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Oblivion by Slide
Chapter 7 : Heard the Call
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 3


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Heard the Call


‘This is your father’s warehouse,’ said Rose as they appeared with the spinning-crack of Apparition in the wide open space. She’d been here before, even if the memories of that day were murky at best. When they’d been rescued from Ager Sanguinis, she hadn’t cared to look at her surroundings. But back then it had been a haphazard sort of operation, equipment and people gathered in a frantic mess. Today, the warehouse reminded her of the training and equipment rooms in the MLE’s main headquarters down on Canary Wharf. Half-walls partitioned the expanse, and from the low buzz of activity, they were not alone.

‘It’s not just that,’ said Matt, and gestured for them to follow him out of the sectioned corner. A pair of wizards sat at a nearby desk, and had observed them keenly until they’d seen him. ‘I had to come here first to arrange you clearance.’

Clearance?’ Al raised an eyebrow as they tailed him.

‘This is one of my father’s safehouses and operations centres,’ said Matt, working his way through the winding network of training rooms, equipment rooms, and desks. ‘But it’s also the headquarters of the Order of the Knights Templar.’

Rose’s heart sunk even more. ‘This is going to take quite the explanation.’

‘I know.’ He sounded apologetic. ‘In good time.’

‘De Sablé,’ said Albus. ‘He was there, at Ager Sanguinis.’

Matt nodded, but he didn’t say more until they reached the middle section. The wall panels were taller and thicker, adorned with all manner of maps and charts with marks that constantly changed as new information poured in. In the centre was a huge, circular table, at which stood the tall, greying figure of Matt’s father, Gabriel Doyle.

He lifted his dark eyes from the papers in front of him and sighed. ‘So, you just had to.’

‘Dad, I’m not going to sit by. I’ve been doing that for too long.’

‘And you’ve still been more involved than I’d like.’ Gabriel folded his arms across his chest. ‘I don’t want this getting back to the big guns.’

Albus blinked. ‘The big guns?’

‘Your parents.’

Rose drew a deep breath. ‘What is “this”? What’s going on? What the hell do you mean about the headquarters of the Knight Templars?’

Gabriel gave his son a reproachful look. ‘This is not -’

‘You fund this, Dad; they do the work.’

‘I fund this, I provide the intelligence -’

‘And de Sablé and the others act on it.’

Rose stalked to the table and planted her hands on it, glowering at the Doyles. ‘This is still not an explanation.’

Gabriel kept his eyes on Matt. ‘You really haven’t told her anything, have you.’ He sounded disapproving.

Matt ignored his father, and gave a slow exhale. ‘My father has for years been an information broker of the magical world -’

‘I started after the Second War,’ Gabriel interjected. ‘Through underground contacts and moving in the same social circles, I provided magical law enforcement at home and abroad with intelligence on the Death Eater Remnant. And, after that, sympathetic political entities. Before the Council of Thorns sprung up, I’d had very little to do for about fifteen years.’

‘Dad restarted everything then, reforged his international connections to chase information the IMC couldn’t or wouldn’t gather. It’s why he had people at his disposal for the rescue at Ager Sanguinis.’

‘Including Reynald de Sablé,’ said Rose.

Gabriel nodded. ‘After you woke him in Tomar, I sought him out. The Knights Templar historically had a tremendous amount of resources and knowledge at their disposal, resources and knowledge the Council would clearly jump at seizing. I offered de Sablé funding and support to seek any inheritors of the Templar mantle so they could gather it, and keep it out of the Council’s hands.’

‘The IMC’s power - before today - has reduced,’ Matt continued. His eyed sparked with enthused light, as if he was talking about some great historical find, but Rose couldn’t find it as endearing as she usually did. ‘Magical nations have been fighting the Council of Thorns on their own terms for months, because they’ve thought they don’t need the IMC’s oversight. So we’ve been here - a united, international front. Gathering information, making strikes.’

