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Starfall by Slide
Chapter 40 : The Gleaming
 
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The Gleaming


Astoria Malfoy, née Astoria Greengrass, did not look much like her son. His poise was his father’s, the golden hair was his father’s, even his eyes were mostly his father’s, if bluer and brighter. Though Scorpius had once bragged that he’d had the best of both worlds, there; the golden locks of the Malfoy family, with none of the risk of a receding hairline before he was forty. That was the way of it, Rose agreed as she regarded them both. Scorpius was the perfect picture of a scion of the Malfoy lineage, but his mother had softened the edges. Added the faintest roundness to his face which made it chiselled rather than pointed. Added the smiles which he would never have learnt from Draco.

They were good smiles, Astoria’s smiles. They were warm and welcoming, and jovial while making it clear she didn’t take herself too seriously. It was easy to see how a man could fall in love with her, and Rose was left reflecting that perhaps there had been some softness in Draco Malfoy if he could love a woman’s smile.

It made her wonder how much colder he’d become when he lost her.

‘Of course you can stay for as long as you like,’ Astoria was saying as she waved a hand for tall, cool glasses of juice to hover from the kitchen into the sitting room. Floor-to-ceiling windows gave a view of the ocean, made all the more dazzling by the sun that reflected off the waters and streamed into the house. ‘I always told Scorp he was welcome to stop by any time.’

‘I would have sent word ahead, Mum. But it’s - I mean, you can’t tell people we’re here. It’s awkward, I know, and I’m sorry.’

‘I’ve had the chance to see you again after thinking I’d lost you forever.’ Astoria put a hand on his arm. ‘I think the least I can do is keep a little secret.’

‘We’re much obliged, Mrs Malfoy,’ said Albus, and then looked horrified with himself for having not checked what to call her.

She flinched. ‘Call me Astoria. It’s quite all right, Albus.’

‘I mean…’ Albus winced. ‘We really do need this to be kept private. This isn’t a holiday.’

‘I know. I read the papers. Though we’ve not really had much, or anything, of this Council of Thorns out here; it’s been very peaceful. I don’t know what they might be up to that would draw your attention.’

‘Don’t worry about it, Mum.’ Scorpius smiled. ‘We shouldn’t be more than a week, maybe two; we won’t be underfoot for long.’

‘Nonsense. You can stay as long as you like.’ Astoria swatted his arm affectionately, then swept to her feet. ‘But I’ll sort out some space for you. There are more than enough guest rooms, and with how big this place is, nobody’s going to be in the way.’

Then she left, and Rose took advantage of her departure to seek Albus’ gaze. They made eye-contact for only a moment, but it was enough for her to know they were thinking much the same thing. He leaned back on the sofa once she was gone, and cleared his throat. ‘This makes a good base of operations while we’re out here. The ship was a little cramped.’

‘It would suffice,’ Lisa pointed out. ‘Do we want to put our location in the hands of someone else?’

‘She’s my mother,’ said Scorpius. ‘We can trust her.’

Lisa’s expression suggested she thought family ties didn’t count for matters of operational security, but she said nothing, much to Rose’s relief. Even if she struggled to disagree. ‘Where do we start, then?’ Rose asked instead, and looked at Matt.

He reached into his pocket to pull out the papers from de Sablé. ‘San Salvador, like I said. It’s the first place Columbus made landfall when he found the New World, but of course, the Templar wizards were out here before then. De Sablé said Columbus went there specifically because his Templar navigators sought the island out.’

‘Except they didn’t find anything?’ Rose’s brow furrowed.

‘Columbus’ expedition didn’t find a trace of them, no. But those aren’t the papers I’m working off. Another expedition a few hundred years later went to San Salvador, and they found clues which they said were putting them on the right path. There’s a mention of a hermitage atop a mountain, and a passageway at the foot of it.’

‘Except then the letters stopped,’ prompted Selena. ‘And that third expedition, though confident they were on the right track…’

‘Disappeared without a trace,’ said Matt. ‘Yes.’

‘So, a hermitage on San Salvador. There shouldn’t be too many of them,’ said Albus.

