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Oblivion by Slide
Chapter 6 : Again to Come
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 10


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Again to Come


Dawn brought smoke and death.

She picked her way down the main road of Hogsmeade, her father next to her, and watched as the Ministry relief squad extinguished the last fires, tended to the townsfolk, and cleared away the bodies. Bone-white monstrosities lay next to the bundled forms of witches and wizards who had not run fast enough, red blood mingling with corrupted black ichor and trickling together in the gaps in the cobbles.

Rose looked at her father’s face as they entered the main square, dominated by the huge white tent of the field hospital, and knew he, for all his war experience, had never seen anything like this either.

‘Hell’s teeth,’ Ron Weasley muttered. ‘They really did a number on this place.’

‘Not just here.’ Harry was detaching from the main thronging of Ministry workers in the middle of the square, and headed over to join them. He looked pale and worn, and Rose would swear more grey hairs had sprung up at his temples overnight. ‘This was a coordinated strike. The Council simultaneously hit locations all over the world.’ He handed over sheafs of paper.

Rose’s gut remained numb and calm as she looked at the staring, motionless picture of Joachim Raskoph, Colonel of the Thule Society, leader of the Council of Thorns and the Brazilian magical government, and now the scourge of the international wizarding world.

‘Today is a day of reckoning for all your sins, all your weakness. None shall doubt our power or resolve. From the ashes of your decadence, a new world of purity shall rise,’ she read, and realised her guts would rebel if she tried to swallow any more of the venomous bile.

‘A handful of capital cities,’ Harry was saying. ‘Other magical hotspots. Avignon. Old Charleston. Trier. But Moscow, too. Countless more. They’ve been raising Inferi and striking with Thornweavers alongside them, marshaling their movements. The magical town they struck in Sicily’s actually been wiped out. This is not over.’

‘This is the point where I’m meant to look at you, all serious-faced, and say something like, “it’s only just beginning,” isn’t it.’ Ron’s eyes bore no humour, only a dull kind of determination, and he put a hand to Rose’s shoulder and kept his grip firm.

‘How many people are dead?’ said Rose, voice tight.

Harry gave her a look like he didn’t want to answer, and then seemed to remember who he was talking to. ‘Eighty-three dead, a hundred more wounded.’

‘Those were Inferi like with Eridanos, you need to burn the bodies, you need to quarantine -’

‘Hogsmeade is under quarantine; Hermione got her team back together and they’re clamping down on this area. The same old procedures. They know what they’re doing. Nobody else comes in or leaves, and Professor Lockett’s on the scene trying to figure out this new illness.’

Rose looked between them with twisting horror. ‘And you’re here when you might be infected -’

‘It was a scramble,’ said Ron. ‘Attacks on Hogsmeade, that’s all we knew. Only volunteers with experience were shipped in once we realised what was going on. So while your mother and Lockett and their people worry about Eridanos or whatever this is, we’re making sure there’s no more trouble.’

She hadn’t heard that, ‘we might be doomed but in the meantime let’s get on with it,’ sentiment in years, and she certainly wasn’t used to hearing it from her father. He and her mother and Uncle Harry had probably mastered this decades ago, but it was another incident of being treated like an equal by her parents, and the fact that this happened most often during threats to life and limb was not comforting.

‘There is no trouble,’ sighed Harry. ‘Fires are put out. Bodies are being cleared. Survivors are being found and checked out. We’ve got a whole line of Enforcers at the quarantine perimeter, keeping people out, and Apparition, Portkey, and Floo remain locked down. We’re gathering reports, but all we can do is wait.’

‘Speaking of reports,’ said Rose, ‘I assume there’s nothing yet on Selena.’

Ron grimaced. ‘We’re sending out word as discreetly as possible, but the Council of Thorns aren’t yet bragging about capturing the Chairman of the IMC’s daughter.’

‘We’ll put the pressure on, at home and abroad,’ said Harry, ‘and we will find her.’

