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Chapter 8 : The Lawless Perch
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It wasn’t snowing in Moscow, and Rose felt a little cheated. With the time difference and the intricacies of taking an illegal Portkey, it was late and dark by the time they stepped into the streets, and the cold bit through her coat and jumper. She hadn’t realised she’d shivered, but then Matt put an arm around her shoulder. She ignored Al’s look.
‘What’ve we got, hotel rooms?’ asked Albus.
‘No way. We don’t want anyone to know we’re in the city, and we have no control over who’s got access to a hotel, magical or Muggle. Dad sorted us a safe house near here.’ Matt looked up and down the street, then picked a direction.
‘We couldn’t have taken the Portkey there directly? Instead of into a back alley?’
‘If someone traces this Portkey, all they know is that we’re in Moscow. If the Portkey went right to where we’re staying, they’d be able to find us.’
Rose tuned out the bickering and turned her gaze to this run-down district of Moscow. She’d anticipated more of a culture shock, but if it weren’t for the Cyrillic script on signs and shops, she would have struggled to tell she wasn’t in some decrepit industrial region of London. That, and the cold. It was a good ten to fifteen degrees colder than it had been in England, and while it wasn’t beyond what she’d expect deeper in winter, it was a sudden change.
They weren’t in a magical district and there weren’t many people on the street, so they made the fifteen-minute walk without incident. Matt had to stop a few times, pull a map from his pocket, consult the signs with a furrowed brow as he tried to match up symbols he didn’t understand, before they reached what looked like an abandoned block of workers’ flats across from an empty refinery. He pulled his wand, tapped it twice against a dead nearby lamppost, and murmured something Rose couldn’t hear.
‘There we go.’
Albus squinted as the building made the transition from empty and run-down to illuminated and run-down. ‘Your father doesn’t take style as seriously as security, I see.’
Matt glared. ‘It’ll be fine. It’s warded and nobody will spot any lights or signs of life inside, wizard or otherwise. What were you expecting, a five-star hotel?’
Rose pushed past them to get the door and was relieved when Albus followed instead of taking the bait. The safehouse Gabriel Doyle had arranged for them proved to be more comfortable on the inside; plain and simple, but it was warm, clean, furnished, and well-stocked with food. Only the top floor of the building was usable, with two bunkrooms, a kitchenette, and a seating area boasting an impressive table from which one could presumably plot an international strike.
‘We’re meeting Baz at ten at his place,’ said Matt. ‘Local time, of course. It’s only a four hour difference but I suggest we don’t get a late night.’
Albus gave him a sidelong look. ‘If we’re being all motherly, then I’ll cook us a nice dinner, shall I?’
He did. It was garnished with resentment, but for a few moments, with the three of them sat around the huge table, Albus rattling back and forth with plates of what glorious things he could do with a few tins of essentials, everything felt like normal. Or, like the last meal Rose could remember counting as “normal”, which was a sunlit evening on a terrace in Venice eating dinner with her friends.
But once the silence of eating passed for the silence of tension, Albus’ eyes flickering between the two of them with an accusatory air she wasn’t used to, normalcy faded for anxiety. Rose pushed back her chair. ‘I’ll clean up, then I’m turning in. I’ve only had cat-naps after last night.’
‘No, I’ll do it.’ Al pushed to his feet. ‘You need your rest.’
She gave him a look, then nodded and stalked to one of the bunkrooms before she could give the matter much thought. How can you tear strips off me for how I live my life, then go right back to being the guy I remember?
Despite being bone weary, fifteen minutes later she was no closer to sleep than lying on a bunk and staring at the ceiling, and so the knock was no interruption. With a sigh, she got up and opened the door to see a sheepish-looking Matt.
‘This is awkward,’ he said. The living room around him was gloomy. ‘I didn’t know if you’d rather I just bunked with Al.’
‘Oh.’ Rose rubbed an eye. ‘I didn’t mean to do that. I’m pretty tired.’ But she stepped back from the door, and he followed with a nervous, grateful smile.
‘I know, and I get that we need to talk, and I get that now might not be the best time, so if you want to stick a pin in it until all of this is over, or at least until you’ve had some sleep -’
She lifted a hand to cut him off. ‘I don’t want to be angry with you, Matt.’
‘Oh. Good?’ He stood in the middle of the bunkroom, wringing his hands together. ‘I don’t have many better explanations than what I said before. I fell into this after the Chalice hunt. You clearly wanted nothing more to do with the Council, I didn’t want to land this at your door, and by the time I thought you could cope with it, I’d been doing this for ages. There was no good time to turn around and say, “by the way, I’m working for the Order of the Knights Templar.”’
