the family reunions and discussions. It was the best for her cover, and the best for her sanity. But it had been unavoidable at the farewells on the waterfront, where Harry Potter had shaken her hand, where she’d had thanks from the families of the people she meant to infiltrate and betray. The most upsetting of all had been when Lillian Rourke, Chairman of the International Magical Convocation, had come up to her and pulled her into a tight hug, right before they’d left.
‘They’re just children,’ Lillian had whispered to her in perfect Arabic. ‘Make sure they don’t get hurt. Not for the fate of the world. But for me. Please.’ She’d pulled back, and when she did, there was something glinting in her eye. ‘It’ll be worth it.’
At least she still thinks I’m mercenary, even if she thinks I’m a trustworthy mercenary. For some reason it was comforting. If she was coming across as too altruistic, she would have started to panic. She met Lillian’s gaze. ‘I’m not here for the money, Chairman Rourke. They’ll be safe.’
‘They won’t be safe,’ said Lillian. ‘I just want them unharmed.’
‘Then I’ll make sure of that, too.’
Their boat had the look of an old wooden sailing ship, tall-masted but small for a trans-Atlantic journey by Muggle standards. The sail was raised even when it was moored, and Lisa suspected that its purpose was magical rather than mundane. Hermione Granger had sighed when she’d seen it, gaze going nostalgic. ‘Reminds me of the Durmstrang ship,’ she’d told her husband and friends.
The moment Lisa could get on board she’d gone to find a cabin and skipped the rest of the farewells. She’d stayed down there, in the gloomy, wooden room until she’d felt the ship begin to rock underfoot, and by the time she’d got back up on deck, they were underway. The Portuguese shore was disappearing rapidly in the background.
‘Does this thing need… I don’t know. Sailing?’ Albus was saying, looking about the deck.
‘It’s magical,’ said Scorpius with a smirk. ‘It’ll take us anywhere we want in the Caribbean. Got it booked for a fortnight, and I can extend that if needs be, no problem.’
‘Oh, good.’ Matt looked around the ship, expression easing. ‘I think we want to investigate San Salvador, but I haven’t finished going through all of de Sablé’s notes. I should have by the time we get there, but we might want to hop around a few islands. We could be spending a lot of time on the sea.’ He snorted, and when he spoke again, it sounded like he was reciting something. ‘I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and sky -’
‘And all I ask for is a tall ship, and a star to steer her by,’ Rose finished automatically.
Lisa rolled her eyes as the two exchanged an awkward glance and Scorpius glared. They had been through so much, and yet so little changed sometimes. ‘If we’ve got a galley, and if we’ve got supplies, and if we’re still going to be a few days at this, I’m going to get some reading done. I still have sections of de Sablé’s notes to translate.’
With that, she bowed out of the situation and returned to her gloomy cabin. She’d thought that working on de Sablé’s notes from Ager Sanguinis would be tiresome work, but the difficulty of the older forms of language and the effort of the translations were made up for by the content itself.
She’d never known anything about Veils. She hadn’t even been aware of them as a form of magic before Ager Sanguinis, but de Sablé had studied his extensively for the better part of a century. It had been built to bind the necromancy inherent in the area after the battle, and the applications of necromancy were something she did have some grasp of, after working with Thane on the build-up to the Hogwarts mission.
When she eventually broke out of the stupor of study, it was dark. With a groan, Lisa rubbed her neck and decided she’d stretch her legs, find a drink in the galley. The ship creaked, the timbers groaning with every rise and fall on the waves, and the deck rocked under her, leaving her glad she wasn’t one to feel nauseous in travel. She wasn’t sure how the ship moved itself, but it obviously wasn’t from the wind. The sail was still when she came up on deck, and yet she was sure they were moving, was sure she could hear waves rushing against the bow. It was a clear night, the stars dazzling and countless above, their light falling on deck.
And by moonlight she could see the only other figure on deck. Selena Rourke stood in the most wide, open space she could find, wand in hand, and Lisa paused by the doorway to watch the younger girl work her way through stances, combat moves, drills. She pursed her lips, silent for long moments, and when she broke the silence it was to give a clap that might as well have been a gunshot.
Selena spun on the spot, wand levelled, and Lisa suppressed a smile and said, ‘Don’t move.’