‘Does her mother know?’

‘Hermione told her. Right before she came down with the task force. She’s… apparently dealing with it by calling an emergency summit of the IMC. I get the impression that their disbandment has come to a sudden halt.’

‘We’re going to need them,’ said Ron stoutly. ‘Minister Halvard’s a bloody pencil-pusher with no idea how to handle a crisis. The Ministry’s become a dog-and-pony show under him - we need some decisive leadership and if the Council are striking internationally, we need international unity.’

‘Which makes me all the more concerned,’ said Harry, calmer, ‘that the Council snatched Lillian Rourke’s daughter the same night as they made this strike.’

‘It’s not the most opaque plan in the world,’ Rose pointed out, then drew a deep breath. ‘What about Thane?’

‘I have no idea what he was doing here,’ said Ron, tense. ‘His ties with the Council of Thorns are well-and-truly severed.’

‘His people killed that Thornweaver who was going to kill me; she was in charge of the break-in at the Three Broomsticks. She clearly had some smarts, if not authority. They most absolutely were not here to work with the Council.’

‘And yet they were here before the Ministry was.’ Harry shook his head. ‘It doesn’t surprise me Thane still has contacts in the Council. You don’t become that successful a murderer of their leaders without really good intelligence.’

‘We’ll look into him, too, Rosie. I promise.’

Rose glanced at her father. ‘The Council of Thorns has kidnapped Selena Rourke and are making terror strikes with an army of Inferi all over the world. Prometheus Thane will forever be your second priority.’ They looked like they’d argue, even if it was fruitless, so she pressed on. ‘Do we know where they got the bodies from?’

‘For the Inferi?’ said Harry. ‘Reports are coming in of a Muggle village about twenty miles north of here being… not there any more. A really small place in the Highlands, but it would account for the forty or so Inferi.’

A fizzing, light-headed feeling crept behind Rose’s temples. ‘You need more information to know the incubation period -’

‘Rose.’ That was her father again, his hand still on her shoulder. ‘It’s okay. The professionals are on this. They’re checking it all out, they know all the procedures, and for anything we don’t know, they’re going through the process to find out. All you need to do is wait.’

She spotted a figure behind them, emerging from the snow-white medical tent that stood in such stark contrast to the ruins of Hogsmeade village, and decided to not argue. ‘I… I’m going to the medical tent. I want to check the casualty lists.’

It wasn’t really a lie, and her father and uncle let her go, probably so they didn’t have to explain more of these world-shattering facts to her. It was nothing new, nothing she hadn’t faced before, and her lack of shock and horror, her acceptance of this descent back into the days she could understand, was likely unsettling them.

She didn’t care. There was a fire sparking in her bones, like she’d just downed a week’s worth of coffee and parts of her that had been asleep forever were waking up. Chaos was come again, but Rose Weasley knew how to deal with chaos. It was peace that had been so troublesome.

‘I see you’ve swapped vices,’ she said to the figure stood outside the medical tent as they sparked up a cigarette.

Nat Lockett looked guiltily from cigarette to Rose - and then had a long, satisfying puff. ‘I’d offer you one, but your father and uncle are right there and that would be the least classy thing.’

‘I have to put up with Matt’s cigars. No thank you.’ Rose looked her up and down. ‘How’ve you been?’

‘Oh, don’t indulge me, Weasley. Ask the questions you want to ask.’ Her shoulders were squared, stiff, and she looked like she’d been dragged across the cobbled streets of Hogsmeade face-first for hours. Emergency research on a plague responsible for countless deaths and which could inflict countless more was probably a similar experience.

‘Alright.’ That was better. Rose didn’t really care how Nat Lockett was doing. She was just another person who’d run away from their problems, and though she didn’t feel abandoned by someone she’d never turned to for support in the first place, that shred of resentment that she’d lost Scorpius, too, and had faced the music, wormed away in her. ‘Is this infectious?’

