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Chapter 3 : Barren Ribs of Death
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‘So when you were looking for a place to live, did you set up a contest for “most twee city in Britain”?’ John Colton stopped at the flower stand, blooming bright and colourful even on this drizzly October afternoon. ‘We’re at a market, Matt. On cobbled streets with people wearing silly hats. Those shops over there have dangling signs. House which are all black-and-white…’
‘Timber framing.’ Matt tightened his scarf and tugged on his black gloves. Even at this time of year, Egypt had been warm. Returning to England was like plunging into a cold bath, and a fit of childish conviction that he was an adult had seen him throwing out all his old winter clothes and blowing a sizable chunk of the finder’s fee for Ranisonb’s tomb on a new wardrobe. He wasn’t a dandy. He just liked looking good. And there were some matters on which John wouldn’t judge him. ‘Besides, Cambridge is one of the oldest wizarding cities in the country -’ John arched an eyebrow, and he pressed forward. ‘I mean it! Before the Statute there was a significant magical community here.’
‘Hence why this part of town looks like Diagon Alley threw up all over it. I blame the university.’
‘Yes - University Hall originally had quite a lot of wizards in attendance, though of course as the Statute came in and the college changed… you don’t care.’ Matt threw a hand in the air.
‘On the contrary. I grew up with this place as synonymous with intellectual excellence; it’s rather satisfying to know both my worlds colluded to create it. I’m more surprised you care.’
‘I’m a Curse Breaker. History’s now my profession.’
His friend pulled his wide-brimmed hat low against the rain-scattered breeze as they stepped out of the row of stalls. The market had looked promising from the outside, but didn’t sell much more than flowers and fruit and veg and stands offering pig in a bun, and Matt realised that what was a quaint novelty to him was of very little excitement to his Muggle-born best friend. They were better off cutting this rather damp walk short and returning to the new flat.
John wasn’t as tall as him, but was a little broader. He cultivated his body and looks more, from the black hair swept back from his face to accentuate dark eyes, high cheekbones, a small beard he’d had to grow into, to the somewhat foppish clothes he made sure he filled well; even to his cultured, upper-class tones. But after eight years of friendship, Matt knew to not take the flighty appearance of an uncaring dandy at face value.
‘Your father’s a good egg for sorting this place out for you,’ John said as they left the broad square to proceed down slippery cobbled streets flanked by tall buildings so old Matt could almost smell the history.
‘Dad’s gone a bit security mad. The moment he heard I was interested, he took the entire thing over. Checked the flat out, paid the deposit, got his own people in to soup it up. I can’t argue with him, though, can I, not when I was attacked in Egypt.’
‘Does rather guarantee paranoia, doesn’t it. But I thought they were more vexed by your work, than after you personally.’
‘They were. But I’m not the one you need to convince.’
‘Either way, I’m certain Rose will like it.’
‘I hope so.’
John gave him a sidelong glance. ‘So everything’s hunky-dory with you two, I take it? Moving in together, hrm? Awfully serious.’
Matt drew a deep breath. He could read between his best friend’s lines. ‘I don’t need any more of this.’
John slowed a little, letting Matt lead the way as they reached a crossroads. This had the convenience, Matt observed, of letting John fall half a step behind so he couldn’t see his expression. ‘Any more of what?’ The innocence was not convincing. ‘All I’m ever doing is looking out for you, you know that.’
‘We’ve been through this -’
‘Yes, except that was then, and this is now, and now you’re asking her to move in with her. Something that outrageous, I thought it would only be fair if I warned you.’
Matt stopped at the rain-slicked corner and turned back. ‘Warn me?’
John halted, too, and glanced around as if they were about to discuss deep, magical secrets - but this was a quiet road, the rain driving people, magic or Muggle, inside unless they had dire need to venture out, and it had certainly killed the market. ‘She’s changed.’
‘We’ve all changed -’
‘Since you came back. Not from Egypt, from everything. You remember what she was like; it’s what made you so maddeningly mad about her. How she’d more-or-less hum with enthusiasm and, well, a certain pompous self-importance, but she was growing out of that and she only berated me sometimes. Then Malfoy happened.’ John looked unusually serious, brow furrowed at Matt.
‘Yes. She lost someone important to her.’
‘She lost more than him, Matt. She’s not the same person she was when you two were fifteen and stupid and, yes, God take me, happy.’