Lisa padded forward and nudged Selena’s right foot back to where it had been. ‘I said, don’t move.’ Gaze critical, she looked her up and down. ‘Straighten your shoulders. You stoop, like you’re ready to duck. Magic flows through your body; you want a strong spine. Just because you don’t need to speak spells doesn’t mean you don’t need to breathe them.’
‘Doesn’t that make me a better target?’
‘Yes. Which is why you need to twist your body sideways.’ Lisa reached out to reposition her accordingly. ‘There. You sacrifice none of your strength, but you present a narrower profile.’
‘Albus didn’t teach a stance like this.’
‘Albus is bigger and stronger, and so his magic flows differently. He puts physical force behind his spells, behind his wand movements. That works for him, but it won’t work for you. You need… finesse.’ Lisa grasped Selena’s wrist, adjusting the position of her arm. ‘Precision. Flow.’
Selena’s frown remained as she settled into the new stance. ‘That does feel better.’
‘Good. You’ve got good instincts. You did well yesterday.’
Selena work her jaw wordlessly, and Lisa squinted. She wasn’t used to seeing her stumped like that. ‘…teach me?’
‘You know how to fight. Really fight. Albus uses brute force, Rose uses technical magics; you fight much more like me, and you’re the best one of us anyway, and -’
‘I said you did well yesterday -’
‘But “well” isn’t going to cut it against Thane and Raskoph, is it.’
Lisa bit her lip. ‘Prometheus Thane is one of the most powerful fighters in the world. Colonel Raskoph has a century of experience; he was one of Grindelwald’s ranking officers.’
‘I know I’m never going to be as good as them -’
‘You might do well enough, don’t get me wrong. You don’t have the most natural flair I’ve ever seen, but you’re not useless -’
‘Yes, I am.’ Selena lowered her wand, exasperated. ‘You were there the other day. Matt’s reading meant he knew how to destroy the dragon. Albus battled a bunch of Council wizards from a broom. Scorpius flew distraction on a dragon and then went toe-to-toe with Prometheus Thane. Rose stopped a building from exploding on people. And you broke Raskoph’s team and drove off both him and Thane. What did I do?’
This wasn’t the sort of outburst Lisa had come to expect from Selena Rourke. But she was starting to see the fire behind the girl’s grief, see how she read and understood people, which was enough to make her dangerous. And Lisa hadn’t expected her own reaction, either, because it was sudden and it was real. She felt sorry for her. She wanted to help her.
This is going very badly.
She lifted a hand. ‘I’ve been in enough fights that I never underestimate the importance of solid backup. You’re not wrong, but you’re not right, either. Someone to watch my back, notice the things I don’t, cast extra shields and give my spells extra juice, can absolutely make the difference between life and death.’ Lisa narrowed her eyes, assessing. ‘And that’s what you want, isn’t it? To make that difference. To make sure nobody else dies.’
Selena jerked her chin up half an inch. ‘How about we have this deal,’ she said, ‘where you don’t ask me too many questions, and in return I don’t ask you too many questions.’
Ouch. Lisa tried to keep her face studied. ‘Deal.’
‘Then I’ll make this question short and sharp; be honest, but just “yes” or “no” will do: If you had the choice, would you take me on a job as backup?’
Now Lisa flinched. ‘No. But I can change that. If you do want to learn.’
‘I asked, after all. And we have a few days without much to do.’
‘I can’t turn you into a master with a wand in a few days. I can perfect your fundamentals. But it’ll be hard work, and long hours.’
‘Good,’ Selena said, then broke into a mutter. ‘Keeps me away from Matt.’
‘Why do you want to stay away from Matt?’
‘You’re not very good at this “no questions” deal, are you?’
Lisa rolled her eyes. But Selena was right, if only because she’d rather work than find out what torrid incidents were breaking out across the ship. And if Selena wanted to dodge them for the next few days, she was all-too happy to join her.
They stayed there for hours, until the night was no longer young and the ship below was silent, until they were both worn and tired from drills and routines and practice. Selena was not the most natural with a wand that Lisa had ever seen, but she was determined and she had the fundamentals down, and the world was not so kind that only talented fighters had to defend themselves. She would never go toe-to-toe with a master, but she might live. And that was what it was all about.