‘Mostly against their efforts to gain unusual weapons, like their gambit for the golem-dragon in Tomar,’ Gabriel said. ‘But as we’ve gathered information, I’ve made sure it ends up in the right hands. We’ve had a freedom the IMC hasn’t, and so I’ve used that.’

Albus raised an eyebrow. ‘So what now the IMC’s power is going to expand again? Even greater than before, if Lillian Rourke’s pronouncement is to be believed?’

‘Then I will help them. Lillian Rourke’s a politician, but she’s sick of walking softly,’ said Gabriel. ‘The IMC was limited before because countries clung to their own power and resisted international oversight. If today’s done anything, it’ll make people care more about defending themselves from the Council than clinging to their sovereignty. We can worry about that when we’re not being butchered.’

Rose watched Matt, whose gaze was on the table. He had to feel her eyes on him, though, because he barely shifted when she said, ‘And what’s been your role in this?’

He stiffened. ‘I’ve fed information to Dad and de Sablé while we’ve been with Gringotts -’

Gabriel grimaced. ‘Matt…’

She’d thought it was a discouragement to talk, but Matt straightened at the reproof and looked at her. ‘I’ve done work for and with de Sablé and the remnant Templars he gathered. He’s been reforming the order as people who will guard this sort of power and knowledge from being used for the wrong purposes. And I’ve helped. With research… in the field…’

Connections formed in Rose’s mind and her gut twisted. ‘You didn’t just get lucky with the lead on Ranisonb’s tomb, did you.’

‘I was lucky.’ Matt grimaced. ‘But it leapt out at me because I knew it was something the Council of Thorns had looked into.’

‘We used our connections,’ said Gabriel, ‘to get the Curse Breakers to dispatch a team of people we could trust to beat them to it. You.’

‘You knew the Council would be after us, all along?’ Her eyes locked on Matt. ‘You didn’t warn us?’

‘You,’ Matt corrected, sombre. ‘Lowsley and Nejem are de Sablé’s people. Our people.’

Albus mumbled, ‘Okay,’ and took a step back.

Rose spent a moment staring at the wall behind Matt so she didn’t scream. Eventually she drew a slow breath and said, ‘How long has this been going on?’

Matt’s expression sank. ‘Since we got back from the Chalice hunt.’

‘And you never told me?’

‘At the time, you were - I didn’t want to bother you with it. I didn’t think you’d care. Then I didn’t want to burden you with it, worry you with it. Then… then it felt like I’d kept it secret for too long.’

‘So you kept it secret for even longer.’ Her gut was no longer twisting. Instead, her expression and voice were blank as she looked back at Matt and said, ‘You have some sort of plan.’

‘What?’

‘Right here and now. About Selena.’

He looked suspicious, but nodded, and gestured to his father. ‘The IMC is caught up doing IMC stuff. Even Lillian Rourke’s too caught up with these responsibilities to go after Selena, her own daughter. So I say we go after her ourselves.’

Albus returned to the table now he’d gauged there was not going to be an explosion. ‘I assume you have a lead.’

Gabriel took a map down from the wall and spread it across the table. ‘Not directly. But this event is only hours old. I have contacts all around the world who might know of Council prisons and the movements of their teams.’

‘You have people inside the Council on your pay-roll?’ said Albus.

‘Some,’ Gabriel said without pride. ‘I don’t have a first move yet. I would imagine whoever took Selena is still in transit; the more Portkeys they use, the harder it is to trace them to the source. They’ll probably be bouncing across the world, and we will pick up that trail somewhere.’

‘There’s been no public pronouncement,’ said Al. ‘That bothers me. If Raskoph’s snatched the daughter of the IMC’s Chairman, why isn’t he proclaiming this to the world?’

‘They might not know we know,’ said Rose. ‘I was supposed to be dead. If Thane hadn’t shown up and saved me, Selena would just be not yet found in the chaos of Hogsmeade and I’d be an extra body who couldn’t tell anyone anything. There were supposed to be no witnesses to her abduction.’