‘I never said she was! I’ve changed, too!’
John gave him a look Matt could read well. It said: You poor fool. ‘I still recognise you. Rose, I hardly know at all, and I’ve been living with her the past two years, too.’
Matt squared his shoulders, stabbed an accusing finger. ‘Just because she’s different doesn’t mean this relationship doesn’t work -’
‘It appears to work, I just worry if it should,’ said John, as airy and calm as ever, even in the face of frustration. ‘Or how long it will. She’s quieter, more withdrawn, more controlled, less feeling. And she clings to you like flotsam in a storm.’
‘I’m okay with that. I’ll support her. I’ll stand by her - I’ve done that all along.’
John’s gaze flickered to Matt’s hand. ‘Does she know about that?’
‘About what -’
‘About that ring, about why your father funds where you live, about the letters you write, about the trips you take which aren’t for Gringotts. Please don’t pretend I’m a fool as well, Matt, we don’t insult each other like that. But she is singularly distracted.’
Matt’s jaw tensed. ‘I don’t see what that has to do with us.’
‘I’ll take that as a “no,” and if you don’t see a problem with keeping a vast and dangerous secret from your girlfriend then there’s honestly not much more I can say.’ John let out a slow breath. He didn’t seem frustrated, but considerate, like he knew he was going to have to reassess his strategy. ‘I should put this more simply. Do you love her?’
‘I do. I always have.’
‘Well, yes, stupid question.’ Being a good friend, John didn’t comment on the melodrama. ‘Does she love you?’
Matt flinched as if struck. ‘She hasn’t - she needs time -’
‘It’s been two years; what were you waiting for, an ice age? And now you’re moving in together.’ John watched as Matt worked his jaw wordlessly, then took a step forward. ‘I know you, and I know where this is going; you’re going to hitch your star to hers until she goes supernova, and you’ll be a damned fool and let the blast obliterate you.’
‘I really don’t need,’ Matt spat, ‘advice on women, especially from you.’
That did stop John short. His expression barely shifted except for the slightest raising of an eyebrow, and that’s how Matt knew he’d gone too far. ‘You need to remember that I’m trying to help you, even if you don’t like what I’ve got to say.’
Matt swallowed. ‘Look, I’m sorry, that’s not how I meant it -’
‘I got enough of those funny, funny jokes from Hedley and Willoughby last year, which you know full well. You’re tired, you’re stressed, and you know I’m bloody well right. So I’ll let you get to your new home and wait for her. I just have one more thing to say.’ John took a step forward. ‘Is she where I think she is right now?’
‘I’ll take that as a yes. You better head off home, Matt. Before I actually get angry.’
He never raised his voice. That was what Matt remembered most, other than his own ill-considered words to the friend who had been so perpetually patient with him. But while John was slow to anger, Matt knew his fury was all the worse for it, and when he went cold like this he was particularly upset. So Matt left, sloped down the slick cobbled streets of Cambridge, headed for the new flat.
It was a stately, red-bricked building, the entire complex owned by wizards who kept interests in the city of Cambridge when the Statute had forced them to change their ways. Ivy crept around the trellised windows and door-frame, and he could see the window to the new flat, the one his father had ensured with professional diligence was warded and secure beyond anything the Council of Thorns could easily throw at him.
It was pretty, and so was Cambridge, but Matt realised with a sinking feeling that this was not why he’d selected it. As he’d read more, he’d found the history interesting, but he was a Curse Breaker. He always found history interesting. There were all manner of places in the country he could have lived, and if he were alone, he wouldn’t have minded staying at his parents’ house while his work continued to fling him about the globe. It meant he’d have somewhere warm to come back to.
But he’d wanted a space with Rose. And so he’d chosen somewhere he’d thought she’d like.
The problem was, he was less sure these days what she even liked.
After his death, there had been a debate whether Methuselah Jones should be buried at Hogwarts. It would have made him the first student to be buried on the grounds. Many had been slain there in the wars, but Methuselah Jones had consciously and willingly sacrificed himself for the sake of the school and everyone in it. But before the arguments could swing too far either way, his parents had made different arrangements to avoid any conflict, and so he was laid to rest near Glastonbury, in one of the oldest magical cemeteries in the country.