I’m here to betray you. But you need to live long enough for it to be worth it. Or that was what she told herself when they said their good nights and Lisa headed below decks, satisfyingly weary. She found her cabin, cracked the door open - then there was a creak of wood from behind, and she spun to see the opposite door open.
Albus stood there, brow furrowed. ‘You’re back. I didn’t want to interrupt you up top.’
I didn’t notice you watching us, she cursed herself, and forced her breathing to slow. ‘What? It’s late.’
‘I know. I’m sorry. This can wait.’
She exhaled. ‘No. Let’s talk.’ But she gestured to his room, because she always preferred to have the option to leave if she needed to, instead of having to shoo him if the conversation went poorly.
What are you expecting this conversation to do? she asked herself, lips thinning. But there was no time to contemplate this question, and she followed him into cabin. The rooms were small but comfortable, and he’d lit the lanterns which cast the wood panelling in a warm, cosy glow. He stood in the middle of the room for a moment, then crossed to the writing desk and picked up a manilla folder.
‘We got this from Lillian Rourke,’ he said, and gave it to her.
Heart in her throat, Lisa flipped it open to see a picture of her, and for a split second she thought everything was over. Then she realised this would be the dumbest confrontation in history, and spotted the name at the head of the paper: Lisa Delacroix. Not Eva Saida. It was the falsified records of Lisa Delacroix’s altered background that Prometheus had promised they would arrange for her, painting her as a bodyguard rather than academic aide. Somewhere, the real Lisa Delacroix’s records were burning. It was just as well she really had been a nobody of an assistant. There wasn’t much to hide.
And Thane probably did something to her family so they didn’t ask too many -
Her mind sheared away from that thought before she could finish it. Now was not the time. She looked up from the folder to quirk an eyebrow at Albus. ‘This is me, yes.’
‘I haven’t read it,’ he said, and shook his head when she went to hand it back. ‘I’m not going to. I know that’s a bit of a stupid move, considering - considering Rose has read it, considering Lillian and Hermione have gone through it. It’s a bit like closing the gate after the horse has bolted, so far as trust goes.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘I’m sorry,’ he said, squaring his shoulders. ‘I’m sorry for having people check up on your background. I’m sorry about - I’m sorry for having Rose use Legilimency on you. And I’m sorry I did that in the most cowardly way, implying I wanted her to do it but not outright telling her, so I could tell myself it was her choice.’
‘I’m pretty sure that was her choice,’ Lisa pointed out. ‘Rose wouldn’t do it if she didn’t agree with it.’
‘Maybe.’ Albus shoved his hands in his pockets. ‘But I’m good at making people do what I want them to do, think what I want them to think. I know they listen to me. I know they trust me. And I know I am trying to be worthy of that trust, worthy of that respect, and trying to be a good guy. And I failed with you, didn’t I?’
‘Al…’ She’d never called him that before, and Lisa looked away, throat tightening. ‘I obfuscated a good chunk of my history. Because I thought you’d hate me. You found out about it in the worst of ways, and you didn’t just continue to listen to me, you saved me. In Ager Sanguinis, you saved me when you had every reason to think that I was getting what I deserved, or that I was at least not someone you wanted to keep on this operation. You would have been an idiot to not have Rose check me out, to not have your contacts run a background check on me.’
‘I didn’t ask them directly -’
‘No, people just did it for you because these things need to be done, and we…’ Her shoulders slumped and she looked at him. ‘…want to do what needs to be done, for you, without making you shove your hand in the fire yourself. Because you’re too good to burn.’
‘If it needs doing,’ said Albus, voice low, ‘then I shouldn’t shy from doing it myself. I did. It’s right or it’s wrong - it’s not made better because I don’t do it.’
‘Then this is my fault. I put you in this situation, this situation where you were mad to trust me, and yet all sensible options were a violation of the trust you wanted to - this is ridiculous.’ She took a step towards him. ‘You did what you had to in order to keep this team safe. That’s important. Not some self-imposed sense of obligation to me. You don’t owe me anything.’
He looked at her, gaze gently bewildered. ‘I don’t try to be decent to people because they’re owed it.’
Lisa sighed. ‘You really are too good to be true, aren’t you. I don’t blame you for what you did, I don’t even disapprove of what you did. But if you feel you have wronged me in some way, then I forgive you.’ How the hell do I get to forgive him? How does that make any kind of sense?