Gabriel nodded. ‘Maybe they’ll make a pronouncement when they’ve got her bundled up somewhere secure. Maybe they want to manipulate Lillian Rourke without the world knowing. They’ll have an angle.’

‘That gives us time before they do something with her,’ said Al. ‘So what we need is one of your people on the inside.’

‘The Council of Thorns operates on a very tight cell structure,’ Gabriel said. ‘They compartmentalise information, and they’ll have all been busy last night. I’d bet every active Thornweaver’s been out causing murder and mayhem across the globe. If none of my contacts have reported information, then we don’t have it. So we go to a different information broker. You know him; you’ve worked with him before.’

Rose frowned. ‘I don’t remember -’

Albus squinted. ‘Baz?’

‘Yes. Balthazar Vadimas, who kept the secret that you were alive after Kythos even though he would have been handsomely paid. Just in case you were wondering if you could trust him.’

‘Scorpius trusted him,’ said Albus.

‘He’s the biggest fish in the underworld; at least, the underworld that isn’t working for the Council of Thorns. I can’t guarantee he knows anything, but he’s where I’d start investigating,’ said Gabriel. ‘International communication is going to be heavily monitored by the MLE from now. I would recommend heading for Moscow and talking to him.’

Matt raised his eyebrows at his father. ‘You’re not going to tell me this is a stupid expedition and I shouldn’t risk my neck?’

‘It is, and you shouldn’t,’ said Gabriel with a matter-of-fact shrug. ‘But I was your age when I fought in the war. And I didn’t do that for principles, I did that for my friends. I could be a hypocrite, or I could be pleased that my son has principles and stands by his loyalties.’ His gaze swept to Al and Rose as Matt tried to not look too touched. ‘I don’t trust your parents to not be hypocrites. At the least, they’re adherents of law and order and them knowing about my operations here forces them to either reveal me to the IMC, or lie to their superiors. I would appreciate your discretion in this matter.’

Albus shifted his feet. ‘I’ve been lying a lot to them lately…’

‘Then one more lie won’t make a difference. And, not to put too fine a point on it, you owe me for Ager Sanguinis. Your parents and the valiant law-and-order of the IMC didn’t rescue you from the clutches of the Council.’

Matt tensed. ‘Dad…’

Rose swallowed the wave of rage at Gabriel Doyle’s audacity, squeezed Al’s arm as she saw him tense, and instead said, ‘So when do we go to Moscow?’

‘I can have a Portkey ready for you by six o’ clock tonight. Direct, untraceable.’

‘Legal?’ said Albus.

Gabriel’s dark eyes locked on him. ‘As legal as your travels and activities over the past two and a half years, Mister Potter.’ He dusted off his hands. ‘I’ll start getting the charms in place. You’ll Portkey from here; bugger the Ministry’s security.’

Then he left, and it was just the three of them in the middle of the humming buzz of the warehouse, with Matt rather awkwardly looking at the wall next to Albus. Rose knew he wanted him to go so the two of them could talk, but she wasn’t ready to do anything but catch Matt’s eye and say, ‘Can you get us out of here? We’ll need to pack and come up with appropriate lies for our families.’

They’re going to love this.

Matt nodded and returned them to the Apparition section of the warehouse, and soon enough they were in the copse near Hogsmeade again. He agreed to pick them up at five and, with a pointed look at Rose she didn’t return, whisked back to his father’s lair of secrets.

Leaving Rose and Albus stood in a damp copse near the smoldering stones of a Hogsmeade wounded so deeply it would take a generation to heal the scars. Albus had his hands shoved in his pockets, an indolent air about him she’d never seen before, and it was with unusual resentment that he said, ‘Two and a half years and he never told you about this?’

Now something snapped inside her. ‘Is this how it’s going to be? You waltz in after abandoning me for two years and decide to pass judgement on me and my relationship?’

‘Somebody has to! Is everyone just walking around like this is fine? Like you leaping into bed with your ex-boyfriend is the normal way of moving on?’

