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Chapter 5 : Of Day and Night and Death and Hell
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Rose was only a little surprised when Selena appeared at her door with a bottle of wine and declared, ‘We’re going out.’
Matt had left the flat to meet up with John and the rest of his old Gryffindor friends half an hour ago. She’d expected to spend the evening at home with a thick book and the research notes Griznak had forwarded her about the findings from Ranisonb’s tomb. It was, after all, a Tuesday night. Nothing that exciting was going to happen on a Tuesday night, even if she wasn’t technically working right then.
‘If we’re going out,’ said Rose, ‘then why did you bring a bottle of wine?’
‘Pre-drinks! The fancy kind, not the “I’m cheap and think being drunk is the sole purpose of a night out so will chug crap vodka in my room” kind.’ Selena waltzed past her, a flurry of blonde hair and red wine, her heels clip-clopping on the polished wooden floor. ‘I like the place. Swanky digs.’
‘Yeah - how did you know where we live?’
‘I have my ways, darling. Where are your wine glasses?’
‘Er…’ Rose hurried into the kitchen, glad that she and Matt kept the flat in gloomy lighting of just a few sconces in the evenings so Selena wouldn’t see her cheeks colouring. ‘I don’t think I actually own wine glasses…’
‘Classy. Start as you mean to go on, Weasley. But fetch us something, even if we must be tragic and drink Beaujolais out of a chipped tea mug.’
Rose rummaged about cupboards before she found the box, and with a growing sense of guilt and mischief, brought that over to where Selena had artfully draped herself across one of the armchairs. She opened the box. ‘How about these?’
‘Cut glass whiskey tumblers. I assume those are Matt’s.’ Selena smirked. ‘That’s somehow worse than not having any wine glasses. That’s not being poor, that’s just being uneducated. Get them out.’ So they sat before the fireplace in silence as Selena wrangled with the cork and Rose set out Matt’s favourite whiskey glasses for them to drink red wine out of.
‘It needs to breathe, dear,’ said Selena, as she topped up a tumbler of red wine.
‘What does that even mean?’
‘I don’t know how it works, but I know I’ve drunk wine before it’s breathed and after it’s breathed and, I guarantee, with some wine, you want to drink it after. It’s why people slosh wine around in a glass so much. So, get sloshing.’
Instead, Rose looked over and said, ‘so how did you know to find us here?’
‘Like I said. I have contacts.’
‘Except Matt’s dad is famously paranoid and has set us up with all security.’
‘Security. Pah!’ Selena had a swig of red wine. ‘Fine. John told me. He’s very angry, you know.’
Rose raised an eyebrow. John Colton was one of the most infamously patient people she knew, despite his flippant demeanour. ‘At what?’
‘Oh, you know. Matt. I’ve never seen him more happy to have a grumble. When we’re done with this bottle, we’re going somewhere…’
Rose thought one bottle of wine between two women was an evening well on its way, but the manner in which Selena threw back glass after glass was putting pay to that. ‘Selena, what’s wrong? We haven’t seen each other in months and this is how you show up -’
‘Yes! It’s lovely to see you!’ Selena put down her tumbler to lunge at Rose in an all-encompassing embrace, which meant there was a lot of hair everywhere.
Rose tried to extricate herself as judiciously as possible. ‘And you - and it is, it really is, but something’s wrong.’
‘Not with me. But if something were wrong with you, I wouldn’t know, would I, because you don’t get in touch -’
Indignation flashed in Rose’s gut. ‘I didn’t know you were back in the country. I thought you were still in Milan.’
‘Hmph.’ Selena picked up her wine glass anew. ‘Matt knew.’
Now Rose paused. ‘When did you see Matt?’
‘Sunday. After Albus showed up at your Gran’s. He didn’t tell you?’
Rose flinched. ‘Don’t do that.’
‘That. “He didn’t tell you?” You clearly know he didn’t. Don’t play me, Selena, I’m not other people.’ She put the tumbler of wine down on the coffee table. ‘What do you think is going on?’