‘Your father seemed cynical on that point.’
Matt shrugged. ‘Dad’s funded Reynald de Sablé. But de Sablé - you should meet him, properly meet him, Rose. If Raskoph is an ancient relic come back to spread his words of hate, then de Sablé’s like his opposite number. Even aside from the Council of Thorns, there’s work to do with these lost bits of knowledge and magic scattered around the world, and someone has to be responsible for them.’
‘And Gringotts aren’t the people for the job?’ she said wryly.
He snorted. ‘My point is that I didn’t get into this just to fight. We know the Council would use all manner of ancient weapons. They were prepared to snatch options other than the Chalice - God knows what they found to reform Lethe, after all. I didn’t want to go toe-to-toe with them and look for trouble. I wanted to help keep the wrong things out of their hands.’
Rose looked to the window. They were not so high up that she could see anything but the dull concrete of the opposite building, and for a heartbeat she missed the view they’d had in their rooms in Cairo. Even that felt like a lifetime ago, a time of dull, plain nothing in contrast to the present tension, fear, hate. ‘I understand that you weren’t done, after the Chalice. But I was. And if it weren’t for Selena, I’d still be done.’
‘Would you prefer I’d told you?’
‘I don’t know.’ Her throat tightened as she looked at him. ‘I know that I’ll worry about something happening to you. But if you think I don’t worry about that when you walk down the street -’
Matt flew to her side, grabbing her hand in both of his. ‘I’ll be fine, I promise -’
She flinched so hard she jerked her hand free, and he stepped back, startled. ‘Don’t promise. You can’t promise anything. God, Matt, we’re chasing down the Council of Thorns, possibly Raskoph himself, and we’ve never done that before, we’ve never gunned for them directly. Even Selena’s hunt for Thane turned into a hunt for the Chalice. We can’t promise that any of us are going to be alright.’
He stood frozen for a moment, grasping at the air where she’d been. ‘Look, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. Even if I’m not sure what else I was supposed to do. But you know, now, and so I suppose the question is, what does this mean for us? Do you want me to… stop this work?’
She looked at him, and something crumpled inside her. You would, wouldn’t you. Even if you clearly love this, even if you clearly need to do this, you’d stop if I asked you to. So she shook her head. ‘We have to focus on Selena. I can’t think about the future right now.’ But his expression flickered, and she dug deep in herself to find the steel to ask the question. ‘What happened between you two?’
Matt blinked. ‘What do you mean? Nothing happened -’
‘Like hell.’ She shifted to face him head-on. ‘I’m not accusing you of anything, Matt. I’m saying that you two went from being friends and confidantes to… I don’t even know what. I never got around to asking. By the time I could think about taking on someone else’s problems, there was a wall between you two.’
His shoulders tensed. ‘We were… I don’t know what we were. I’d be lying if I said there wasn’t a… a thing when it was all coming to an end, when we’d found the Chalice, when we were in Venice. But then - then everything went wrong, and you needed us, needed us both, and we didn’t really have the time. And then she started to pull away from me. Hung out with her old friends, avoided me, and so… I don’t know. I suppose we might have fought, but you needed us both. And I wasn’t going to spend time chasing her if she didn’t want to be around me, and…’
Rose lifted a hand to her temples. ‘And I needed your attention more.’
‘That sounds more blaming than I meant it.’ He approached her again, gait ginger. ‘I figured I could focus on someone who actually wanted me around. And not someone who’d suddenly decided I wasn’t worth the time of day.’
She raised her gaze, searched his face. ‘Except you’re like a cat on a hot tin roof now she’s in danger.’
Matt paused. ‘Is this - Rose, I don’t -’
‘I’m not accusing you,’ she repeated, and it was the truth. There was no jealousy, no fear, just a low curiosity mixed with a dull realisation of things she’d let slip by her, willingly or otherwise, over the last two years. It was like she’d finally stepped away from the jigsaw puzzle of her life, and not only was she seeing the bigger picture, she was finding pieces she’d had all along and was slotting them into place.
But the image was still only black and white.
Matt drew a deep breath. ‘I love you,’ he said. ‘But I can’t stand by and do nothing for Selena, not when I have the resources to hand. Even if she’s… no matter what’s happened… I have to do what I can. Everything I can.’
‘I know. And I’m right there with you. We’re not losing anyone else.’ She paused, then extended an awkward hand towards him. ‘I’m not saying I’m angry with you about this Templar business, or that I’m over it. But I can’t think about this right now. I know it’s harsh for me to ask if we can put it on hold until it’s all over -’
‘It’s not harsh,’ he said, hurrying to her and taking her hand again. ‘I understand. This is more important.’