‘What is a hermitage?’ asked Scorpius. ‘I know, I know, a place where a hermit lives, but that sounds more like “shack” to me.’

‘Maybe hermits can live in nice places,’ said Selena.

Matt sighed. ‘It’s a kind of monastery. It was for a group of religious people to live in isolation. A closed-off settlement for spiritual purity, usually to allow for an ascetic way of life. In this case, I expect something at the top of a hill where the inhabitants could keep to themselves, but be close enough to a settlement to trade for what they needed.’

Albus nodded. ‘Okay, so. Find a hermitage on San Salvador. Any idea where to start?’

‘It’s not a small island,’ said Matt. ‘And the Book’s not connected to any decent sources. So I’d like to see if there’s anywhere nearby I can do some reading on the Bahamas. The place was found by Columbus, but it wasn’t settled by Europeans until the seventeenth century, and Britain didn’t gain control of it until the eighteenth century. There was a lot of time of this region being left alone by the powers, at least formally. Which would be why, I imagine, the Templar expeditions lost track of who had gone where over the centuries.’ He looked at Scorpius. ‘Andros Island’s been inhabited by wizards for a while. I’d assume there’s a local magical library?’

‘I’ve been here, like, once. And I didn’t rush to the library.’

Albus lifted a hand. ‘Then that sounds like our plan. Get settled in, and try to find some information sources.’

Rose looked at him. ‘Once we’ve got our bearings, I’ll check in with Mum. And if we need more information, she might be able to dig something up.’

‘Only if our own efforts have dried up. I want us using our own resources as much as possible.’

She nodded and got to her feet. ‘Then it sounds like you want to take a walk about the island. This town, at least, is entirely magical; you should be able to find your way.’

Scorpius raised an eyebrow at her. ‘And you’ll be…?’

Rose hefted her bag. ‘I’ve got most of our stuff. I might as well help your mum get us settled in. And I can offload everything from the ship so by the time you’re done, we’re all unpacked.’

‘Tackling Selena’s luggage.’ Matt stood. ‘You’re a brave woman.’

Selena stuck her nose in the air. ‘Just because I like to have an option of more than two t-shirts to wear -’

‘We lost everything to Fiendfyre and then after barely two shopping trips, you’ve already got a suitcase you could use to beat a man to death.’

‘And it’ll be you if you keep this up, Doyle.’

Albus stood, raising his hands. ‘So, let’s go for a walk.’

Scorpius looked at Rose. ‘Do you want some help?’

‘Don’t worry.’ She touched his arm, smiling. ‘This needs doing and I’ll give your mum a hand. You two should talk, but later, when I’m not underfoot.’

And after I’ve already spoken to her.

He didn’t argue, happy after the journey, happy to be here - too happy to be cynical. So she felt guilty when they left, though it was a guilt assuaged by Albus’ knowing, reassuring look. He knew what she was doing. He understood - and he supported her. After her recent independent decisions, it felt good to be trusted. She didn’t like acting without telling Scorpius, but it was necessary, and she hoped her silence would not be needed for long.

Astoria was in one of the upstairs corridors, in what Rose suspected was the guest wing of the house. With a swish of the wand, linen flew from a cupboard on the landing and into the rooms, and she had to duck to avoid an errant pillow sweeping through the nearest door.

‘Oh! Sorry!’ Astoria gave another sunny smile so like her son’s. ‘I’ve been making up six rooms, though you can use as many as you like.’

Had Rose’s intentions been less serious, she would have happily curled up and died at such a comment from her boyfriend’s mother. ‘We’ll manage, one way or another. I was just coming to see if you needed a hand, or I’ll unload everyone’s stuff from the ship.’

‘Don’t you worry about me. But it’s sweet of you to ask.’ Astoria lowered her wand and turned to her. ‘You don’t have to fuss about - I mean, well. I’m not Draco. I imagine he threw quite the fit when he learnt about you.’

Anyone who knew Scorpius would have noticed the inferences when he’d introduced Rose. But she still felt the slightest jolt at the sense that Astoria was one step ahead of her in the conversation. ‘He wasn’t best pleased, no.’