Selena didn’t…

She’d been awake for over twenty-four hours, got drunk and sobered up, almost been murdered, and was now facing another mad-cap dash across the world to fight dark wizards. The lingering shreds of control, not to mention dignity, shrivelled up and died. ‘What about acting like you abandoning us for two years is normal? Everyone else might be so happy you’re back they don’t want to explain how badly you hurt us, but you did, Al! You hurt your parents, your siblings, and you hurt me! When I needed you, when we could have helped each other, you hurt me! You abandoned me, again!’

‘You’re still pissed at me because of the Sorting? Grow up, Rose, not everyone’s choices are about you!’ Albus’ voice rose too, a rumbling anger she wasn’t used to seeing from him. ‘Everyone rallies around the girl losing the guy she loves. He was my best friend, my brother! But I’m supposed to put your problems first?’

‘We could have handled them together! Grieved together!’ Her throat started to close up, and that brought more anger, because she didn’t want to be sad, weeping, broken. She wanted the fire. ‘We set a gravestone with no grave and no body and you weren’t there.’

‘I did what I had to do,’ snapped Albus, ‘for me. So I could survive.’

‘And that excuse doesn’t work both ways? I’m not allowed to do what I had to for survival?’

‘So that is what this relationship is: a coping technique. A way to forget.’

‘Forget. Forget?’ The world narrowed until it was tight and dark, pain filtering everything out except what she could identify as the cause - and right then it was him. She stalked over to jab her finger in his chest. ‘It’s been over two years and I still wake up choking with the thought of him. I can’t smile without thinking of him, I can’t laugh without thinking how he’d make me laugh ten times more. I haven’t had one positive thought in two years which wasn’t soured by remembering he’s not here to share it with me.’

Albus’ expression twisted. ‘Not even Matt?’

Her heart thudded like it wanted to break out, weeping blood but pumping harder than it had in years. ‘With Matt, I’m trying to feel something other than pain. I’m trying to feel good without hating myself, I’m trying to feel hope without being swallowed by guilt and by grief, and to hell with you for throwing that in my face like I don’t deserve that! Because it doesn’t work!’

He jerked like her words were a blow against him, not her, and through the haze she could see the flicker in his eyes of the old Albus, the boy who tried to help and comfort anyone and everyone - until he’d burned alive for it. ‘Rose…’

‘I’m with him, I feel guilty. I kiss him and at best, at best, I feel nothing. That is what he gives me, and that nothing, that void, that is the best thing I have felt since I lost Scorpius. So maybe he’s been lying to me, maybe he’s been hiding things from me, and I will deal with that, but if you think I should rain down fire on his head for it, then you have no clue, Albus Potter, absolutely no clue, because I don’t have any fire left.’

He stepped forward, extended a hand towards her, but she shied away like he’d tried to hit her. ‘I don’t -’

‘We don’t have time for this.’ As quickly as it had descended, the veil of fury and pain was lifting, because whenever she felt that agony these days it always burnt out and left her more drained and empty than before. ‘Selena needs us, and we’re not going to lose someone else, so we have to… how did you once put it? Saddle up.’

Albus’ shoulders sagged. ‘I was an idiot kid back then.’

‘And this was just a conversation between two dead people, but she needs us anyway.’ Rose reached for her wand, her breathing slowing, and raced through the preparations for Apparition. ‘So let’s see if we can bring back the living.’

And before he could answer, she was gone with a crack between them as fresh as the crack of the Disapparition.

Packing was easy. She’d kept her magically enlarged bag, the one she’d dragged across the world hunting the Chalice. She’d made sure it still had what she wryly referred to as ‘emergency essentials’ in it, like a full array of life-saving potions, the tent, a whole slew of reference books. Not to mention food, other supplies. So long as she had this backpack she could sling over one shoulder, Rose suspected she could sustain a five-man operation in the middle of nowhere for the better part of a month.