She dug deep in herself and found a smile. After all, she knew he would take whatever reaction she hurled at him, and so she figured he deserved that smile, and that idea of understanding, rather than the blank numbness whose residence in her gut had yet to shift. Even with him.
‘Moscow’s a pretty modern city, even the wizarding parts,’ Matt was saying as they walked the network of alleyways leading to the magical district of the city. ‘There was a lot of rebuilding in the fifties, a lot of old places - especially religious sites - knocked down, and replaced with huge skyscrapers and those soulless housing blocks like where we’ve stayed.’
‘Except for those really colourful buildings?’
‘Pre-Soviet,’ Matt told Rose. ‘And a lot of them were heavily restored. But the Muggles of Moscow have been worse for conserving historical buildings than a load of other places. European places, at least.’
Albus wasn’t paying much attention. He’d bowed to the cold by putting another thick coat on over his leather jacket, which he wasn’t about to abandon, and trailed behind Rose and Matt. Matt was up to his eyeballs in historic ramblings, and Rose was paying at least cursory attention, so Al felt somebody had to worry about their security. There was no sign anyone was after them, or even cared about their travel, but he’d spent two years being on his own and pissing off all manner of different people. Watching his back had become second nature, so it wasn’t difficult to turn this into watching all their backs.
‘We want the Morena Gate,’ Matt added.
‘That name’s ringing a bell,’ said Rose.
‘Morena was an old Slavic deity, with different associations in different places. Also called Mora, or Marzanna -’
The laugh choked in Albus’ throat before he could stop it, surprised and bitter. The other two looked back at him, and his expression twisted. ‘Marzanna’s what they call her in Poland, yes. They drown an effigy of her as a symbol of evil at the end of winter, to ward off death, disease, pestilence.’
Matt’s eyebrows raised. ‘You saw the festival?’
‘No. I did kill a dark wizard trying to invoke her power at the winter solstice, though.’ He ignored their curious gazes and went back to checking nearby windows. His wand occasionally swished, hidden up his sleeve, to detect unusual magical signatures.
‘A Thornweaver?’ said Rose.
‘Just a dark wizard. They happened before the Council came along and they’ll keep happening.’ Albus shrugged. ‘We’re close, I can feel the magic.’
Matt gave him an uneasy look, then returned his gaze to the route ahead. ‘Yeah. There have been bricks on the way to tap in sequence, then we turn what I think is this next corner, and…’
And instead of another narrow alleyway in eastern Moscow, there was a huge, broad street that couldn’t possibly fit. If Diagon Alley was a throwback to old London, this was the opposite: modern, with simple brick masonry, narrow windows with well-decorated arches around them, all sharp corners and straight lines. It was in much better condition, better maintained and the paint no longer peeling, than the alleyways they’d come through, and from the long, sweeping robes of the public, it was obvious they were now in the magical district.
‘We’re going to be recognised,’ Albus grumbled, and went through the familiar motions. He pulled up his hood, shoved his hands in his pockets with a good grasp on his wand, and slumped his shoulders, all the better to fade into a crowd.
‘We’re not that famous, Al,’ Rose said.
‘We are that hated by the Council of Thorns. Trust me. We’ll draw attention for being foreign, then people will ask questions, then -’
‘I think they’ve got bigger fish to fry,’ Matt said, and nodded down the road. The crowds at this end were sparse, people moving quickly from place to place with an air of determination and fear, but about a hundred metres down the street, Al could see them clumping together, tall barricades set up. Witches and wizards in long robes bearing the insignia of the Russian Magical Federation went to and fro, blocked the way of people coming closer, and moved in and out of nearby buildings whose windows and doors had been heavily reinforced.
‘Moscow was hit yesterday, too,’ Rose said. ‘Looks like they haven’t cleared the region out.’
‘They might still need a quarantine,’ said Matt. ‘Baz thought meeting here was a discreet option?’
‘If everyone’s attention is drawn, then this works for us,’ Albus pointed out. ‘Where’s this bar?’
‘It’s at this end. I wouldn’t think it’s open, we may need a back entrance,’ said Matt, and led the way deeper into the magical district. Albus scowled at his back, noting from here how plain it was that Matt had his wand up his sleeve, how his long coat bulked out around the hilt of his sword. An average person on the street wouldn’t notice, but he wasn’t worried about average people on the street. He was worried about professionals.