Selena didn’t answer for a moment, leaning back in her chair, firelight dancing in her long, golden hair. Rose had always been jealous of Selena’s good looks; how she could be the most distinguished woman at a fancy occasion, or the most effortlessly, casually gorgeous girl at a party. Once, she’d let herself be overshadowed by her friends like Miranda and Abena, more forthright or more quietly confident, with Selena as the melodramatic and less-intelligent tag-along. But if long years of hardship and suffering had done anything, they’d carved chunks out of her insecurities, and when she combined her natural beauty with the rod of iron now running through her, she could be anything. Sophisticatedly gorgeous. Dressed-down but pretty. Haunting, lonely, beautiful.
‘I’m going to ask my favourite question, Rose,’ she said after a long silence, and green eyes locked onto her. ‘Are you happy?’
Rose sighed. ‘If I say, “yes,” you won’t believe me.’
‘I might. Are you going to say yes?’
Rose stared into her glass, the wine shimmering in the firelight. ‘I still get nightmares,’ she said at length. ‘I still wake up thinking of Scorpius. I still get punches in the gut like I’m betraying him. And I don’t know how to make them stop. It’s been over two years and he wouldn’t want me grieving forever.’
‘No.’ Selena sipped her wine. ‘No, I dare say he wouldn’t. He’d joke that he’d rather you weren’t moving on with Matt -’
A flinch. ‘He’s not here to make that joke, and Matt and I are working -’
‘So you are happy?’
‘I have a job!’ Rose exploded to her feet, clutching the glass. ‘I have a job which I’m good at, where I have prospects, which uses my skills and experience and doesn’t get me treated like an idiot child! I have a lovely flat where I live with a boyfriend who loves me, and I have a huge and supportive family -’
‘But your last boyfriend was also murdered by international terrorists, and your adored, close cousin ran out on you without offering you any support, and now he’s back to throw all of the choices you made to survive in your face.’
‘Albus is - I don’t care what Al has to say.’
Selena did her the courtesy of pretending to believe this. ‘You’ve listed very good reasons to be happy. But they’re all about your quality of life and the people around you. I haven’t heard you talk even once about your feelings.’
Rose narrowed her eyes. ‘We’ve talked about this. I know full well you disapprove of Matt and I -’
‘I don’t disapprove of you and Matt,’ said Selena in a calm, level voice. ‘I disapprove of people lying to themselves.’ She got to her feet, drained her wine, and stepped over. ‘My rule is the same rule it’s always been. If you can look me in the eye and say with absolute honesty that you are happy and fulfilled by this relationship with Matt, that you love him or at least feel you’re well on your way - that he, and your job, and your life, are what you choose, not just what feels like the most stable and comforting option in a life which has beaten you about the face with a bat - if you can just look me in the eye and say, “I am happy,” then I will take your word for it and we will finish this wine.’
Selena was too close for Rose to do anything but look her in the eye, that emerald gaze piercing but not unkind. This was not the first time Selena had done this. They’d talked just before the Gringotts job started, and just after she and Matt had finally got together, and even though she knew that Selena and Matt had devolved into blazing rows over time, Selena had never been accusatory at her. Because Selena was smart enough to know that Rose would get defensive at the first opportunity, just to deflect the questions, when all she wanted was the truth.
Rose looked Selena in the eye, and said, ‘Let’s go get drunk.’
‘Good,’ said Selena. ‘I say we leave these half-empty glasses here for Matt to find and weep over. Merlin, he’s got pretentious.’
‘He has, a bit,’ said Rose. The stab of guilt from criticising her boyfriend when he wasn’t there turned to a twist of girlish glee at doing something so deliciously petty and adolescent. ‘He’s taken to smoking cigars on occasion. I don’t mind the smell, but I think he’s trying a bit hard to look all academic and fancy.’
Selena laughed, and it was a good, normal laugh as they grabbed their coats and headed for the door, and for once this didn’t feel like an inquisition, or an occasion to put on a mask and play the good little worker or girlfriend or daughter. As the wine started to buzz its way around Rose’s head, she reflected how Selena was the person who made her feel most honest with herself.