Normal people didn’t make preparations like that. She’d accepted a long time ago that she was not normal. The main problem now was making everyone else accept this.

She considered, just for a moment, not telling her family anything. Then she realised that was callous and cruel, and considered lying to them, saying she and Matt were taking an emergency assignment from Gringotts just to get out of the country. Then she sighed, went to the Floo which Matt’s father had finally connected, and messaged her mother.

It took two hours before Hermione Granger, Deputy Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement on the biggest day of crisis in magical Britain since the outbreak of Phlegethon, had a mere ten minutes. Rose was pretending to read a book with a cold cup of tea by the time her mother burst through the fireplace. Even if she’d expected her, it took effort to not lunge for her wand by instinct.

‘Are you alright?’ Hermione said at once, and Rose was relieved to see no frustration. Sometimes her mother could be so caught up in work that she’d assume any interruption was a waste of time.

‘I’m fine. I would have talked to Dad, but I figured you’d probably want to yell about this, and I didn’t know how I’d get in touch with him if they’re sending him to Old Charleston…’

‘They are; he and Harry left a few hours ago.’ Hermione frowned as her daughter stood up. ‘What am I going to yell about?’

Rose took a deep breath. ‘Matt, Al and I are going after Selena.’

Her mother flinched, but looked unsurprised. ‘You know that the government is going to -’

‘Do everything they can, yes. But you’re right now up to your eyeballs in a crisis and it would be unprofessional for you or Lillian Rourke to redirect notable resources to chase one woman, when there are Inferi on a global rampage.’ Rose shook her head. ‘We’re not needed elsewhere. And we’re going after her.’

‘Do you have any idea where to look?’

‘We know places we can start our enquiries.’

Hermione sighed. ‘This is Gabriel Doyle’s little scheme, isn’t it.’

‘What -’

‘Oh, the man is not as subtle as he likes to think. I remember his post-war spy days, I wasn’t surprised he restarted everything when the Council of Thorns came. And then there was the Ager Sanguinis gambit; like he was going to stop?’ She shook her head. ‘Until he crosses a line, I am prepared to remain wilfully ignorant of the details.’

Rose frowned. ‘Why? I don’t like it; he could turn these resources to the Ministry, to the IMC.’

‘He could. And I could make use of them. Great use. But Gabriel Doyle is not a team player, nor is he a particularly good follower. If I set him to work under IMC guidelines, he’d lose a good deal of what makes him valuable. Besides.’ Hermione sighed. ‘I understand the value of a group operating outside of the government. Even if I am the government.’

‘The Order of the Phoenix was necessary because the Ministry was weak against Voldemort -’

‘And I would imagine the Ministry thought itself perfectly strong and capable, and thought of the Order of the Phoenix a rogue element making their lives harder. We’re not that Ministry, though I fear Minister Halvard inadequate for this challenge. So we’ll see more of International Magical Convocation, whose power is only going to grow to fight the Council of Thorns. And we need that authority if we’re going to be effective, but there’s one thing we’ll lack: accountability.’

Rose raised an eyebrow. ‘You’ve let Gabriel Doyle run around without accountability, either. What, so he can be your watchdog?’

‘The man is an arrogant braggart who thinks that a Seer’s powers make him wiser than anyone else, even if he’s reportedly not had a vision in years. But for the most part, he and I have shared goals. Should that change, should he start pulling in a completely different direction, I’m going to need to take a long, hard look at myself.’

‘I keep forgetting you learnt how to be in government by watching people screw it up.’ Rose bit her lip and looked away. ‘Is Lillian Rourke going to screw this up?’