His was a simple tombstone, devoid of intricate decoration, because a boy like Methuselah Jones was never going to be from a family prone to ostentatious displays. But after almost three years, the granite was worn and weathered, especially on a day like today, when the wind howled in from the tor and the rain lashed at her face.
Rose lingered by his grave, like she always did. He deserved her respects, her tribute, even if he was not the reason she was here. Even if she had never been close to Methuselah, even if she’d only shed tears once in shock and horror and then squared her shoulders and moved on with her life. At the least, she could pay him her respects for the sake of Selena, whose world had been turned upside-down by his death.
But she righted it. So it can be done. Can’t it?
She lingered because Methuselah deserved it, she lingered because he had been her friend, and she lingered because his death had shaken those close to her. But above all, she lingered because it delayed those agonising moments where she’d take three brisk steps to the left, to the next tombstone.
This was not a grave. A grave required a body, and there had been no body. This was only a marker, a memorial, a fabrication so they could pretend there was something to see, to say goodbye to, to pay their respects to. She might as well have hammered a piece of paper to her wall bearing the name, for all this block of stone was worth.
Such a marker was the price they’d paid for being able to see it at all, for it not being nestled away in a corner of the grounds of Malfoy Manor, where only the ‘right’ people could see it. She, the half-blood daughter of his father’s enemies, would have never been the ‘right’ person, and the fact that Scorpius would have burnt down the Manor before she was stopped from seeing him would not have mattered one jot to Draco Malfoy.
It was more ostentatious, of course, because his father had paid for it. Twin snakes carved in granite wound together at the top of the marker, bracketing and protecting this memorial to their fallen son, above whose name was the family sigil and the words, ‘Sanctimonia Vincet Semper.’
Purity Will Always Conquer.
But she didn’t reflect long on the Latin, because her gaze landed on the name, the name that sent a shattering hammer blow into the walls around her pain every time she saw it, heard it, thought of it.
The wind howled down from the tor again, and brought with it a gust of leaves from the cemetery’s trees that scraped along the rows of tombstones like the grasping fingers of the dead, ardent to be heard one more time. Except that was just her imagination, because the only one who could do the talking here was her.
‘Hi,’ she breathed, and her voice felt for the first time in months like hers. ‘I’m sorry I’ve not been around. I was - there was work. Egypt. With Gringotts. It took a while. And the Council were there, and - I’m okay, we’re okay. We beat them. Of course.’
Scorpius’ tombstone said nothing.
‘It’s tough work, and they don’t take us seriously yet, but they’re going to. And I like it. The work, I mean. It keeps me busy, it’s not uninteresting, and I feel useful. I need to feel useful. I need to be useful. Maybe it’s not my first choice of job, but it’s as good as anything and it’s familiar ground and I -’
The excuses stuck in her throat, and she could almost imagine the quirked eyebrow, the amused lip-twitch at her evasion. Only in her mind’s eye there was a hint of accusation, and she couldn’t look at his name now, wrapping her arms around herself and dropping her gaze. ‘Matt asked me to live with him. I’m moving in. We’re - it’s going well. He’s patient. He listens. He gives me space. He’s letting me work through this. He wants me to be better, and I - and I want to be better.
‘I mean it.’ Her gaze flickered back to the tombstone as if it scoffed at her words. ‘I can be happy with him. I can be myself. He doesn’t judge me, he doesn’t push me.’
And that’s a good basis for a relationship.
‘What else am I supposed to do?’ she demanded of the silent, judging lump of rock. ‘Keep on walking around like I’m cut in half? At least I’m not Al! I’m not still running and hurting the people I care about! I’m doing the best I can but you’re not here, so what the hell am I supposed to do except try to get on with my life?’
She’d thought she was done shouting at the tombstone, but she hadn’t visited in months, since just before she and Matt left for Egypt. She’d thought getting away from Hogwarts, from her old life, might do some good. She’d been able to steel herself, reform herself into something more professional, more in control.
Only everything had been waiting for her when she came back.
No. You’re better than this. You’ve been better than this for months now, find that. Rose drew a deep breath, brought in all the ice in the cold winds around her, and scrambled to rebuild those walls which no longer just kept the world at bay, but filled her bones and heart to keep her upright.