‘I think this is the place,’ Matt said as they approached one of the buildings on the street - the door closed, the shutters closed, only a sign out front in a language none of them could read. ‘The Lone Bogatyr, is how it was translated to me…’
Albus drew a sharp breath. ‘If you spent half as much time preparing for this journey as you spent indulging in your obsession with history, we might have answers by now. Are you going to knock, professor, and introduce us to your vaunted contacts, products of your father’s hard work, or are you going to keep blathering on?’
Rose bristled. ‘Al -’
‘I’ll knock,’ said Matt, his expression going tense, but blank. He rapped sharply on the door.
It took long seconds until a hatch in the door slid open, a lone eye peering out at them, and something was rattled off in rather fast Russian. Matt grimaced. ‘Er, I don’t speak - we’re here to see Baz.’
Albus sighed heavily at the fast greeting, but he’d caught half the words, and when he spoke, it was in his own, rather broken Russian. ‘We have a meeting. Tell him to look out of the window. He will see us. He will want to talk.’
There was a pause, then the hatch snapped shut. Albus glanced at the other two, and shrugged. ‘I’ve been around the last few years. A lot of time was spent in Eastern Europe. Yes, I speak a little Russian.’
‘You could have mentioned that before we got here,’ Matt grumbled.
‘I assumed you’d done your homework.’
‘My homework doesn’t extend to reading Cyrillic - look, I speak French and a little German and Arabic, don’t you be smug -’
‘Will you two both shut up?’ Rose hissed. ‘Don’t complain about not keeping a low profile and then start bickering in the street.’
Albus grunted and fell into silence, but he failed to hide a smirk at the sound of bolts scraping back, and a thin-faced man opened the door to usher them inside. ‘Baz is upstairs,’ he said, now in the English Albus had known, from his reactions, he’d understood all along. ‘My apologies. We are closed because of the attack.’
‘I understand,’ said Matt, now magnanimous, and led the way into the bar. With the many wooden chairs and table bereft of patrons, the fireplace on the far side dead, the shutters down over the bar itself, it was a gloomy, unpleasant sort of place, and he wasted no time in heading for the stairs. Their threshold guardian slammed the door shut behind them, and the hairs on the back of Al’s neck went up as the bolts slid back into place. This wasn’t just a metal locking, but a magical one. If this went sour they were trapped, and there was only one reason Albus had any faith in Baz as their contact - not that he’d met him before, relied on him before, though that helped. But Scorpius had trusted him, at a time when they barely trusted anyone.
The door to the office upstairs was open, and Albus heard the Russian’s voice before he saw him, when Matt was at the top of the stairs. ‘Ah, Mister Doyle, I assume. Come in, come in.’ Albus let himself relax, ushered Rose up before him, and almost walked into the backs of both of them when they froze in the doorway.
The office was large and well-lit, with a narrow window offering a good view of the Morana Gate, and the hubbub around the barricade. The walls sported peeling paint, old metal filing cabinets, a wide, battered desk at which the short, sallow-faced shape of Baz sat, wearing a smile frozen with confusion at their reactions.
And then he spotted the woman in the far corner. She was tall, her black hair shorter than he remembered, her features more sharp, severe, and still marred by that scar which scraped across the skin on the left side of her jaw. But she could have worn the best disguise and still he would have recognised her, with those eyes and that stance burned into him for all eternity.
His throat went dry. ‘You.’
Eva Saida straightened, and drew an awkward breath. ‘This wasn’t -’
Then Albus wasn’t stood in the doorway anymore. His legs propelled him across the room, and Baz gave a squawk of surprise while Rose and Matt just stared, dumbstruck. Even Saida didn’t get time to react before Albus’ hand shot out, grabbed her by the throat, and slammed her against the wall.
‘I said I’d kill you if I saw you again,’ he snarled.
‘I -’ She tried to speak, but her words failed to choke past his hold, and for a moment all she did was claw at his forearm, powerless against his strength.
‘Albus! We don’t - let her go!’ That was Matt, baffled and desperate, and he might as well have not spoken for all his words did to pierce the red veil that had wrapped its smothering grasp around him.
‘This isn’t - what the hell is going on?’ Baz demanded from the safety of the other side of his desk.
He saw something flicker in Saida’s eyes, saw the shock and fear shift to something else, and for half a heartbeat he was glad, because something deep and old inside of him, beyond the reach of the spectre of fury, howled in protest at making her afraid. But he didn’t have long to reflect on that, because then there was the gust of magic thudding into his gut and sending him flying across the room to crash into a filing cabinet.
Stars exploded in front of his eyes, but he’d taken a worse beating and was on his feet in moments, wand extended. She had hers up, too, but her stance was defensive, taut. ‘Al, you have to listen -’
‘Don’t you call me that.’ His voice tore his throat open with its thunderous shake. ‘Don’t you dare -’
Matt stepped between them, both hands raised. ‘We’re here to talk! Not here to fight!’