‘You need to remember that this is the woman who started the Convocation. She saw, before anyone, that the Council of Thorns was a global threat needing a global response. And she’s been opposed every step of the way by people who cared more about clinging to their own power than sharing it for the good of everyone. I know she reacted badly when Doyle rescued you all from Ager Sanguinis, but I know Lillian. Of course she was delighted her daughter was safe, but she was afraid it would be used by her enemies to undermine the entire IMC. And if the loss of Lethe and the Chalice hadn’t crippled the Council, allowing the IMC to roll back its power, her enemies might have moved.’ Hermione crossed the room to put her hand on her daughter’s shoulder. ‘She has always been as dedicated to fighting the Council of Thorns as me, your father, as Harry. She might be more of a politician about it, but I trust her.’

‘It’s just…’ She gritted her teeth. ‘If it were me, if the Council had snatched me - would you wait until the proper authorities could sort it out? Even if you are the proper authorities?’

Hermione sighed softly. ‘No,’ she said. ‘But Lillian Rourke doesn’t regularly have Sunday lunch with veterans of the Order of the Phoenix or Dumbledore’s Army. Most people don’t have a large contacts list of people who could go toe-to-toe with the Council of Thorns. So she has to do everything a bit more normally.

‘I’m not sure what that word means these days.’

The corners of her mother’s eyes creased. ‘I never wanted this for you, dear -’

‘It’s okay.’ Rose lifted a hand. ‘I’m not - I’ve got to find Selena, though, you understand? If something happened to her and I was sat in Britain feeling sorry for myself, I genuinely, I genuinely don’t know what I’d do.’

She didn’t get any further before Hermione made a small, muffled sound, and pulled her into a fierce hug. ‘You know that I’m so proud of you,’ she murmured, voice tight. ‘But I want you to be happy. I know you’re not, I don’t know how you can be, but I just - I wish you were happy.’

Rose’s heart tightened. ‘I don’t think “happy” comes when the Council of Thorns have staged their big comeback.’

‘Happiness can come under any circumstances. You have to work harder to seize it at times like this. But you must seize it.’ Her mother pulled back to hold her at arms’ length, and sighed. ‘I know that’s easier said than done.’

‘Mum, I do appreciate it - but I have to go save my friend.

Hermione nodded. ‘Is Matthias alright?’

‘He’s been and packed and gone. We need to talk about some stuff. But Selena comes first.’

‘He cares for you a lot, that boy.’ Somehow, her mother made that sound like a warning, not a reassurance.

‘And he means a lot to me. And Al’s back, and I… I do feel better for that.’ It was easier to make that confession to her mother. She knew she wasn’t done being hurt to Albus’ face. But the thought of facing Thornweavers was less nerve-wracking with the idea of Albus stood beside her. Even if she wasn’t sure who Albus was in a crunch any more. She wasn’t sure who she was in a crunch any more. ‘I’ll let you get back to work,’ Rose said instead.

Hermione nodded and stepped towards the fireplace. ‘Stay safe. And if you need help… to hell with Lillian Rourke. If you need us, Rose, I’ll bring Dumbledore’s Army, I’ll bring the Order of the Phoenix, and I’ll bring the whole bloody Department of Magical Law Enforcement to give you backup.’

Rose gave a thin smile, not insincere but strained. ‘Thanks. But I think this one’s just us and Raskoph.’ Again.

Only an hour after her mother left there was a knock at the door, and she wasn’t due to meet Matt for a while yet. So it was with wand in hand that Rose slunk to the door, and she peered through the peephole before opening up.

‘Matt’s not here,’ she told John Colton, damp and tired.

‘And good day to you, too, Rosemary; so pleased to see that you’re not dead!’ John gave her a broad smile, whimsical tone in-place to keep any sting out of his words.

‘You know my full name isn’t Rosemary.’

‘I know, but I have nothing else to call you in a condescending and superior manner when you’re being just a tad shirty.’

Rose sighed as she opened the door wider. ‘Sorry,’ she said, and meant it, because at the least they’d been Gryffindors together for eight years. It wasn’t that she disliked John. But he was Matt’s friend, and she’d never had reason to believe his loyalties lay anywhere else. ‘I’m okay. Just a bit tired.’