‘I have no choice,’ she told the tombstone of Scorpius Malfoy. ‘I have to live. I, unlike Al, choose to live. And I refuse to feel guilty for living. You’re dead. You’re gone. And I… need to stop coming back here to justify myself to a lump of rock.’ That springy lock of hair had lunged its way free in the tugging grasp of the wind, and, expression setting, she tucked it back into her plait. ‘I’m moving in with Matt. I’m moving on with my life. And I think it’s best I stop coming back here, because this is wallowing as certainly as Albus’ running is wallowing. And I refuse to wallow.’
She took one step forward, reached out a hand that was, for once, steady, and brushed her fingertips against the carving of his name. ‘Goodbye, Scorpius.’
She left with the words still tingling on her lips, and locked the quaver in her voice away with the quaver in her heart, behind the walls she’d so diligently built up for two years and refused to see undone by five minutes in a cemetery.
The wrought-iron gates were warded to shroud the site from view and attention of nearby Muggles, so saturated by the inherent magic of the region that after a thousand years they barely needed maintaining. But those protections meant she couldn’t Apparate directly from the grounds, so there she headed, coat wrapped around herself as if she could ward off the cold just as effectively as she was warding off the grief.
The rain and wind made her keep her head down, so she didn’t see the other visitor until she’d almost walked into them. And then she wished she’d had enough warning to dive behind a mausoleum, stopping short with surprise choking her throat until she managed a stifled, ‘Mister Malfoy.’
She had not seen Draco Malfoy since the initial dedication of the tombstone, and they had not talked. The crowds had been large, because the press had sensationalised Scorpius even more after his death, to the extent the rest of the Hogwarts Five might as well have not existed - for which Rose was grateful, as without Albus around she knew she, the daughter of war heroes, would have received the lion’s share of attention. They had stood at opposite sides of the ranks, Draco next to his estranged wife and his mother and further cohorts of the extensive ranks of pureblood society who came because a scion of the House of Malfoy had fallen.
Across from him, flanked by her mother and Matt, she hadn’t paid him much attention. But she’d seen enough to now realise he’d aged maybe ten years in the last two, his hairline in full retreat, his face gaunt and eyes sunken. He had not just lost a son, but the continuation of his line, and what little attention she’d paid to mentions of him over the last two years, four months, had suggested he’d spent most of the time out of the country, worrying about his business interests.
And now he was here, and looked no happier to see her than she was him. ‘Miss Weasley.’ He managed a stiff nod. ‘I presume you were paying your respects.’
‘I - just got back from Egypt.’ Why she was explaining herself to a man who had been nothing but rude to her, she wasn’t sure. Courtesies drilled in by her mother rose to the forefront in times of uncertainty. ‘I thought it appropriate, one last time.’
Something in his expression twitched. ‘Last?’
She swallowed. ‘It’s been so long that regular visits aren’t… so necessary.’
She would have sworn he relaxed. ‘I see. You have that luxury, of course.’
Luxury- Indignation was walled up with grief and guilt, and the ice set her expression to neutral. ‘This is not a grave, but a memorial. I don’t need it to remember him.’
Draco inclined his head. ‘As you say. Your life goes on.’
Rose didn’t care about the contradiction of resenting his accusation that she was moving on, when she’d just yelled at Scorpius’ tombstone that she was moving on. ‘We have our own ways, Mister Malfoy. This tombstone is, of course, your way, because he would never have approved of such a memorial.’
Draco’s brow knotted. ‘He was my son -’
‘Purity Will Always Conquer? You think those are words he would want stamped above his name for all eternity?’
‘You can choose to believe you knew him better because of a short, childish tryst, but my son would have remembered his duty -’
‘His duty was to his friends, and the world, and that was the duty he died for, Mister Malfoy. Not for you. One olive branch extended before his death isn’t his forgiveness for what you did to him over the years, and I know what you did to him, I helped him through that crippling self-doubt!’ She kept a tight rein on the anger, harnessed it like she’d learnt to over the years, and could not stamp out the flash of satisfaction at getting to unleash it.
And then Draco Malfoy’s face sank as she battered him with all of his sins against his dead son, and satisfaction snapped back like a snake to sink its vicious fangs of guilt into her gut. He did not retaliate. He did not defend himself. He simply inclined his head once again and said, in a gruff voice, ‘Good day, Miss Weasley.’
Then he left, marching through the wrought-iron gates in the depths of the cemetery, though he took a sharp left instead of the route to Scorpius’ tombstone, walking off anger and hurt before he would pay his regards.