‘I remember what he and your parents were like at school. Couldn’t stand one another. And, well, he does have some very old-fashioned ideas even in this day and age. But don’t worry. I don’t share those attitudes. I’ve had to listen to him drone on about it too much to find anything endearing about clinging to the past.’

Rose drew a slow, careful breath. ‘I imagine that’s partly why you left.’

Astoria stiffened. ‘Well. Yes.’ Then she waved an airy hand, and swished her wand for good measure, and the making of many beds continued. ‘It’s a complicated sort of matter, but so long as Scorpius is happy -’

‘Then he’s the priority for us both. Good. That’s something we have in common.’ Rose tilted her chin up half an inch. ‘Let me be blunt. I am not here because I’m seeking your approval, or your blessing. Though it would make life considerably easier for your son if one of his parents respected his choices, and acknowledged what makes him happy.’

Astoria lowered her wand again, gaze going beady in a way which was wholly unlike her son. ‘And you make him happy?’ It was a light question, the challenge very faint.

Rose could read it well. She was testing the waters before they got too deep. ‘Your son’s very important to me. As is his happiness.’

‘Then we’re in agreement,’ said Astoria with a smile which didn’t reach her eyes.

‘Glad to hear it. Because he’s had enough distress over the last few months. He’s had an incredibly tough time of it.’

‘It sounds like you all have.’

‘But especially him.’ Rose’s jaw tightened. ‘Which you’d know, if you’d showed the remotest interest in what’s been happening to him over the last year. If you’d written to him during the Hogwarts Crisis. If you’d come to see him once it was over. If you’d emerged from the woodwork when he was presumed dead. But you didn’t do any of that, did you?’

Astoria tucked her wand away slowly, deliberately. ‘Scorpius and his friends are welcome here, but you are not welcome to come and question my life choices -’

‘I don’t really care about your choices. I care about Scorpius.’ Rose took a careful step forward. ‘He still thinks well of you. He thinks of you as the victim of his father’s cruelty, to the extent where he blames everything - everything - on Draco. Maybe he’s right; I don’t know. But you should know that he has yet to question why you never reached out to him in his times of direst need. That won’t last forever.’

She arched an eyebrow. ‘Because you’ll make him question?’

‘I want him happy, not doubting. He already believes his father thinks him worthless. If he thinks you think so little of him, too, then that will break him.’ Rose lifted a hand, cutting off a response. ‘You’ve been running from whatever happened with you and his father for, what, four years? That’s your life, and I’m in no place to judge your choices. I am in a place to judge how you treat your son. And he is in a place, right now, where he needs the utmost confidence, the utmost stability.’

Astoria cocked her head. ‘Then what are you saying, my dear?’ she said, voice icy. That was a tone she knew. The tension in her son right before he unleashed something particularly unpleasant. The cold warning.

‘This won’t last forever. He’s barely seen you for years, and that’s let him build up an idealised version of you. Nothing breaks ideals like reality. So all I ask of you is one of two things: Either you keep up appearances very well, and you let him keep on believing what he believes… or you have a very frank conversation with your son about why you left for the far side of the world, and why you never reached out for him, even when he was at his most isolated.’

The other woman’s eyes narrowed. ‘And why do you think I left?’

‘What I think isn’t especially relevant.’

‘Indulge me.’

Rose drew a slow breath. ‘I don’t know. I don’t know you. I just see a son who adores the memory of you, except your actions don’t match that illusion he’s constructed. I’ve seen what the active cruelty of his father did to him. I don’t want to see what cruel neglect of his mother does to him. Tell him the truth; don’t tell him the truth… do as you wish. Just if you can’t be honest with him, don’t give him reason to be afraid. Because I guarantee the doubt will wriggle and worm away inside of him, and cause untold damage. Even if you don’t have to deal with it.’

‘But you will.’ Astoria’s voice went quiet, distant.

‘I will.’ Rose sighed. ‘I’ll be there with him every step of the way. So consider this a preemptive measure to make sure that you don’t break him.’