‘So where are we going?’ she asked as they emerged into the crisp, cold night air of Cambridge in autumn, and without thinking her gaze went to the starlit sky. Orion, as ever, stared down at her, and she blinked the vision back.
Selena smiled an impish smile. She did, Rose reflected with a jolt of genuine pleasure, smile a lot more these days. ‘Let’s try Hogsmeade. Three Broomsticks. It’s been a while.’
Rose nodded, and they walked for the side-alleyway from which Apparition was possible. ‘I didn’t ask how you’re doing.’
‘Me? I’m fine, darling -’
‘Come on, at least do a proper evasion instead of the stock line. That’s why we’re here, isn’t it?’
Selena looked at her, and something pinched in her gaze - awkward, but not insincere. ‘I don’t usually have nightmares,’ she said in a low voice. ‘I don’t usually wake up gasping his name, or wake up and think the world’s set to rights before I remember it isn’t. It’s feeling normal to be alone. Is that called getting better?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Rose, lips thinning. ‘I’ll tell you when I get there.’
The Apparition brought them cracking out of the blackened streets of Cambridge and onto the cobbled roads of Hogsmeade in a chest-thumping heartbeat that was the only indication they’d travelled nearly the length of the British Isles in one moment. Selena staggered and let go of Rose’s arm, fanning herself with a hand. ‘You’re out of practice at that, dear.’
‘Are you going to be sick?’
‘No, no.’ Selena put a hand to the wall. ‘Just when it’s not a matter of life or death, I’ve discovered I rather despise Apparition. I’ll be right as rain in a moment.’
‘You’ll be righter and rainer with another glass of wine,’ Rose said, and helped the two of them limp into the main street of Hogsmeade. ‘Come on.’
‘You know the magic words to inspire me.’ Selena was brightening already. ‘So, tell me about Egypt, and skip the boring parts. I hear Raskoph’s flunkies continue to make a sport out of trying to brutally murder you?’
The story of Egypt took them all the way across Hogsmeade and to the Three Broomsticks, which was comfortably busy but not thriving on a Tuesday night. Lights glimmered from the windows of most houses, plenty of people went about their evening business, and they could meld with the crowd as just another two young witches out for a casual drink.
When they got to the bar, Selena looked over Rose’s shoulder and swore. ‘Hector’s here. I have miscalculated.’
Rose didn’t hesitate as she leaned towards Madam Rosmerta and said, ‘Then we’ll make that a bottle of eau-de-vie and two glasses.’
‘A Beaujolais and then eau-de-vie, evidently we’re having a French sort of night,’ said Selena with approval, and cast another discreet glance across the bar. ‘It’s fine, he’s just here with his Tutshill teammates, the brigade of neckless wonders -’
‘I appreciate you ragging on my ex-boyfriend as a form of moral support,’ said Rose, and still didn’t look to the relevant corner. ‘But I’m fine, seriously.’
‘Of course you are, dear.’ Selena grabbed the bottle and poured two shots as soon as Madam Rosmerta delivered. ‘That’s why we’re drinking this. Chin chin.’
It burnt on the way down, but not like Firewhiskey, which kept burning and which Rose had no stomach for. That was a constant effort to try to warm up her insides, which she resented on principle, while the French drink was more like a shot of flames that scalded and, if you survived, you felt better for it. ‘Hector and I don’t argue. We don’t fight. We’re not hostile exes. We’re ignoring each other exes. Trust me, in the Daily Prophet of problems in my life, Hector Flynn doesn’t even feature in the lifestyle section.’
‘Well,’ said Selena, ‘the Daily Prophet is a biased and terrible rag.’
Rose laughed. ‘That’s your cue to tell me about Milan.’
‘It was wonderful; you’d hate it,’ Selena gushed, full of self-awareness as she launched into a well-rehearsed and ridiculously over-the-top regalement of her wars against corporate bribery and possible international smuggling, and Rose could perch on her bar stool and drink the burning drinks and listen and try to ignore Hector.