‘Chaos come again is tiring. Matt and I were at our third pub when news of Hogsmeade came in, and would you know he didn’t even finish his pint before chasing off? So I thought I should check in with you both.’ He padded in, eyebrows pointedly raised.

Rose watched him as she shut the door. She could see the slightest knotting of his brow, despite his usual whimsical indifference, a sign of serious thought under the surface. ‘Matt’s okay. He’s with his father.’ Their eyes met. You knew, she thought. You knew what was going on with Matt and his father and de Sablé, at least a little.

‘Outstanding.’ He glanced at the door. ‘Truth be told, I can come back another time -’

‘I’m tired, I’m not injured or dying or sick. You don’t usually have a problem speaking your mind to me, John.’

‘I beg to differ; I spent a year with you as the shoutiest prefect in Gryffindor.’

And then I gave up my prefect’s badge for Cheryl, because who cares about school discipline? ‘You came here for Matt, but I can read you. What is it?’

‘Even I think there’s a time and a place for everything, and sometimes it’s not the time.’ But he squared his shoulders and faced her head-on. ‘Matt’s my friend. I don’t want to see him get hurt.’

‘You say that like I’d do something to hurt him.’ She was supposed to be indignant, she thought.

‘I don’t think you’d do something. Quite the opposite.’

‘My relationship with Matt isn’t your business -’

‘But Matt’s wellbeing is.’ Dark eyes narrowed. ‘You have my heartiest respect, Rose. You’ve been through a lot, but I think people, including me, including Matt, have given you the benefit of the doubt over and over because of this. Perhaps you deserve that. But Matt doesn’t deserve to suffer because of it.’

‘He’s hardly suffering -’

‘If you whistled, he’d come running. If you told him you’d never love him, but wanted him by your side forever, treated only to the scraps of affection you could spare, he’d smile and follow you. And I say, “if”. That’s what you’re doing, it’s just unspoken right now. And it’s killing him.’ He kept his gaze on her, expression calm and level, and as she fumbled for words, he pressed on. ‘Maybe you know that. Maybe you don’t. Maybe you just don’t want to think about it. But he’s been yours all along. He deserves better.’

Her chin tilted up. ‘Better than me?’

‘Better than you’re treating him.’ He looked away, and finally his voice went utterly serious. ‘Again, I respect you, Rose. I respect what you’ve been through. I believe you don’t want to hurt him. But I think you are, anyway. And I think someone needs to point this out to you.’

Maybe. But if right now isn’t the time to think about Matt lying to me for two years, it’s sure as hell not time for me to think about if I’m mistreating him. She reached for the door. ‘I know I asked, John, but I also got attacked by Inferi last night.’

He inclined his head, and stepped towards the door. ‘But of course. I truly am glad to see you’re alright, Rose.’

‘I’m alive,’ she confirmed. He left, obviously rather shamed even if, as she’d said, she had pressed him to speak his mind. Then there she was, alone in the flat, waiting on a time to meet Matt so they could get to the business of rescuing Selena.

And so she could get to the business of adamantly not thinking about what John had said.

* *


Albus saw his mother’s heart leap into her throat when he entered the living room with his rucksack. ‘It’s not what you think.’

Ginny got to her feet, gaze tight. ‘Isn’t it?’

‘Mum, I’m not running. I know now there’s nowhere to run to.’

‘But you have to go, anyway?’ That was a new voice, and Albus whirled to see James stood in the kitchen door, arms folded across his chest. ‘That’s sounding like an excuse, little brother.’

They hadn’t seen each other since the village. He’d hoped their reunion would be better, that he could be properly grateful. But now he could see the tension in his brother’s eyes, the doubt, and knew this was not the time for a reconciliation. ‘Selena Rourke’s been abducted,’ Albus said, trying to keep his voice low and calm, trying to sound like the boy they remembered, while the man he’d become wanted to point out lives were on the line. ‘And I have to go find her.’

James arched an eyebrow. ‘Don’t you think that’s a job for the government?’