Astoria looked away, gaze sweeping across the half-finished handiwork of making the guest bedrooms ready. ‘I have no desire to hurt him. He’s my son, and I love him.’

‘Good,’ said Rose. ‘But I believe his father loves him, too, and he’s still caused him unfathomable pain.’

Scorpius’ mother regarded her for a long moment, before her lips took on a wry twist that she suspected came more from her ex-husband. ‘I should have guessed that a Weasley girl wouldn’t romance my son without caring deeply for him. I’m glad he’s got that.’ She gave a slow, shaking exhale, but when she straightened it was for perfect poise to return. ‘You have a bargain. But right now, he’s out in town and I have to make the guest rooms for you and your friends ready.’

Rose nodded, and then it was like nothing had happened - that she hadn’t just confronted her boyfriend’s mother on her years of neglect in her son’s time of need. ‘I’ll go and get the luggage from the ship,’ she said, ‘and leave you to it.’

‘Yes,’ said Astoria Malfoy. ‘That might be best.’

* *


‘Three days.’ Albus flopped onto the sand next to Matt and took a swig of water. ‘Three days, and no sign of anything.’

Matt ruffled through pages of de Sablé’s notes. ‘I’m doing the best I can. But these are records from the 18th century, and San Salvador has, what, sixty square miles of terrain?’

‘But only so many hills, and only so many hermitages. It’s not a criticism, just are you sure this is the place?’

He got an angry look for his trouble. ‘No. I’m not. I’m working off old letters from Templars who went missing looking for this place - maybe their last letter was wrong? Maybe the site they wrote of wasn’t where they found something. Maybe the island’s changed, or there are magical protections, or -’

‘Matt.’ Albus kept his voice low, calm. ‘I’m not questioning you.’

‘Good, because you wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for me; you wouldn’t have found Ager Sanguinis and you wouldn’t have the context to decipher de Sablé’s writings, and the golem-dragon would have turned you into a smear -’

Albus stood as Matt did, hands still raised placatingly. ‘I know. I know. And you’ve done damn good work, and no, we wouldn’t have got this far without you.’

Matt stopped, shoulders squaring. Then he looked away, down to the shoreline where their ship was moored. By the magical vessel it was only an hour’s journey from Andros Island to San Salvador, and they’d made the journey every morning for the last few days to hunt. The clues from de Sablé’s notes had shown nothing, the hints from the Templars’ messages had shown nothing, and everyone was fraying at the edges. ‘Well. Good. Thanks.’

‘Is that the first time we’ve said that?’

‘Yes. Maybe - I don’t know.’

‘Because the golem-dragon was good work.’

‘I know it was good work, I threw myself into a damned stone dragon’s mouth -’

‘And we’re grateful.’ Albus watched him, head tilting. ‘Something’s chewing you up.’

‘Which topic shall I choose?’ Matt’s gaze snapped back, the sea breeze blowing his hair into his face. ‘My ex-girlfriend being extra fawning over her new boyfriend, a guy I can’t quite bring myself to hate? Being the fifth wheel because I wasn’t in the right place at the right time in a detention ten months ago, even though I have carried your research here? The one person who -’

He cut himself off, and Albus’ brow furrowed. ‘The one person…?’

‘Never mind.’ Matt snapped the Book of Many Books shut. ‘I’m going to find some high ground, see if I can -’

‘You did that yesterday.’

‘And I’ll try again today!’ He waved an angry hand down the beach. ‘See how the girls are doing with their efforts.’

There was a sneer to his voice, and Albus looked down at where Rose and Selena stood, weaving intricate patterns into the sand with long sticks. ‘You’re not pissed at Rose,’ he realised. ‘You’re pissed at Selena.’

‘No, I’m not.’ Matt’s expression went flat. ‘But she’s pissed at me, apparently, and hell knows why. I know that after all of this, when we get the Chalice, I am done with the whole bloody lot of you.’