Lockett had a drag on her cigarette. ‘On a par with Eridanos. In fact, it’s almost identical to Eridanos. Almost.’

‘What’re the differences?’

‘It protects the minds of the Inferi better, stops them from rotting away, but also includes a mental compulsion element. They’re smarter, but that makes it easier for witches and wizards with the right spells to control them. Like reports are saying the Thornweavers were doing last night.’

Rose drew a deep breath, and their eyes met. ‘So this is Lethe.’

Lockett blew out smoke through her nose. There was a long pause before she answered. ‘Based on the information extracted from those few members of the Council of Thorns captured in Ager Sanguinis, and the research notes dug out of there… yes. Yes, it’s Lethe.’

She had to look away. ‘So they found another way.’

‘It’s been over two years, Weasley. There was always going to be more than just the Chalice to let them -’

‘Is there a cure?’ As quickly as control had wavered, she grabbed it again, snapped it back into place as she looked Lockett in the eye.

‘It took about three months,’ said Lockett, ‘but we got the Resurrection Stone off Brillig Island. It’s being put to work. By midday, I’d expect everyone here to be clear. We’ll begin some decon procedures and letting people out of quarantine within the hour.’

‘You say “we” got the Resurrection Stone out of Brillig.’ Accusation slipped into her voice, but this was not hot, overwhelming emotion - just cold, hard fact. ‘Except you didn’t. You were gone.’

Lockett’s gaze didn’t leave hers. ‘The Stygian Plagues were wiped out. I had no responsibility to anyone. I was free to go anywhere, do anything.’

‘How does your husband feel about this?’

A cool, calm drag on the cigarette. ‘I don’t think that’s any of your business.’

Rose brushed errant hair, escaping its plait after the night’s chaos, out of her face, her eyes flashing. ‘If Lethe gets the better of the world, if this continues,’ she said, ‘then he died for nothing. You know that?’ Maybe control had not been snapped back into place.

Lockett flicked her cigarette on the ground and stomped it out. ‘I’m going back to work,’ she said, voice devoid of inflection. ‘Hector Flynn’s alive, by the way. Apparently he crawled under a table and the Inferi ignored him while they had moving people to chase. He’s beat up and infected, but we can deal with both of those things.’ She slipped her pack of cigarettes into a pocket, then hesitated. ‘A lot of people in the Three Broomsticks got out. The main bulk of the Inferi and Thornweavers had moved on to softer targets by the time they broke through your barricades, if I’m judging the reports properly. You and Rourke did well.’

Rose’s throat went dry as her accusation was met with reassurance. ‘I just told you…’

Lockett clasped her arm. The gesture was the awkward move of someone unaccustomed to overt displays of affection, but the sentiment was unmistakable - at the least, Nat Lockett never did something like that out of a sense of obligation. ‘It’s okay. And things are going to be okay, you know that?’

She’d been told that a hundred times before, but somehow, this time, the words started to settle that gathering storm. She did not find an answer before Lockett gave her a tense half-smile and returned to the tent. So all she could now was wait. Rose sighed, turned around, and walked flat into Albus.

‘Woah -’ He reached out, strong arms steadying her, and already guilt crept into his gaze. ‘Sorry. I didn’t mean to sneak up.’

She gawped. ‘What’re you doing here?’

‘I broke in,’ he said, and the words seemed so alien on Al’s lips that she just stared at him. ‘There’s no evidence that our immunities don’t work -’

‘We have no concept of this new illness,’ Rose blurted out. ‘Our immunities could be useless.’

‘Are you clean?’

‘I - yes, but -’

‘Even after this pitched battle?’

Rose let out a slow breath that quavered with the lingering anger. ‘It’s still irresponsible.’

‘Maybe.’ Albus released his hold, eyes roaming over her. ‘I was woken up by this in the middle of the night, and when Mum said you were here as well, when the news came in with the Council’s strikes, I came up.’