Despite herself, there was something comfortable about trying to ignore her ex-boyfriend. She could hear him, of course, because Hector was a loud man surrounded by other loud young men. He was a Reserve Chaser for the Tutshill Tornadoes these days, and a small part of her was pleased for him but the rest of her couldn’t care less about anything. Tonight, avoiding him felt like the kind of thing normal young women did. They could worry about awkward run-ins and avoiding embarrassing confrontations, and not about the perils of their relationship while they grieved for dead men.
‘So how’s your mother?’ Rose prompted the moment the Milan story was over. The show had to go on.
‘Oh.’ Selena rolled her eyes. ‘We don’t talk a lot, because she’s so caught up in winding back the IMC. She’s been complaining for months about being tired and busy, but the world doesn’t really need her to be the mad dictator controlling everyone’s lives and security, and it really is for the best the Convocation shuts down. She knows this, she’s just going to be melodramatic until the last.’
‘Mothers, melodramatic? Surely not.’
‘I know. She keeps bellyaching about the Minister, and I agree that he’s a complete donkey. But I think if the IMC’s done any good - aside from keeping us generally safe from the Council of Thorns - then it’s showing people the Ministry needs some serious reforms. Mum made sure she recruited people of talent and competence into the positions of power in the IMC, while the Ministry is still such an old boys’ network.’
‘Mum’s been saying similar things,’ Rose reflected gloomily. ‘I think she’s trying to put forward all manner of reforms, possibly see about Department Heads being electable positions or the like. The IMC wasn’t perfect, but they got the job done, and I think people are pretty sick of the Ministry’s outdated eccentricities after they’ve been governed by a more efficient, modern sort of organisation for the last two years.’
‘Yes,’ said Selena, ‘but France and Germany and America don’t need to be governed by my mother and her cronies. Which she knows and accepts, but I think I’m going to have the most bored and interfering mother in the world clamouring at me for news or distractions once it’s all over.’
‘Isn’t that our life, though?’ Rose sighed and had another swig of eau-de-vie. ‘Distractions.’
‘Morbid, you nerd.’ Selena clinked their glasses together. ‘Now, come on, half a bottle in and are you going to talk to Al?’
‘I should. Though he’s not got in touch. But we did row.’ Rose sighed. ‘I don’t know if I’m angry with him or if I want to make up with him.’
‘It can be both things. What’re you angry at him about? Leaving?’
Rose refilled both their glasses. ‘Lisa. Saida. Whatever her name was.’
Selena started, and put a hand on her arm. ‘Oh, dear, you can’t -’
‘She betrayed us, she sold us out. She’s as responsible as Raskoph or Thane or any of them. And let’s face it, Selena, we’d have left her in Kythos, or Syria, if it hadn’t been for Al!’
‘What about Brillig or Cat Island?’
‘We can’t predict that. So much happened in so many different ways. But she told Thane to find us in Venice. Everything that happened after then was her fault.’
‘Including giving us what we needed to break out in Ager Sanguinis?’
Rose slammed the glass down. ‘Are you defending her?’
Selena opened and closed her mouth. ‘No. I’m really not. I don’t… I admit it, Rose, I don’t care about Eva Saida. She’s a symptom of bigger problems, and I can’t understand her because I don’t know enough, so I’ve refused to lose sleep over her. But I appreciate it’s different for you, and it’s certainly different for Al.’ She took a swig from her drink. ‘Blegh. Has it occurred to you he left because he blames himself for that, too, though?’
Rose furrowed her brow. ‘I don’t understand why he left.’
‘And I reckon,’ said Selena gently, ‘that’s what you’re most angry about.’
It was a difficult point to argue. Al had left with mumbling, half-baked explanations of a man in too much pain to want to justify himself, and she’d been howling in her own agony too much to put herself in his shoes. They’d parted with rifts and breaches cracking open, not just between them, but in themselves. So Rose had another drink, and instead said, ‘I might not have time for any of that, anyway; I need to talk to my boss at Gringotts about our next assignment.’
‘I thought you were sticking around for this wedding?’
‘Well, yes, but there’ll be prep-work in Britain for that, and once it’s over, we can get going -’
If there was a sound, it was lost to the clinking of glasses and the laughter of the Three Broomsticks, and certainly no such sound cut her off. What did cut her off was a sudden creeping sense, the hairs on the back of her neck standing up, those years-old survival instincts stirring before a rumble ran through her bones, a rumble she knew all-too well. Something’s happening.