Albus winced. ‘Matt, I’m sorry if we -’

‘It’s not your fault.’ He sounded angry, but not insincere. ‘You’ve just got your own joint background and your own bloody damage, and maybe nobody was going to break into the gang with Methuselah Jones dead, especially not someone else who came in with books to tell you what to do. But let’s not kid ourselves. You and Scorpius, and me? We’re not friends. You’re a good guy, Al, but we’re not friends. Lisa? Fuck knows what goes on with her. And Rose and I can get on like a house on fire, but that’s part of the fucking problem, isn’t it, because I don’t want to get on with her, I want her out of my head -’ Matt stopped and turned again, throwing a hand in the air. ‘And Selena one moment thinks I’m a friend worth talking to, the next rips into me like we’re Third Years having House wars, but now, worst of all, ignores me. And I know that the most cutting weapon that girl has in her arsenal is disinterest.’

‘Not that I’m blaming you - I’m really not… but why did you come on this trip?’ Albus tried to sound as unaccusing as possible.

Matt scowled at the sea. ‘Because I thought the travel sounded cool.’ He sighed. ‘And because Rose asked me, and I still don’t think there’s a thing in the world I wouldn’t do if she asked, and that is still driving me mental.’

‘You know she -’

‘I know she loves him. I know she’s not going to stop. I know she likes me as a friend but is incredibly awkward and that it’ll never be anything else. I know there is no way you can finish that sentence in a way which doesn’t suck for me.’ Matt tucked the Book under his arm. ‘So I am going to go find some high ground where I can see a lot and think. So I don’t have to watch Rose being brilliant and Selena trying too hard to not look in my direction.’

‘Matt…’ But he was gone, leaving Albus stood forlornly at the top of the beach without the words to make things better. He wasn’t used to that. Normally he could find something - even if he couldn’t fix woes, he could usually brighten somebody’s day. But not Matthias Doyle, and not today.

With a sigh he slouched down the beach to the others. ‘Won’t the tide wash this away?’

Rose was kneeling, etching more intricate markings with a smaller stick. ‘We’ll be done by then.’

‘What’re you actually trying to do? How’s this going to help?’

‘It’s a simple amplification ritual,’ said Selena, voice holding that faint edge he knew meant she was reciting something she’d learnt from Methuselah. ‘It’ll pool power so Rose can pull off a bigger detection spell. So we can stop traipsing around the bloody island to see if we can get any kind of trace of the Chalice of Emrys’ magic.’

‘Sand is good for this kind of magic. Rituals are usually more permanent, but for something short-term, I can cook up a complicated series of ritual markings with minimal effort. And magic travels through sand reasonably effectively; the individual grains provide less of an obstacle for -’

‘I get it.’ Albus lifted a hand to forestall further explanation. ‘You think this will show you where the Chalice is?’

‘Perhaps. Depending on how far away it is, or was, or if anything’s blocking off the trace of its magical signature.’ Rose tucked a springy lock of hair behind her ear. ‘Where’s Matt off to?’

‘High ground.’

‘Again?’

‘He was upset.’ Albus shoved his hands into his pockets. ‘You tell me why.’

Rose and Selena exchanged glances. Rose seemed apprehensive, Selena was wearing one of her masks, and neither one of them blinked. He wondered if they were even telling one another what was going on - and then remembered that one of them would have looked more accusing if they’d known.

‘I’ve no clue,’ said Rose with a sigh. ‘I try to not - it’s awkward.’

‘He’s not exactly been thrilled lately, with you and Scorpius pawing at each other extra.’ Selena rolled her eyes. ‘You could be a bit more discreet about the fact that you’re now shagging like rabbits -’

Rose got to her feet, cheeks colouring. ‘How do you know if he’s thrilled or not, seeing as you’ve barely looked at him for the better part of a week now -’

‘I don’t need to be close to the guy to see he’s upset about this.’

‘No, but if you’re going to get in my face on someone else’s behalf, at least make it someone you appear to give the slightest damn about.’

Selena’s lips thinned - then without another word she turned on her heel and stalked off down the beach, long hair blowing in the breeze behind her.

Rose sighed, lifting a hand to her temple. ‘I’m not sure I’m sorry for that.’

‘I’m not sure you should be.’ Albus winced. ‘Though you could have been more diplomatic.’