Why?’

‘Because I’m not losing anyone else.’

His words were low but ardent, and held that streak of honest determination bordering on naivety she hadn’t realised she’d missed. She looked up and dropped her voice. ‘The Council has Selena.’

He tensed. ‘Leads?’

‘I don’t know. They grabbed her and almost killed me. They would have done, if it hadn’t been for -’ She caught her words before the wave got away from her. ‘Thane was here. He saved me. I don’t know why.’

‘I don’t pretend to understand anything Prometheus Thane has been doing for the last two years. That man follows his own agenda, and I’m starting to suspect his agenda is “money” if he’s targeting Council members and IMC representatives alike.’ Al shook his head. ‘The criminal underworld isn’t all enamoured with the Council. They could be paying him.’

‘Maybe. But what’s he doing here? What did he know was going down, and what was he trying to achieve, if he’s no friend of the Council’s?’

‘I don’t know. But are you okay?’

‘I’m fine.’ Rose gave up on her patch-jobs on her hair, setting about tying it back afresh just to get the errant strands out of the way. ‘I was Stunned, which I’m really sick of happening to me, and fell over, and had some wrangles with Inferi, but I’m uninjured.’ The shock at seeing him was wearing off, and the rifts they’d torn up over the years started to loom once again. She took a step back. ‘Your Dad’s going to be pissed.’

‘I think I’m beyond mundane disappointment from him. I wasn’t going to wait at home.’

She tilted up her chin. ‘So now you come for me.’

Albus’ expression creased, but he cut off his first reply with a long, steadying breath. ‘There’s a big crowd at the outskirts of the quarantine. Matt’s there. I avoided him or he’d have wanted to break in with me -’

‘How did you get in?’ she asked, because it was easier than thinking about Matt.

He shrugged his broad shoulders, more toned after two and a half hard years than they’d been from just natural size and Quidditch. ‘I’ve got a bit more experience in being places people don’t want me to be.’

‘You still have the Invisibility Cloak, don’t you.’

‘Well. Yes.’ He winced. ‘But, Matt’s out there and he looked… worried. I mean, of course he’s worried, but…’

It was a peace offering and an apology and an acceptance of her relationship, and even after two years of separation she knew Albus well enough to recognise it. But she wasn’t ready to answer, so instead said, ‘We’ll need to go through decon to get out.’

‘Then let’s go,’ he said, ‘and I can avoid Dad knowing I did this.’

She gave Harry Potter’s tall, broad-shouldered, highly recognisable son a long look, and decided to not break his heart and point out someone was going to recognise him and mention it. Instead she said, ‘Decon will be ready soon. We can head for the perimeter.’

The southern parts of Hogsmeade were in a less terrible condition. The Inferi had come from the north and so that was where the bulk of the devastation was, where most of the fighting had taken place. The fires had started as wizards panicked and used the weapons they were told to wield against the Inferi, only for flames to get out of control. On the one hand, it had likely contained a large part of the onslaught.

On the other, it had left its mark upon the village. By fire or by incursion, houses sat in ruins, at best with their windows broken, at worst as smoldering ruins and most somewhere in between. The Inferi had tremendous, monstrous strength; enough to rip off doors, rip apart wooden walls, but the desolation was less and less the closer to the perimeter they got.

It was another half-hour before the task force had the decontamination procedures in place, and that took an hour, much like the old Eridanos procedures. Rose and Albus went through it in a stiff silence, but they could hear the crowds on the other side of the tent, the Enforcer-manned perimeter barrier making sure the quarantine held strong.

And it was into that crowd they were released after a mind-numbing hour - a crowd of panicked relatives, concerned onlookers, but press, too, and too many people who could recognise them and decide they were worthy of their attention. Rose squinted as the flashing of bulbs from the press began their onslaught. She took a step away from Albus as he looked like he was going to put a protective arm around her shoulder, and pushed on. ‘It’s been a long night,’ was all she called to the reporters, ‘and I’d really like to go home. I’m sure official comments will be issued.’