Selena had put her glass down, too. ‘Did you hear that?’
‘No,’ said Rose.
‘Me neither,’ said Selena, and they stood and reached for their wands in unison.
Just as the screaming from outside started.
‘Check the back,’ Rose said without missing a beat, and then her voice was ringing out across the pub, clear and commanding. ‘Everyone, stay down and stay quiet! I’ll take a look!’
Wizards twice her age, the landlady, her ex-boyfriend, all gave her a gormless stare and remained unmoving and silent as she padded to the front door. She didn’t know if they were that desperate to be told what to do or if she, a girl of nineteen, really did have the necessary presence to command them. But they were behaving, so that would do.
The lights in Hogsmeade were dimmer as she creaked the door open. Plenty of houses had been plunged into darkness, and the flames of the street lanterns glimmered to send shadows rippling across cobbles and clawing up walls. The screaming came from the north, and within heartbeats there were thudding footsteps and about a dozen people sprinting in a blind panic down the main road.
But they ignored her, bellowing to one another to run - wizards, families bundling children, some in their night-clothes, driven from their homes by whatever was approaching from the north side of Hogsmeade.
Then a sliver of white slashed through the darkness in a loping gait, lumbering towards her and the fleeing townspeople, and the sensation which settled in Rose’s gut was at one moment blind terror, and the next comforting recognition. She slammed the door shut and turned to the stricken patrons. ‘Inferi.’
Selena was returning from the back door, and something cold and calm seized her expression. ‘Oh,’ she said in a soft voice. ‘It’s that time again.’
‘Hector!’ Rose bellowed at him because he was the most useful person she recognised. ‘Get your boys and start barricading the doors and windows; we want to keep those things out. Selena, set up some anti-flame wards on the building; fire’s our friend but it’s no good if we burn ourselves to death. Madam Rosmerta, I need you to check the Floo. See if you can send word out or start to get people out of here.’
‘Got it.’ Selena lifted her wand as the screaming outside reached a whole new pitch. ‘What’re you doing?’
‘Checking if they’ve blocked off Apparition.’
Their eyes met. ‘Those Inferi were bone-white.’
‘Oh,’ said Selena again. ‘It’s that time again.’
Inferi were corpses animated by Dark Magic, and most of the time this made them shambling, rotten figures of grey skin and bone. This had been something different; human once, but warped and twisted, and Rose had only seen one thing which did that to an undead before: the Eridanos plague, the Council of Thorns’ weapon two and a half years ago. But Eridanos had been wiped out, the infection sites cleansed and the Council’s source destroyed. They had intended on a successor, as virulent and dangerous and letting Thornweavers control the Inferi better, but Lethe had died with Scorpius Malfoy.
Hector Flynn was on his feet, grabbing a table with one strong hand, his wand pulling others towards him. Outside there was the sound of breaking glass, a scream cut off at a sudden, high-pitch with a low growl. ‘Aren’t we going to block people out?’ he called at Rose.
‘Yes.’ She swished her wand through the air, detecting the flows of space-warping magic she would need to tap into if she was going to attempt Apparition. ‘But if those things get in, then everyone here is dead.’
‘You’ve gotten cheery,’ her ex-boyfriend observed as he and his Quidditch teammates piled up tables in front of the windows. ‘Then aren’t we just boxing ourselves in to die?’
He was doing what he was told even as he voiced objections, she noticed. She lowered her wand as it sparked its results. ‘They’ve blocked out Apparition, so I’d bet we can’t Floo out, or even send word. But this is Hogsmeade; even if nobody gets word out, Hogwarts will notice something’s wrong, and then we’ll have reinforcements from the Ministry, and then we live. I assure you, we cannot fight these things on open ground.’
‘You don’t know how many of them there are.’
This is the Council of Thorns. It’s not just going to be one. ‘I do,’ said Rose. ‘Enough.’