‘We can’t all be the epitome of calm in the face of hypocrisy.’ She grimaced. ‘I’ll talk to her. Later. But she’s been blanking Matt, and so I don’t want her acting like I’ve been the insensitive one around him.’ Rose paused. ‘Have we been that obvious?’

‘I make a point of not trying to decipher the subtle intricacies of how much my best friend and cousin are canoodling.’ Albus gave a grin to take the sting out of his words. ‘But. Er. Has it been obvious you’re together and extra happy? Yes. Maybe it’s just that I know you guys were rowing, so I spotted the difference…’

Rose went even more red, and he was grateful yet again he’d inherited his father’s colouring. ‘I’d been an idiot.’

‘It was probably your turn.’

She knelt next to the ritual. ‘I know you didn’t ask me to Legilimens Lisa -’

‘I basically did.’

‘Yes, but I wanted to do it before you had to tell me to.’

‘That doesn’t get me off the hook, you know? It’s being weaselly about words for me to act like we didn’t know exactly what was going on, just because I was vague.’

‘As opposed to telling me to do it, and to hell with the consequences - which is being Weasley about words.’ Rose’s lips twisted. ‘Okay, that’s a terrible joke. But you know… she really does… I don’t know the word. “Like,” you sounds too loaded, or vague. Respect you?’ She shrugged. ‘There’s a bond.’

Albus rolled a shoulder. ‘I trust her. She’s an asset to the team.’

‘And?’

‘And anything else can, I think, wait until all of this is over. She’s got a life outside of the Chalice hunt, I’ve got a life outside of the Chalice hunt.’

‘It’s weird, isn’t it.’ Rose looked to the seas. ‘In a bit over two months, we’ll be back at Hogwarts. Normal Hogwarts. That feels like a lifetime ago.’

‘Only if we’re done here.’

‘Speaking of which, I’d better get this ritual done.’ She stood, dusting herself off.

‘Do you need anyone else for this?’

‘Some magic can’t hurt. But just you and I should be able to pull it off. And by the time we’re done, hopefully Lisa and Scorpius are done with their search, and Selena and Matt are back from their sulks.’

Albus wasn’t that familiar with rituals, which he knew was odd when he’d played an integral role in disarming one of the most harmful rituals in modern history. But he knew how to follow instructions, and Rose knew what she was doing, so he could pool his power in the circle itself, allow her to draw on it to amplify the spells she’d used so many times to search for that trace of familiar magic that was in the Chalice of Emrys.

A search to the north. A search to the east. A search to the south. And the west was the ocean, and she only did that fourth spell for the sake of completion, but none of them showed anything. By the time they were done the tide was rising, and Scorpius and Lisa had come back to sit at the top of the beach and watch the procedure without interrupting - but it was clear they hadn’t found anything, either. As the magic died, shapes on the horizon suggested Matt and Selena were coming back, too.

Rose sighed and lowered her wand. ‘Nothing. Not a thing on this island. Either its trace was never here, or it’s too faint for me to find from this distance, or it’s somehow shielded, protected.’

‘It was never shielded in Paris, or Ager Sanguinis; why would it be shielded now?’

‘The Templars accepted the Chalice was missing after that last expedition never came back. Maybe there was a reason, maybe this was meant to be its final resting place, maybe it was being properly hidden as opposed to… I mean, it wasn’t hidden from everyone in Ager Sanguinis, and the tomb was first somewhere to keep it, then a fake hiding place. We’ve never looked for somewhere the Chalice was when nobody was meant to find it.’ Rose tucked her wand away. ‘I think we need to make a call for help.’

Albus grimaced. ‘You know we need to compartmentalise information -’

‘Except we can communicate more securely, now, and it’s been three days.’ She shrugged. ‘We need the big guns.’

* *


‘I will find everything I can about the magical history of the Bahamas,’ said Hermione’s patronus as they all sat on the deck of their ship. ‘And I’ll get it put in the Hogwarts library so that you can access it from the Book.’

Rose had explained that she could just talk to her mother in private, projecting her patronus internationally using the ship’s own Floo system - or, once the connection was made, Hermione could project back, and thus talk to them all. Scorpius had agreed it sounded more logical to let Hermione see all of them, even if it was an uncomfortable reminder of times at Hogwarts.