Al, for his part, had a harder time of it; his absence had left at least a flutter in the media, though nothing headline worthy. But timing his return with the sudden resurgence of mass-violence from the Council of Thorns was worth the press’ attention, and he had to wave off question after question until they were intercepted by a formidable figure that swept the journalists away with an angry wave of the hand.

‘You have received the official pronouncements from the Department of Magical Law Enforcement,’ Hermione Granger snapped, taking both her daughter and nephew by the arm and leading them through the crowd towards yet more of those dour white Ministry tents. ‘Chairman Rourke is due to speak here in five minutes, and I’m sure you can get your answers then!’

This didn’t silence the jackals, nor did it stop the staring of the masses kept at bay from Britain’s only fully magical settlement, now the site of Britain’s biggest magical catastrophe since the Second War. But Hermione was followed by Enforcers who helped bully them through the crowds and to the tents, and Rose burst inside yet another white canopy with a sense of release and relief like she’d just surfaced after drowning.

‘You should have told your father you were leaving!’ Hermione said. All around, Ministry officials checked charts, papers, talked to worn survivors, and Rose caught a glimpse of a world map with more red markers on it than she wanted to count. This place was command and control for responding to more than just the Hogsmeade crisis. ‘He would have given you an Enforcer escort to avoid that!’

‘He’s busy. I didn’t want to bother him more,’ Rose lied tiredly, but her mother was rounding on Albus already.

‘And I don’t know what you were doing in there!’

When she’d turned on him, Albus had initially taken a step back - as was common for anyone confronted with Hermione Granger’s tired fervour - but he squared his shoulders as she snapped. ‘I know exactly what I was doing; I’m not a child.’

‘You broke a quarantine set up for your own safety, and for what? What were you going to do inside?’

‘Make sure the people I care about are alright, because the IMC and the Ministry of Magic have done such a bang-up job of that in the past?’ He pointed at the smoldering silhouette of Hogsmeade visible through the flap of the tent.

Rose watched her mother jolt as if struck, and she stepped over. ‘Enough!’ she snapped. ‘Both of you! Albus, you were being bloody silly, but he’s right, Mum, we’re not children!’ They subsided with expressions of indignation and hurt, and she looked around the command centre again. ‘This is global?’

‘It is,’ said Hermione, thin-lipped. ‘They have to have been planning this for months. Lethe - they’ve confirmed that name - has to have been shipped globally, stored in Council-aligned locations. They’ve synchronised its release on communities, usually isolated Muggle settlements, in order to kill and raise them as Inferi they can control, and they’ve unleashed them all, the same night, on the wizarding world.’

Albus looked to the world map. ‘And not just in sheltered places.’

‘To say the Statute of Secrecy is strained is an understatement. Most attacks have been in places like Hogsmeade, the small wizarding communities. But in Avignon, for instance, the Inferi were drawn from urban Muggle populace and released on the magic district. It wasn’t a lot of them, but it didn’t need to be in that confined a space, and a couple of Inferi went on to escape into the broader populace.’

‘Has the Council gone completely mad?’ Rose asked. ‘I mean, mass murder, sure, they did that with Eridanos for months. But that was always in isolated places, and that wasn’t as much about killing people as it was spreading fear.’

‘The death toll’s still coming in,’ said Hermione. ‘But I would be astonished if the results were less than a thousand dead witches and wizards. And that’s before we factor in how many people died to become Inferi in the first place.’

Rose’s throat tightened. ‘And we’re dealing with Hogsmeade because we have Lockett, and the Resurrection Stone - most of the rest of the world doesn’t have a cure.’

‘The Resurrection Stone is not unique in its qualities - at least, in the qualities which mean it can provide a cure for Stygian Plagues. Avignon isn’t as bad as it could be, because they have Glanis’ Spring in Glanum nearby; those waters have provided a base for the French cure, and they can and have been distributing those waters across Europe. But… people will be dying while that’s happening.’