Rose’s breath hissed between her teeth, furious and regretful and then furious that she was regretful. But there was nothing for it. She didn’t want to discuss this further, and she needed to go, Apparate to Cambridge, spend her first proper evening in this home Matt was trying to build for them, and let his efforts pay off for them both. Two years had passed. Somebody needed to be happy.
She just wasn’t sure if anyone was.
‘Victory is mine, and all should pay tribute of at least one delicious cupcake,’ Selena Rourke crooned as she walked through the main office of the Clarion. Jealous gazes of lesser journalists were dismissed with a wave of the hand brandishing her blazing, condemning papers, for they were not worth her time. Despite her march of triumph, there was only one person she really needed to talk to.
The editor’s door was pushed open with much fanfare and no knocking. But she was the star of the moment. He could make time. ‘Oh, Toby…’
Tobias Grey, editor of the Clarion, thinned his lips as he killed a Floo conversation mid-sentence to regard one of his newest hirelings. ‘Selena. You know, traditionally, junior reporters - in fact, anyone - doesn’t barge into the editor’s office…’
‘I am unbound by tradition. I am a storm of success and hard-hitting journalism.’ She waltzed to his desk and tossed the papers down. ‘Also, I know you were only on the Floo to your wife, and I figured you’d want to see this.’
Grumbling, Tobias went to his desk and picked up the stack. ‘I told you before. I need something utterly condemning before I can put in print those accusations against Pudley Limited.’
Selena lifted a mock-ponderous finger to her lips. ‘Oh. Yes. How about three separate sources confirming bribes were paid to the customs officers in Italy, corroborated by some very dubious shiftings about their finances?’
The frown fled her boss’s face, and he nudged his glasses up his nose, eyes brightening with genuine interest now. ‘You got to the accountant?’
‘I got to the accountant’s incredibly bored assistant. We went shopping. In Milan. I’m putting the expenses through to you.’ She sank onto the hard-backed chair across from his. ‘I admit that I don’t know what it means, but Pudley Limited have been opening up all sorts of curious warehouse spaces off the books and bribing customs officials to get something into the country.’
‘And in bulk, too.’ Tobias rifled through the papers. ‘There’s not a whiff of what?’
‘Unfortunately, disgruntled customs officials and an accountant’s assistant know about unmarked boxes and money passing through the hands of people it shouldn’t. It’s harder to get solid facts on the hows and the whats.’
‘It is.’ The editor of the Clarion was a tall, distinguished-looking wizard, blond hair going grey at the temples, sharp features weathering from age, though he gave off the air of an exuberant, distracted academic when presented with some sort of intellectual puzzle. ‘Which is why I can’t publish this yet.’
Selena sat up like a shot, hands planting on the desk. ‘Toby, this is my big break -’
‘No, right now, this is some accusations without conclusions. If I publish this right now, then Pudley Limited deny everything, and hide whatever it is they’ve been smuggling before we, or the Italian or British authorities, can find out what they’re up to.’
‘Bad things! Bribing customs officials isn’t enough?’
‘I want to know why they’re bribing them.’ Tobias lifted a hand to forestall the flow of blonde fury in killer heels. ‘This isn’t a “no,” Selena, it’s a “not yet.” Find me what they’re smuggling. And this will be an even bigger coup for you, I promise.’
Selena wrinkled her nose. ‘I just got back from Milan -’
‘Which is awfully close to Venice, the magical transportation hub of Europe. Curious, isn’t it, that they’re importing something in bulk so close to the one location on the continent where they could move something across the globe in hours?’ He tilted his head down, looked at her over his glasses. ‘You can do the legwork on their British offices. It’s originating from here, after all.’
The papers were extended to her, and with a sigh she took them. ‘Alright. But I want an advance for this. This is publishable, even if it’s not a fizzing wand yet.’
Tobias’s lips twitched. ‘How about I process your expenses requests from Milan and we call it even?’
She stopped at that. ‘You drive a hard bargain.’
‘You’re doing well, Selena. Really. This is good stuff, but it can be better. With time, your instincts will lead you to these conclusions for yourself. I really didn’t figure this was going to spiral into something this big, or I wouldn’t have given it to a green reporter like you… but you’re proving yourself.’
‘Weren’t you my age when you were writing angry articles about Voldemort from exile?’