There was a thud of something heavy hitting the front door, and her heart lunged into her throat twice: first at that, then at the voice calling, desperate, ‘Please, please open -’
And then a growl, and a shriek of pain and terror, and the sound of flesh and bone tearing. Hector took a sharp step back, his face white, but Rose shot her wand out to drag a heavy oak table before the front door. ‘They’re here,’ she said. ‘You open that up for anyone, anyone, and you kill us all.’
Hector rounded on his teammates. ‘Guys! Check the back!’
‘And the upstairs!’ chipped in Selena. ‘Those things can climb and jump, too.’
‘Madam Rosmerta! How’s that Floo coming?’ Rose bellowed at the landlady stood before the hearth.
‘It’s blocked off, no messages or travel -’
‘Then we fight.’ Rose lifted both hands to the gathered, wide-eyed wizards. ‘Those things out there are Inferi. They will kill you; rip you apart, bite you, claw at you. The best weapon against them is fire; failing that, destroy the heads. Watch the entrances, stick together, and do not panic. We are in a defensible location. We can keep safe. We can keep them at bay until the Ministry gets here.’
A rumble ran through the crowd at her words, fear mixed with a certain kind of reassurance that came from the desperate knowledge that they didn’t have a choice. Selena slunk next to her, voice dropping. ‘So, just like old times.’
‘Except,’ said Rose, ‘I’m a bit drunk.’
Then there was another impact at the window, and the shrieking sound of unnaturally strengthened and elongated nails on glass, and the murmur of the patrons turned into a low moan of fear.
‘I’m not drunk enough,’ Selena muttered.
A window smashed near the corner, and a burly Quidditch player drew back with a look of fear Rose would never have expected from someone so large. She nudged Selena. ‘Watch the front door; I’ve got this.’ She pushed her way through the crowd that was happy to let her pass and reached where the piled up tables blocked the shattered window.
‘They’re cunning, like animal instincts,’ Rose said, because it reminded her and because it was oddly comforting to educate as she went, ‘but they’re not the brightest of creatures.’
Growls came with the clawed hand that grasped the corner of the barricade. The skin clung tight against the bone and was just as white, sinewy and with unnaturally elongated fingers that ended in clawed nails inches long, curved, sharp, vicious. Without hesitating, she put her wand to the flailing hand and murmured, ‘Incendio.’ The skin went up like old parchment, and the scream was high-pitched, quavering, not inhuman enough and with a childlike quality which made her flesh crawl. But the hand was jerked back.
And then it started in earnest.
Windows smashed, clawed hands tried to struggle their way through the gaps, and Selena started to rally the patrons at the other side of the pub. Rose peered through the gap she’d left as the Three Broomsticks was given over to panicked defending, and jolted as she saw the pitch-black, deep-set eyes in a sunken, white, skull-like face peering back at her.
She blasted fire in its face. ‘Take them down whenever you have a clear shot! They may pick an easier target if we give them a tough time!’
And kill everyone else. It was easy, as a Hogwarts alumni, to think of Hogsmeade as nothing more than the series of shops and distractions she visited once a term. But there were more than businesses here; this was the only fully-magical settlement in the country. People lived here. Families. Children. The screaming outside was mixed with the growling shrieks of the Inferi, and she could only imagine the chaos out there. A golden glow crept through the holes in their barricade, and Rose knew something was on fire. Perhaps a ploy to fight them. Perhaps something was going wrong.
A window smashed from upstairs, joined by panicked yells, and Rose’s head snapped to the door. ‘Selena! Reinforce them!’ She reflected, as Selena darted for the stairs, that her friend was a truly unremarkable witch in terms of magical prowess. And yet experience and determination made her one of the most valuable people in this room.
Another crack of breaking wood, a whole chunk of a table broken away by grasping hands, and then there were three Inferi trying to pull themselves into the pub through the tiny hole. Beyond them, Hogsmeade was a sea of blazing flames, bone-white figures loping up and down the road, and more and more the witches and wizards Rose could see were still, unmoving. She shoved the implications of that from her mind, and send a gout of fire at the foremost Inferi. It curled at the edges around the anti-flame wards Selena had set up, though she saw that magic crackle and knew it wouldn’t hold forever, and the first monstrous corpse fell back with a howl.