Albus’ brow furrowed. ‘I don’t see what they expect -’

He was cut off by a new voice, agitated, determined. ‘I don’t care - look, I’m fully prepared to make your life difficult if you don’t let me in -’

Rose turned, and her heart lunged into her throat to see Matt stood in the entrance, squaring off against the tall shape of an Enforcer blocking his way. Before she could do anything, Hermione stepped up, lifting a hand. ‘It’s alright! Let him in, thank you.’

Matt didn’t thank or acknowledge the Enforcer when he moved. His gaze locked on Rose and he flew across the distance to drag her into an embrace which was as smothering as it was comforting, and all she could do was clutch at him for long, foundation-shaking moments. ‘Thank God…’

‘I’m okay. I’m okay,’ she murmured into his shoulder, voice muffled, because for several heartbeats she couldn’t say anything else. And then the throat-clenching terror rose when she realised what she was going to have to tell him, and it took an effort for her to pull back enough to look him in the eye. ‘Matt… they took Selena. The Council has her.’

She hadn’t realised she’d dreaded this. The relationship between Matt and Selena was one she’d never understood, and she knew she’d never asked the questions because everything remained calm and stable for her. It had been too much to handle when she’d been grieving; shouldering someone else’s woes was beyond her, and by the time she was in a state to be a friend to either of them about it, whatever rules were established had sprung up. They were unspoken, and they kept them apart, and all she knew was that there was a deep, deep sense of hurt and betrayal on both sides.

All colour drained from Matt’s face. ‘What?’

‘They had Thornweavers in the streets; they intercepted us, Stunned me, took her.’ The fact that she’d almost died sounded like a hollow thing to say then. She hadn’t. Selena was in danger, possibly dead, certainly with no kind fate in store at the hands of the Council of Thorns and Raskoph.

A roar came from the crowd outside, a mixture of enthusiasm, fear, hunger, and Hermione looked to the flap. ‘That’ll be Lillian Rourke starting her speech.’

‘Speech?’ Albus looked blank.

Hermione’s lips thinned. ‘She’s the Chairman of the IMC. The IMC is going to see a resurgence in power, authority, control - it’s the best organisation in the world to fight the Council of Thorns now this has happened. I know Lillian Rourke. There’ll be a call to arms, to remind people that we have the pieces in play to fight this war.’

Matt looked to the tent flap, grey eyes going hollow. ‘She knows about Selena?’

‘She does. But it’s not being made public, and the Council aren’t bragging about it yet - investigations will be made, but we’re not going to -’

He didn’t wait for Hermione to finish, just let go of Rose and turned to the tent flap. ‘I’ll be back. I’ve got to - I’ll be back.’

Rose felt her fingertips tingle with emptiness as he left, that harbour slipping away, but then someone in the command tent - too entrenched in their work to even step outside and watch a speech, needing to stay linked to the affairs of the day - turned on the wireless. Lillian Rourke’s voice, a faint, incomprehensible noise at this mundane distance, was amplified and echoed by the transmission.

‘…may be a grim day. But I remind you all that this is nothing our country, our people, our world, hasn’t faced before. We will bury our fallen, grieve for the lost, clear our ruins. But we will rebuild, we will reinforce, and we shall fight. Darkness falls, but it has fallen before, and each and every time the light has prevailed. I promise you that it will prevail again. ‘Before I arrived, I called for an emergency summit of the International Magical Convocation. I had thought our work was done. I see now that I was wrong. So long as threats like the Council of Thorns challenge the world, the International Magical Convocation shall remain, and it shall remain strong. People from across the globe will come together, will unite, and will - as one strong force, with one clear voice - bring down those who threaten our way of life. ‘They call us decadent. I say we are united. They call us weak - I say that we will change to face every evil, rise and rise again against all opposition. They say a reckoning has come, and they are right - but when the dust settles, it will be they…’ ‘She likes these,’ Albus murmured wryly.