‘And it almost got me killed, so I’m going to make sure, in an age of the Council of Thorns’ machinations, that none of my reporters walk the same road.’
Selena’s gaze flickered to Tobias’ leg, injured by Death Eaters in the Second War and never the same since. Today he walked stiffly, but more or less fine. Still, he took stairs one at a time, on bad days needed a cane, and she knew pain-subduing potions sat in a cabinet by the wall.
Some scars never go away.
‘There’s more,’ said Tobias, and her eyes snapped up to his as if she hadn’t been gawping. The look on his face made it clear he knew, and she wondered if he got used to it after over twenty-five years. ‘I did a little looking into the British side of Pudley while you were gone. About eight months ago, their director lost control of majority shares of the company. Now there’s no one majority shareholder, but there’s a lot of cooperation between this new half-dozen or so names.’
‘You think they might be behind Pudley’s new illicit activities?’
‘Possibly. But I also want you to take a look at these companies.’ He handed over a fresh sheet of parchment. ‘Some are British, some aren’t, but they all underwent similar takeovers at around the same time. Some hostile, some not, but whoever was calling the shots before isn’t calling the shots any more.’
Selena’s eyes flashed. ‘A smuggling network across multiple companies -’
‘You’re getting ahead of yourself.’ He lifted a hand. ‘Let the evidence lead you. And focus on Pudley most of all, but if you see anything which links in with these other names… bear this in mind.’
‘I will.’ She got to her feet, clutching the parchment, and only then did the tremendous responsibility he’d tossed to her sink in. ‘I know you only took me on to do some societies events -’
‘That’s what you applied for, and I won’t lie, I thought your name would open doors for you.’ Tobias gave a wry smile. ‘You’re the one who chose to chase up a spot of gossip at that gala and stumbled onto this. But if you enjoy reporting of more substance -’
‘There’s nothing insubstantial about society events.’ Selena stuck her nose in the air. ‘After all, it’s about the people who do these kinds of things, isn’t it? All of this, all of what we do. It boils down to people.’
His smile remained. ‘We’ll see how this story goes. And then we’ll talk about your future with the Clarion, hm?’
She returned the smile, for once genuine and pleased, for once feeling like a teenager with a cool prospect before her instead of a woman wrestling hydras of disaster and death. ‘Yes, Mister Grey.’ It never hurt to be formal when she was in the mood for gratitude. ‘Thank you, Mister Grey.’
Tobias nodded, and waved a hand at the door. ‘You’re welcome. Now go get your cupcake tribute.’
The bullpen gave her curious looks as she returned, still holding the papers. Somewhere in a corner someone snickered, assuming her alleged triumph had failed. Selena ignored them. Her rocket ship to the top was still loaded with fuel. She tossed her hair over her shoulder and sauntered to her desk, sat in a corner as befit someone of her junior status. It was near enough to the coffee machine to be disturbed by its choking sputtering and periodic explosions, not so near as to be able to lean over to anyone getting a drink and go, ‘Ooh, get me a refill.’
In her absence, her desk had been turned into the tip. Anything nobody wanted to deal with was dumped here, any paperwork anyone wanted to hide. So, the heady glow of the rocket ship fading from her mind’s eye, she slung her bag - Milanese - by the table and set about tidying. Or, more accurately, consigning everything that looked boring to the bin.
Back issues, memos, long-lost interview notes; it was all here. Selena paused only for a moment to scrutinise a loose fifth page from a months-old Clarion which announced the long-overdue marriage of former Quidditch star Caldwyn Brynmor and once-hero of the Phlegethon crisis Nathalie Lockett. ‘Wasn’t this six months ago?’
The very bored eyes of Jemima Carnihan, junior office assistant and the only person at the Clarion less important than Selena, lifted from her copy of Witch Weekly. ‘What?’
‘Oh.’ Jemima might have strained something if she tried to care less. ‘I guess? Who cares? Has-been Quidditch star and washed-up Potioneer.’
‘Has-been Potioneer who saved Hogwarts.’ Selena pursed her lips. She wasn’t used to defending Nat Lockett. She was used to pointing out why everyone shouldn’t be worshipping her. But hearing her efforts dismissed by some random girl was a reminder that her former Potions Professor had won the Order of Merlin for a reason.