His expression softened. ‘Thank you. I wish - I suppose I wish I’d done one or the other. Trusted you or not trusted you. Not hovered in between.’
‘That’s my fault for not being the easiest person to trust.’
‘But I trust you now.’ He lifted his gaze, the light of the lanterns making his eyes a warmer shade of green. ‘Yesterday - you had Matt and Selena’s backs. You had my back - you saved Scorpius and me from Thane. I’ve never seen a fight like that, not ever, you were - you were incredible.’
She closed her eyes. It was one thing to back up Matt and Selena against Raskoph. It was arguably doing her job, and she’d never had any personal loyalty to Raskoph. Roughing him up a bit was the least she could do after he’d tried to have her killed as collateral on Kythos. But fighting Thane…
She’d never thrown a spell at him in earnest before. But that hadn’t been a ploy; she’d acted without thinking, and every inch of determination she could muster had been in the movements of her wand, the incantations in her head. Driving him back had come as natural as breathing, and the only reason it hadn’t turned deadly was because she knew him too well. She knew she could make it more trouble than it was worth to stand and fight, and so he’d fled. Prometheus Thane was so successful because he knew when to fight another day.
On the one hand, she was supposed to be fighting alongside the Hogwarts Five, earning their trust. On the other, Thane wouldn’t have stayed there idly. He’d had a purpose, an intent, or he would have left after the crash. She knew he didn’t want to make a move against Scorpius, wasn’t sure where his family stood in regards to the Council, but there could be no such uncertainty about Albus Potter. It would have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat for the Council, if the dust had settled and the world had discovered that while they didn’t gain a dragon-golem weapon, they did murder Harry Potter’s son.
She’d feared this unconsciously, and so she’d acted unconsciously. And she’d stopped him. For the first time in her life, she’d opposed him.
‘I’m on the team,’ Lisa said instead, voice low. ‘It’s what I’m here for.’
‘We’ve all got our reasons to be here. And I know your reason, I know you want revenge.’ Albus watched her. ‘It doesn’t have to just be that.’
‘I don’t get fluffy feelings from stopping the Council. I’ll settle for satisfaction in ruining them.’
‘And when this is over?’ He took a step closer. ‘What do you do then?’
Destroy you. She looked up to meet his gaze. ‘I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.’
His expression flickered. ‘It’s worth some thought now. We’ve got the time.’
‘When this is over, Al, at best I will go to work. And my work will, maybe, do something good to redress the balance, to right the wrongs I’ve done. It’s not much, it’s not exciting, but it’s using my talents to keep people safe.’ The lies felt sour in her mouth for once, so she pressed on to find some kernel of truth, if only for her own sanity. ‘People like me don’t swan off to get happily ever afters. Good endings are when everyone gets what they deserve. If we get a good ending, I’m dead or in a cell.’
‘I don’t believe that. You’ve changed, Lisa. You might have brought what happened at Ager Sanguinis down on your head, but you’re not the person who did those deeds any more.’ Albus reached out - and, as ever, she shied back.
Don’t touch me. She always hated being touched. But this felt different; he wasn’t triggering the fight-or-flight instincts, that sense of being attacked. He wasn’t a threat, he was warmth, but she had to pull away from that, too. She was so cold she knew he’d burn her. ‘I will help you,’ she said, and couldn’t fight the shake in her voice. ‘I will work with you to find the Chalice, to thwart the Council. For revenge, and for you. But don’t think that makes everything better. You don’t undo that kind of darkness.’
Then she left, and silently she cursed the English language for making the ‘you’ ambiguous. She’d meant them all, when she’d started the sentence. The whole of the Five.
For you. Which ‘you’? Them? Him?
She bolted the door of her cabin when she was back inside, and flashed her wand around with a charm to sound-proof it. She couldn’t risk being overheard, but she had to do something she should have done a long time ago. Hand shaking, Lisa reached to the chain about her neck and flipped the two-way mirror open. ‘…talk to me, Prometheus.’
Long moments thudded out in silence until there was the flash of a piercing blue eye. ‘I was wondering when you’d grace me with your presence, Eva.’
Eva. The name made her flinch. ‘I’ve not been free to talk. Also, you’ve been working for Raskoph, who was perfectly happy to kill me in Kythos -’
‘And I warned you.’