‘People need a strong example.’ Rose frowned. ‘The Ministry’s in no state to fight this in Britain, let alone the world.’

‘And her daughter’s been kidnapped,’ Hermione admonished. ‘I assure you that there is nothing here Lillian Rourke likes.’

The speech carried on in much the same vein, no doubt being piped across the world by the wireless, and Rose suspected that if she could get past the thunderous memories of a dark alleyway in Hogsmeade, Selena’s struggling shape being dragged off, the Thornweaver looming over her, she would have found it inspiring. The crowds roared with questions and cheers when she was done, so Rose reasoned the rhetoric had to work, had to encourage, and if politics were giving people hope in these times, she couldn’t argue.

The press threw their questions, Lillian answered them, and within ten minutes she was leaving the roaring crowds. There was a strange moment where the wireless sounded like it was narrating their existence, as a reporter spoke of her leaving the podium and returning to work, just as Lillian Rourke stormed into the command tent.

‘Updates,’ barked the Chairman of the International Magical Convocation.

‘Avignon is distributing the waters of the Glanis Spring across Europe,’ Hermione rattled off. ‘Old Charleston is being supported by the Greengrass Network…’

Al frowned and leaned in to Rose. ‘The Greengrass Network?’ he whispered.

‘Astoria funds and manages a relief program in North America,’ Rose mumbled, and watched his expression set. He didn’t need it explaining why Scorpius’ mother had taken a suddenly more active role in the dangers to the world.

‘But we suspect,’ Hermione continued, ‘several Inferi may have bypassed their perimeter and are on the loose in the general -’

‘For God’s sake.’ Lillian stalked to the map on the wall. ‘Get Potter and a team over to the US, show those Yanks how it’s done -’

‘Harry’s still in Hogsmeade. As is Ron.’

Someone competent in the Auror department right now, then. Savage, Cole, Proudfoot, and Potter can be over there as soon as he’s out. That needs containing.’

Another Ministry official looked up from their paperwork. ‘Is it still legal for us to dispatch British Aurors to a foreign state without request -’

Lillian rounded on the unfortunate bureaucrat. ‘I’m reactivating all of the emergency powers of the IMC, and if anyone wants to argue with that, we can debate it once there aren’t Inferi roaming around South Carolina. And at worst I will Floo the Department of Magic and tell them to invite our Aurors over.’ She turned back to Hermione, and immediately her demeanour was calm, cool, in control again. ‘Continue.’

But before Hermione could press on, the tent flap was shoved open and in strode Matt Doyle. ‘Ms Rourke! You’re aware of the situation with your daughter?’

Lillian’s gaze turned on Matt, icy. ‘Of course I am.’

Matt stood tall, unperturbed. ‘And what’s your plan for getting her back?’

Her eyes narrowed. ‘It’s highly unlikely she’s in Britain still. So information’s being passed on to the European authorities, especially the German Shattenjägers, to monitor movements -’

‘There’s not a law enforcement body in the world as good as Britain’s Aurors; this needs Potter, this needs their best -’

‘Britain’s best need to stop Inferi in South Carolina from killing wizard and Muggle locals and breaking the Statute -’

‘And the Americans can’t deal with that?’

Lillian’s nostrils flared. ‘Apparently not! But this is an international crisis and so we must pool our international resources, and I must assign them in the most efficient manner.’

‘Which means not rescuing your daughter.’

Rose flew to Matt’s side and grabbed his elbow. ‘Matt, this isn’t - we should go.’

Lillian was glaring daggers at him, but Matt didn’t bat an eyelid, and just gave Rose a jerking nod. ‘Yeah. We should. Al, we can catch up, too.’

It was an odd thing to say, but nobody seemed opposed to the grouchy nineteen year-olds leaving IMC’s Hogsmeade Command Centre. Albus looked nonplussed, but went at Hermione’s nod, and the three of them trooped out of the tent, into the lowlands outside of Hogsmeade.