And then disappeared off the face of the planet when everything went south with Scorpius. Nobody had thought much about it, or at least, nobody of Selena’s acquaintance. It wasn’t that Lockett’s disappearance wasn’t a cause for concern, but everyone had been too caught up in their own issues. When Lockett had re-emerged some eight months ago, she hadn’t bothered to get in touch. Her disappearance was a concern for her fiancé and family, and if she’d sorted it out and finally got hitched, then all Selena could think was, ‘good for her.’
‘Never mind.’ Selena tossed the paper down and judiciously shoved the rest of the stack into the bin. ‘Jemima. Catch me up. On everything.’
Jemima paused like a mouse with one paw on the trap. ‘Which everything? Office gossip?’
‘Has there been any office gossip? Our boss doesn’t sleep with his assistant; which sounds like a waste of a perfectly good assistant.’
‘I see Milan did you good.’ Jemima sighed. ‘Er, Robert and Roberta broke up…’
‘Is that because they realised it was creepy for two people with such similar names to be a couple?’ Selena waved a hand. ‘Never mind. Real politics. I’ve been in Italy for weeks -’
‘We know, you keep telling us -’
‘So what’s been going on in Britain?’
Jemima gave her copy of Witch Weekly a forlorn look. ‘Minister Halvard has been re-establishing control of the Department of Magical Transportation and loosening up regulations on transport…’
‘…and then facing opposition from the MLE because of concerns about security. Which is making the DIMC throw strops because they need to set new guidelines on travel… doesn’t your Mum tell you all this?’
‘She writes.’ Selena admired her empty desk, and set her papers from Tobias to the side. ‘I can’t lie, I assume her complaints about the Ministry are the same as they’ve been. She’s always called the office of the Minister an incompetent and inefficient system of government.’
‘Interestingly, more people seem to think that way. Polls came in the other day. Your mother’s approval ratings are rocketing sky-high.’
‘Of course they are, she doesn’t have to do anything, and people can go right back to blaming the Ministry of Magic for everything which goes wrong -’
‘No, no. The public thinks the International Magical Convocation was efficient, more efficient than anything they knew from the Ministry. With Minister Halvard’s restoration of power as the IMC’s drawn back its sweeping authority, the public’s been reminded of how much the Ministry bickers, politicks, gets nothing done. They’re already sick of it.’
And here I thought it was just Mum’s bellyaching. But before Selena could comment, Jemima clicked her fingers and rustled about for a folded letter. ‘Oh, I forgot. This came in for you this morning. I rescued it from the pile.’
Selena’s heart sank as she recognised the handwriting, but she kept her expression schooled as she broke the seal and read the contents.
Heard you’re back in the country. Rose and I just got back ourselves. Funny how these things work out, isn’t it? I thought it might be nice if we got a drink some time. Caught up. You can tell me all about Milan, and I’ll make sure to only tell you the interesting bits about Egypt.
Thinks about it? It’s been a while.
‘Jemima,’ said Selena, brow ponderous as she lifted her wand and set fire to the letter. ‘You’re actually quite good with politics, aren’t you?’
Jemima looked from the burning letter to her. ‘Um. I’m just here to do the coffee and the paperwork and then I get time to read Witch Weekly -’
‘Yes, but that’s not why you got this job, is it.’
‘I don’t want to be a reporter. I hate writing.’
‘But you like nosying, and you get people, and you get politics.’ Selena glanced over at her. Jemima was small and she was pretty and she liked brightly-coloured nail varnish, and even though Selena didn’t entirely approve of that shade of lipstick and those earrings, not everyone could be blessed with her impeccable fashion-sense. The fact remained that anyone would take one look at Jemima and assume they had her figured out, from blonde highlights to religiously-followed Witch Weekly. ‘I need someone to help me nosy.’
Jemima watched the final scraps of the letter turn to ash which was brushed into the bin without another thought. ‘Um…’
‘Or you can go back to making tea for Roberta while she weeps about how she’d picked out a wedding dress even though they’d only been together three months, and you’ll have no idea what to say to something that crazy and creepy.’
Jemima sighed. ‘Alright. The boss got you something?’
Selena fanned out the paperwork and smiled. She’d need some help for the leg-work, and if she could give Jemima a makeover of her fashion as well as her career prospects, then so much the better.
And under no circumstances did she have to think about a boy named Matthias Doyle.
A/N: I've been over it a thousand times and I bet I've still got the dates wrong on Scorpius' birth and death.