The next lunged, clawed hands swiping only inches away from her when she jerked back, then another wand sliced down to crack through flesh and bone and the arm was severed at the elbow.
‘We’ve got to block that!’ Hector yelled as he lowered his wand and brandished a shattered length of table like a shield. As if breaking a defensive line of Chasers, he charged the oncoming Inferi, slamming into them with the broad barrier of wood, and sent them all falling back into the street. He kept his shoulder there, pinning the wood in place as Rose and a couple of his Quidditch teammates began to tether it to the rest of the barricade, block the gap. But before the last side could be secured, another clawed, white hand punched through, and scraping nails scoured a bloody length across Hector’s back.
Rose’s heart lunged into her throat as he screamed and fell, and then she was there in the breach, her wand sending blazing energies through flesh to the Inferi’s bone. The spell was so forceful that the fire ran the length of the arm to consume the whole creature, and then they were slamming the wood into place again, and the breach was blocked.
Hector collapsed on his front onto one of the benches, groaning. His shirt was ripped and soaked in blood at the four, perfect gouges cut through his flesh. ‘Bastard things!’
The wounds were not that deep. But then, Matt hadn’t been wounded at all on Brillig, just exposed to the Inferi in enough up close and personal fighting to be infected. It’s not Eridanos. It might be different. But Rose couldn’t imagine why the Council of Thorns would make their plague less infectious.
‘Rose!’ That was Selena, thundering down the stairs, as white as one of the Inferi. ‘We’ve got a problem. There are Thornweavers out there.’
Colonel Raskoph was a complete lunatic, but there was one thing to be said for his particular brand of zealotry. An adherent of the hundred year-old teachings of Grindelwald, as he’d risen through the ranks of the Council of Thorns he had organised them, turned them from rag-tag mercenaries into something disciplined. That included their new names, and it included the masks.
These were not the distinctive, stylised masks of the Death Eaters, where rich purebloods took pleasure in making themselves unique even while they were anonymous. These were black, with wide, round, dark lenses at the eyes, and the only colour and decoration came from the white symbol at the forehead, the five-spoked sun-wheel. With the robes they wore, long and dark and flowing, they made for a shadowy, impressive sight. Rose was glad Castagnary had operated too much with the pretense of being a regular member of society for him and his subordinates to dress like that. But it meant they had their final confirmation of what was happening here, tonight.
‘That’s impossible,’ Madam Rosmerta snapped. This was apparently the last straw as her pub was wrecked around her. ‘They’re just backward idiots squatting in South America!’
‘You’re free to tell them that!’ said Selena.
There was a thud at the front barricade, quite unlike the impact of an Inferi’s body on wood. Then another, and another, and Rose realised someone was knocking.
‘There’s a Muggle story,’ came a woman’s voice from the other side. There was a slight accent Rose could not place, and the moaning of the Inferi around them continued, but they sounded calm, collected. ‘I will spare you the specifics, but for those of you familiar: “Little pigs, little pigs…”’
‘Get back!’ Rose yelled, just as the barricade was blasted in. Shattered wood sprayed her, the impact forcing her staggering back. She would have fallen, but Selena was there, keeping her up and dragging her away from the worst of the wave. Other patrons were knocked over, faces and arms scratched by the splinters, and then came the gust of the cold air of Hogsmeade at night as there was no barricade or window to keep it out. It came with the gagging stench of rotting, of burning flesh, of the metallic tang of blood, and brought with it the moans and screams on the breeze. And with that, the Inferi lunged through the broken barricade, and into the Three Broomsticks.
Rose fought to keep her footing and lifted her wand, but Selena grabbed her shoulder and dragged her back, away from the thronging of people and towards the rear exit. ‘It’s done!’ Selena snapped. ‘It’s over!’
‘But these -’
‘Every bugger for themselves!’
And she was right. The Inferi had not been discouraged by the barricades of the pub; they seemed enthused by the challenge, and all the more bloodthirsty and willing to unleash their fury. The echoes of the shattered barricade were soon enough replaced by gut-wrenching screams.