Ginny lifted a hand. ‘James.’ He fell silent, and she looked at Albus, though doubt rang in her dark eyes. ‘He has a point, though. Why does it have to be you?’

‘Because she’s my friend. Because she needs help. Because I can help her.’

‘You know,’ said James, ‘those are all really good arguments you could have used on yourself over the last few years.’

Albus squared his shoulders as the calm boy they all remembered faded to dust. ‘So this is how it is? I get understanding for my choices right until you decide we’re done with that?’

‘More like, you come back and act contrite right until you have a chance to be a self-indulgent brat again!’ James stormed towards him.

‘Brat?’ Al clenched his jaw. ‘I’ve seen things that would curl your toes and leave you weeping in a corner for ten years, big brother; don’t you dare act like -’

‘Oh, spare me the “I did what I had to do,” spiel, complete with grating deep voice!’ James tossed his hands in the air. ‘I don’t know if you’re lying to us or lying to yourself, but your place isn’t running off in the world again, pretending like you’re making a difference. Your place is here! War’s starting again, and your place is with your family!’

‘I am pretending nothing; I’m doing something more bloody useful with my life than throwing around a Quaffle -’

Stop!’ Ginny’s voice broke through the air like the crack of a whip, and both boys had been raised with a healthy respect for their mother’s anger, springing apart like fighting dogs who’d had a bucket of water hurled over them. When Albus looked at her, she looked less tired and pale in her anger. ‘This family has been apart for too long,’ she continued, her voice dropping to something low and dangerous.

Albus grimaced. ‘I’m not leaving, Mum - I mean, I am, but I will come back -’

‘You said that last time,’ James growled.

Both fell silent at their mother’s renewed glare. ‘I am never going to tie either of you to my apron strings. Or I’d pull Lily out of Hogwarts. But she doesn’t want to leave, and Hogwarts remains the safest place for her. So I will just have to deal with that. Al, you say you’re going to find your friend. Look me in the eye.’

Albus stepped over to his mother and lifted his big hands to her shoulders. ‘Mum. I’m not kidding myself. I’m not lying to you. I’m not even going alone; this is Rose and Matt and me.’ James scoffed, but he ignored it. ‘I’m not going off to do good just so I don’t have to be here. I need a few days to do this, that’s all.’

Ginny grasped one of his hands, then extended her other hand to James. ‘I’m going to be trite at you boys,’ she warned. ‘The family being together doesn’t mean we all stay at home. It means we trust each other and we back each other up. It means we’re here for each other. I know you’re both hurt, and you’re both afraid, but you have to stop fighting like this. You’ll just drive each other apart.’

Albus looked at James, and saw that familiar, resentful glimmer in his eye. ‘Jim - you brought me back, Jim. I’m not going to forget that.’

The surly glint about his brother faded for a more apprehensive, guarded edge. ‘I don’t know if I can bring you back another time.’

Al clasped his shoulder. ‘You won’t have to. I promise you both, I am not running. I’m doing what I should have done a long time ago; I’m being where my friends need me. I can’t make up for what I did, but I… if something happens to Selena, after we lost Methuselah, after we lost Scorpius - we can’t. I know Matt and Rose will go with or without me. I have to go for me, I have to go for Selena, and I have to go for them.’ He saw James scowl, and pressed on. ‘Of course that doesn’t mean I put them before you. But you don’t need me sat at home, agonising and worrying.’

‘We need you safe,’ James said.

‘And I will be careful.’

‘Yes,’ said Ginny. ‘Do be careful when you charge after Thornweavers selected to capture and detain the daughter of the Chairman of the International Magical Convocation.’

But her lips twitched, James snorted, and then Albus was laughing, too - a small, nervous laugh, tinged with apprehension, and Ginny pulled him into a hug which he returned fervently. James was dragged into it too, and the three clung to each other for a long time, as if Ginny could squeeze her message into them - or set into him an anchor which would make sure, this time, he came back soon.

He had no intention of letting them down again.



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