Matt nodded. ‘I don’t know what use it’ll be. But it’s better than nothing.’

‘I’ll do it tonight. So, with the time difference, you should have it by tomorrow morning.’ The otter looked across at the six of them. ‘How are you all? Are you well?’

‘We’re fine, Mum,’ said Rose. ‘We’re just hitting some brick walls. We knew we were chasing a vague thread out here, but we’re not out for the count yet.’

‘Good.’ The patronus paused. ‘So I hate to distract you, but there’s… there’s something you might be able to help with, and something you might want to help with.’

Albus sat up. ‘We’re listening.’

‘Have you heard of Brillig Island?’

Matt answered, of course. ‘One of the Caribbean’s completely magical island communities.’

‘It was also one of the latest places to be hit by Eridanos. And when I say latest, I mean “last” - the Task Force genuinely suspects that we’re on the verge of wiping out the plague, that we’ve destroyed the Council’s caches of the plague and removed their capacity to make any more.’

‘So what’s the problem?’ said Scorpius.

The otter tensed in that way he could recognise by now. It was odd to find an animal’s body language familiar. ‘The Task Force envoys we sent there have gone dark. They were meant to check in this morning; they have not and we can’t find anything about the area. I would send a team, but there’s one problem - they had the Resurrection Stone with them. Anyone I send onto that island to recover them is going to be at risk of infection.’

‘You want us to go take a look?’ said Albus.

‘That’s the last thing I want,’ sighed Hermione. ‘But, four of you still have an immunity to Phlegethon which we know extends to Eridanos.’

‘How do you know that?’

‘Because Nathalie Lockett has managed to operate freely in Eridanos-afflicted zones. Which is one of the reason why we’ve sent her as the team leader in many of our field expeditions to cure and cleanse Eridanos.’ Another hesitation. ‘And she was the team leader for this expedition.’

Scorpius shot to his feet. ‘We’re going.’

Albus also got up. ‘We need to discuss this properly.’

‘Don’t answer right away. You’ve got a job to do, and it’s late evening where you are, and you are not going to an Eridanos-afflicted zone at night. I’m a few hours behind you,’ said Hermione. ‘Discuss it, and I’ll gather the information we have. I can seek and send another team, and try another way. And also I’m going to be yelled at by at least four people for telling you about this.’

Albus didn’t tear his gaze off Scorpius, though when he spoke it was in that low, calm voice which would brook no opposition. ‘Give us an hour, Aunt Hermione. Then we’ll get in touch again.’ Silence remained once the patronus winked out of existence, and still Albus didn’t move. ‘We have to think about this, Scorp.’

‘We really don’t. We’re going to Brillig.’

Matt cleared his throat. ‘We can’t stop to chase everything the Council do. We’re after the Chalice -’

Scorpius reeled to face him, heart thudding, palms sweating. He couldn’t unleash this boiling frustration on Albus, but Matt was fit to be a target. ‘Professor Lockett saved the lives of everyone at Hogwarts. She cured Phlegethon. Without her, we would all be dead, and you would certainly be dead. We owe her. We’re going to get her.’

Scowling, Matt stood. ‘And if we show up on the Council’s radar on Brillig Island, then they’ll know we’re in the Bahamas! That gives them a lead!’

‘They might not be there, and I don’t care,’ Scorpius snapped.

Rose was on her feet, reaching for his arm. ‘Scorp -’

‘I can’t even believe this matter is up for discussion! She cured Phlegethon and she saved us.’

‘By sitting in her room for about two months getting drunk?’ asked Selena, voice arch.

‘Okay, that’s enough!’ Albus raised his hands as he raised his voice, eyes flashing. ‘Scorpius has a point. We’re in a position to help her, and she needs help. But Matt isn’t wrong. We’re trying to keep out of the Council’s way, and this diverts from the hunt for the Chalice, and it alerts them to our presence in the area.’

‘Not to mention,’ said Rose, voice tight, ‘that only four of us are immune to Eridanos. Matt and Lisa aren’t.’