‘We can fight -’
‘And die!’ Selena swept the barricade at the untouched back door away with a slash of the wand and then the two of them were falling into the alleyway that ran behind the Three Broomsticks, dark and, for now, empty. ‘We need to go.’
‘Hogwarts.’ Rose looked up and down the road to get her bearings. ‘This way!’
They ran, shoulder to shoulder with wands brandished. Some of the patrons from the Three Broomsticks had followed them, but not enough, not nearly enough, and Rose didn’t look back. They ducked into another small alleyway, and another, but wherever they went they could see the glows of spot-fires from blazing buildings, hear the moans of the Inferi, the sounds of battle, and the screams of the dead and dying.
‘We’ve got to cross a road,’ Rose said at last, and at the next narrow alleyway corner, she almost tripped over the body. It was still and small, clad in night-clothes, and she didn’t want to think how young this child was. But the moment of stumbling, of Selena hauling her onward with a gasp of surprise which was almost a sob, meant they were for that critical moment distracted from their defences.
Which was when the Stuns slammed into them from the main road.
Stars flew in front of Rose’s vision as she hit the wall and fell like a sandbag. By the sound of it, Selena was no better off, and then the tall, looming shapes of the Thornweavers were above them, wands extended.
‘Get her - the blonde one, it’s her he wants.’ It was the woman who’d broken the Three Broomsticks’ defences, and Rose gritted her teeth and tried to fight through the Stun, but she’d dropped her wand and didn’t have a chance.
She heard the muffled protest from Selena, saw the bigger Thornweaver pick her up and sling her over a shoulder, then they turned to the woman. ‘What about her?’
‘She’s the Weasley girl -’
‘So killing her here sends a message. Get Rourke out.’
Tromping footsteps, a shadow disappearing, and Rose tried to stop her vision from spinning long enough to focus on the Thornweaver stood over her, wand levelled at her face. She didn’t want to see her own death, exactly, but it would be nice to not die utterly witless.
I’ll come back…
A fizz of magic. A yelp from the Thornweaver. And then spells flew through the air, a frantic and angry duel, and the Thornweaver was being pushed back, back. Then a fresh spark of magic, a slashing spell she saw crack into the Thornweaver’s throat with a spray of blood.
The woman fell, and still Rose could not move, but then there was a new shadow over her, a gloved hand at her shoulder. ‘You’re alright,’ they hissed, words too low to be more than breath. She couldn’t see their face, hidden under the shadows of darkness and a hood, and then there was a new voice from behind them, a voice she did recognise.
‘Leave her there,’ said Prometheus Thane, stood in the alleyway behind her saviour. ‘The Ministry’s on their way; she’ll be fine.’
The Stun was not lifted as the figure got to their feet and bounded off with Thane. Shouting from around her was changing its pitch, screams of fear turning to bellowed spells and commands, the terror subsiding, the growling subsiding, the sound of slaughter turning to battle turning to nothing.
And so that was where the Aurors found Rose, ten minutes later: in a dark alleyway in a corner of Hogsmeade, alone save the body of the dead Thornweaver, and with neither Selena Rourke nor Prometheus Thane in sight.
A/N: And finally the plot kicks down the door!
I should have more ruminations. Possibly about the proper way to decant a Beaujolais and what sort of glass it should be drunk from (spoilers: not a whiskey tumbler). Selena's using shorthand; specifically she's brought a Beaujolais Nouveau. A Beaujolais's a very light-bodied red wine from the Burgundy region, though it's distinctive enough to not be lumped in with other Burgundy wines. The Nouveau is commonly the first French wine to be released each year, and you drink it young, generally for easy drinking rather than Heavy Wine Appreciation.
Yes, I'm taking the piss out of myself and my usual historical addenda here. But I do like wine almost as much as I like history.
I’ll settle for talking about the symbol worn by the Thornweavers, the five-spoked sun-wheel; that is indeed meant to be at least similar to the Black Sun design, which has ties to Nazi occultism. ‘Cos I’m being super subtle in painting Raskoph as a bad guy.