The majority of the crowd was dispersing, becoming nothing more than friends and family waiting on those inside the quarantine, and only the dregs of the press lingered. They had more fish to fry, at home and abroad, with the implications of Lillian Rourke’s speech, and so the trio received only fleeting glances as they left.

Matt led them towards clumps of trees further south, away from enquiring eyes and listening ears. He’d changed, Rose noticed, into his long waxed coat, the hilt of his sword a metal gleam at his hip, and altogether walked with a tension in his shoulders she hadn’t seen in a long time.

Her heart thudded in her chest as she followed. ‘Matt, that really wasn’t fair -’

‘To hell with the IMC,’ Matt growled. ‘Lillian Rourke’s a bloody politician first and foremost; you heard her, she’s worrying about the fate of the world, not the fate of Selena.’

‘She is the head of the IMC -’

‘Yes, and fine. That’s her job. The Council probably abducted Selena to try to divert Lillian, to make her a less effective leader, and she’s not letting them get to her. She’s doing her job, she’s worrying about the USA instead of her daughter, and that’s fine for the IMC, but it doesn’t do Selena much good, does it?’

‘Does yelling at her?’ Rose pointed out, Albus trailing behind with the awkward air of one being dragged in as a third wheel witness to a domestic row.

‘I wanted to be sure. Now I’m sure.’ Matt stopped under trees dripping with early morning drizzle, and turned to them. ‘The IMC can’t afford to treat Selena as a priority. So we must.’

Albus and Rose exchanged glances, then Al looked to Matt. ‘What’re you saying?’

‘I’m saying we need to take action.’ His jaw clenched. ‘Yes, I’m asking the two of you to gear up again, grab your wands, and throw yourselves face-first into danger, because we all know that nobody is going to take care of one of ours as well as we will.’

‘Hunt the Council ourselves, again,’ said Rose, voice going numb.

‘Find Selena. To hell with the Council.’

Albus drew a slow breath, then gave a short, jerking nod. ‘Fine. I’m in.’

‘Good.’ Matt looked at Rose.

‘I can’t be in,’ said Rose, scowling, ‘on some half-baked, idealistic blathering about how we’re going to take the fight to the Council of Thorns, attack them ourselves, rescue Selena ourselves, when we don’t have the slightest idea where she is, what they intend, or what their resources are.’

‘We don’t know those things,’ Matt conceded, ‘yet. But we can find out, I promise you. I’ll explain everything. But first I need to know if you want this. If you want to take action.’

Rose jerked at the hot flash of indignation in her gut. ‘Don’t you two dare stand there like I’m not the only one of us who’s been a consistent bloody friend to Selena the last three years. Of course I want her back. But I will not ride off without a plan.’

He extended a hand, and her anger subsided as she saw the relieved creasing at the corners of his eyes. ‘Then come with me,’ said Matt, ‘and not only will I explain why we stand a chance, but you can also make sure this isn’t half-baked.’

‘Just because I’m on board,’ said Albus, ‘doesn’t mean I’m doing this group hand-holding thing, as that’s a bit desperate.’

Times change. Once, he’d have been the first for us to do that team-bonding, Rose reflected as Matt gave a low, wry chuckle, and instead pulled out his wand to conduct this mass, side-along apparition to wherever these answers lay.

———————————

A/N: I did more world building! First things first, ‘Shattenjäger’ is not a cool name for German Aurors I can take credit for. It means ‘Shadow Hunters’ and I plundered it liberally from the old Gabriel Knight adventure games seriously (they may have had a source, but I don’t know what it is). I’m normally so cheap in my references, but it’s an off-hand mention and I wanted to give them a cooler name.

Glanum is a real place in Provence, France; it is supposed to be the site of a healing spring associated with Glanis, a healing God of the Gauls.



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