Lisa wore an expression suggesting she’d rather not be dragged into this, but Scorpius waved a dismissive hand at Matt. ‘Fine. Then he can stay behind like the coward he is and pore over books. We owe her our lives, our families’ lives.’

There were times Scorpius forgot that Matt was a tall guy, a little taller than him, even. But then the other man was in his face, the two of them nose-to-nose, and Scorpius had to tilt his chin up to make eye-contact, resenting even that minor concession. ‘Don’t lecture me on what my family owes people,’ Matt growled. ‘Not you.’

‘And what’s that supposed to mean?’ Scorpius’ fist clenched.

A shape shoved itself between them, and Scorpius first thought it was Albus, pulling them apart. It wasn’t. It was Rose, planting her hands on their chests, pushing them both back. ‘This is ridiculous. We’re on the same side and we can talk about this without snarling like territorial werewolves!’

All I bloody did was point out the reasons we might not want to run off half-cocked!’ Matt barked, leaning against Rose’s restraining hand. ‘The world revolves around more than your whims, Malfoy! Other people can care about things and have opinions!’

‘And I can still call you a damned ungrateful coward for yours -’

Then Rose wasn’t enough to keep them apart, and Matt was swinging for him. The blow would have connected if Albus hadn’t been there to grab his arm, but the opportunist in Scorpius told him to advance, not back off, and a restrained Matt wouldn’t have much chance to protect himself -

The flash of magic sent them all flying away from one another, landing on their backs and, for a moment, dazzled and stunned by the burst of energy. It was harmless but it separated them, and it was enough, just enough, to break the moment.

‘There are times,’ came Lisa’s flat voice, ‘that I forget you’re still schoolchildren. This isn’t one of these them. Debating whether to go save an ally should not be bringing you to blows.’

Matt shrugged off Albus’ arm and got to his feet, expression still twisted. ‘Probably not, no,’ he spat. ‘But you debate it. I’m done discussing it. Make your choices, like you lot always do, and I’ll just sit in the back and read the fucking books to tell you the answer.’ Then he turned, stalking down the gangway off the ship and onto the pier, and disappeared into the gathering dusk of the shore of San Salvador.

Scorpius snorted as he disappeared. ‘That makes it easier. But what makes this easiest is that I paid for this ship, and this ship is going to Brillig.’

‘Oh, for fuck’s sake, Scorpius.’ He started at that, because it was Rose, glaring at him. She just shook her head. ‘We vote. I vote we go after Professor Lockett. And you lot can go round and round in circles all you like, but I’ll send a message to Mum within the hour, whatever you decide.’ Then she, too, headed for the pier.

Scorpius squinted at her. ‘Where are you going?’

‘After Matt! Because you’re being an arse!’

Then she was gone, and the pounding in his chest started to fade to be replaced by a sense of gathering shame. Good work, Malfoy. Done it again. He turned to the others, voice dropping. ‘All right,’ he said, now half-mumbling. ‘What do you think?’

Lisa shrugged. ‘I bow to the so-called wisdom of the masses.’

Albus grimaced. ‘I want to help her,’ he said quietly.

Selena rolled her eyes. ‘Which leaves the deciding vote with me, if we want a majority. I don’t think the sun shone out of Professor Lockett’s arse like you do, Scorpius, but if we can help her, we should.’ Then she turned away and towards the quarterdeck of the ship. ‘But there’s nothing we can do for now. So I am going to sort out some dinner. You can ruminate on how you’ve just pissed off your girlfriend so much she’s run off after her ex to try to make him feel better.’

She left, and Lisa slunk after her, and Albus looked sympathetic but didn’t say anything, so Scorpius glowered at the gloom. He knew Selena, knew she’d just said that to hurt, and knew that he did rather deserve it.

It didn’t make it stab less deep.



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

A/N: I apologise for the tardiness of the release of this chapter. The good news is that I'm sat in a coffee shop right now, and while it's not been a good writing day, I should be back to my usual writing habits, and thus if I can't get Starfall finished in the next couple months I will be most disappointed in myself!

On with the Show.


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