‘Which I’m grateful for, but you don’t have control over him, Prometheus. I don’t need to be in touch with you all the time to stick to the plan. If I give you information, either you can’t do anything about it, or you can and then I get Raskoph coming to kill us. Which screws with the plan. So continued contact has been pointless at best, dangerous at worst.’
A long silence. Then, ‘It would have been agreeable to know if you were still alive, or if you were compromised. Or if the lot of you had got yourselves killed.’
Agreeable. I’m warm and fuzzy inside. ‘I’m telling you now.’
‘After you’ve had no choice.’ He paused. ‘Raskoph’s furious about Tomar. That golem would have been an astonishing weapon in the hands of the Council.’
‘I see they’ve abandoned subtlety. I take it he’s blaming me.’
‘He’s got a lot of blame to go around; he’s generous like that. But, yes. I’ve had to remind him and assure him that you are loyal, that you’re keeping to your cover, and that the plan will pay off. He doesn’t like it; I know he’d kill you with the Five if he had the chance, but if you pull this off you’ll be all right.’
‘So if I survive my boss trying to kill me, he might forgive me for defending myself. Super.’ Lisa’s jaw tightened. ‘This is insane, Prometheus. He’s insane. The Council is insane if they wanted this damned golem - and what are they even doing with Ager Sanguinis?’
He faltered. ‘What do you know about -’
‘Spinks didn’t fall off a high place, we killed him. We were there, we saw the Veil, we saw the dark magic - what the hell is going on?’
‘The Council is investigating various places of necromantic magic for - you don’t need to know this. You shouldn’t know more than you do. And there might be factions in the Council with more melodramatic intentions, but that’s not all of the Council. There are calmer groups, and those are the ones I’m working for, working with. Something more sane than “let’s seep the world in death-magic and commandeer a golem-dragon.”’
‘Really. Where are they? Because so far all I’ve seen is you taking your marching orders from Raskoph.’
There was a flicker in his eye, something she hadn’t seen before. ‘You got in my way yesterday,’ he said at last, voice low.
‘I was protecting my team. It’s made them trust me fully.’ As fully as they can.
‘I was going to kill Albus Potter. You don’t need all of the Five to get the Chalice.’
Her throat tightened. ‘We need him.’
Prometheus was silent for a few long moments. ‘You’re sounding unsure of your place in this.’
‘I trust you, Prometheus. And I trust this plan; this is a good plan. The Five have a good chance of finding the Chalice. They’re intelligent, they’re resourceful, and they’re determined.’
‘They’ve gone up in your estimation.’
‘I’ve spent more time with them and seen what they can survive. They can get the Chalice, and I can get you the Chalice. But I don’t trust that you can keep Raskoph off my back, the mad elements of the Council off my back.’
‘I’ll do what I can. Where are you?’
‘That’s exactly the point; I can’t tell you.’ Her lips thinned. ‘I will report back to you when I have the Chalice, and hand it over to you. Other than that, I see no reason for us to stay in touch. If I give you leads, it’ll expose me at best, or get me killed at worst. I work for you, Prometheus. I didn’t get into this to die for you. I’ll use the drop points to keep in contact, the old methods. Not this damned trinket. It’s too risky for me to keep.’
Prometheus’ voice went icy. ‘Then how do I get in touch with you?’
She met his cold gaze without hesitation. ‘You don’t.’ The mirror was closed without another word.
You don’t go back from this.
I don’t even know what ‘this’ is. The plan hasn’t changed.
Lisa stood for a long time in the dark of her cabin, alone, the locket in her hand. Then she walked to the window, pulled it open, and hurled the trinket into the ocean.
She felt lighter.
A/N: Matt and Rose quote, between them, the first two lines of John Masefield ’s ‘Sea Fever’ in this chapter.
The ‘lore’ on stances for wand combat, body types working best in different styles, so forth, is utterly made up.
I won't lie, I'd hoped to be making better writing progress. Being housebound isn't good for my creativity; I do my best planning when I'm travelling (walking or driving, my mind drifts). Starfall is still progressing and I'm getting up to writing the penultimate arc, and I still have a buffer. I'm cracking on, the going is just tough right now.
On the plus side, I have achieved 'can hobble short distances without crutches'. So, maybe getting out the house soon.
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