Albus glowered at him, then his gaze snapped to Rose, still frozen in the doorway. ‘She got Scorpius killed; are you just going to stand there -’
‘Will someone please tell me what’s going on?’ Baz stamped his foot and was promptly ignored.
‘I’m here to talk, too,’ said Saida. ‘But I’ll lower my wand when he does.’
Albus shifted into a fighting stance, and wondered how best to hurl Matt out of the way without harming him too badly. ‘Like hell will I -’
He’d been so busy contemplating how to remove Matt that he didn’t expect him to strike. Not at Saida, but him, his wand moving with impressive speed to throw out a Stun which Al, by instinct, shielded against. But Matt was still acting, his sword in hand for a swipe which cleaved its way through that magical barrier, and with his back to a filing cabinet, Albus couldn’t move away for more space. The blow was well-aimed, because after collapsing his shield, the blade only sliced through thin air, and Albus was still reeling when Matt’s Disarm knocked his wand out of his hand.
Now the instinct to kill Saida wasn’t as strong as the instinct to defend himself, unarmed against a man with a wand and a blade. Reflex made Albus step forward, inside Matt’s swing - and punch him in the face.
There was a crunch at the impact, a spurt of blood, and Matt gave a bellow of pain as he fell back, dropping his weapons to clutch his nose. But it broke the moment, at least, and Al stood there for a moment, blinking owlishly as Rose dived to Matt’s side, as Baz kept shouting, and as Eva Saida kept her wand trained on him and didn’t move.
‘You dupid badtard!’ Matt slurred through streaming blood and a broken nose. ‘Ng, Bose, could you…’
Rose was already casting, and there was another crack and a howl of pain from Matt, but he could lower his hand. Blood covered the lower part of his face, dripped onto his coat, but the nose was intact now, and he gave Albus a baleful look. ‘We’re here for Selena, not your problems! Is it possible for you to ask questions before you open fire, so maybe we can get some answers and stop somebody else from dying?’
Baz had given up, pulled up a chair, and lit a cigarette. Rose pulled away from Matt, and moved to Albus’ side, lifting a hand to him like he was a horse who might bolt - or go berserk, and he didn’t hesitate to turn his glower on her, too, even if the red veil was lifting. ‘Al. Let’s find out what’s going on.’
His lip curled. ‘How can you -’
‘I swear, Al, if you try to play the “my pain is worse than yours” card and don’t listen to me, I will break your nose.’ Finally, something cracked the steel screen that had been across her face since he’d come back, and it was that, not her threat, which made him subside.
He grumbled and retrieved his wand, but slid it up his sleeve, ready to hand. Then he leaned against the filing cabinet he’d been flung into, back aching. ‘Alright.’ He gave Matt a jerky nod. ‘You can start your blathering.’
‘Did you go on a two-year mission to find your inner arsehole?’ Matt sneered. He’d pulled out a handkerchief to mop himself up, but his coat and scarf kept their speckles of red.
Baz blew a smoke ring at the ceiling. ‘This is the best meeting I’ve had all week. You come in, kick off on one of my people, and then start fighting each other. Do I get an explanation now?’ His glance included Saida, who, at his nod, did lower her wand.
Matt retrieved his wand and sword to sheathe them both, before he nodded at Saida. ‘Do you know who she is?’
‘Eva Saida. Worked for the Council of Thorns, most specifically, Prometheus Thane. Then she stopped, and now she works for me. Happens all the time.’ Baz took a drag on his cigarette. ‘I take it you know each other.’
‘I infiltrated their team when they were hunting for the Chalice,’ said Saida, voice neutral. ‘That was my last mission for the Council of Thorns.’
‘Now that’s a thing. You didn’t tell me that.’
‘You’ve asked me about the work I did for the Council when it was relevant. It’s never been relevant until now. If you’d told me who this meeting was with, I would have warned you about this,’ said Saida. Her voice was as he remembered, that wry, matter-of-fact tone. Only Albus had attributed it to a wounded young woman called Lisa Delacroix, not a sardonic, cold-blooded killer.
‘I suppose we all keep our secrets.’ Baz stuck his cigarette in the corner of his mouth. ‘Saida is one of my most trusted people,’ he said to Matt. ‘She has, for the last two years, helped me in my operations to keep the criminal underworld out of the hands of the Council of Thorns.’
‘So, from the Council into good work, I see,’ Albus sneered.
Baz’s eyebrows raised. ‘You’re here for my help; don’t get judgemental about it, Mister Potter. I’ve been working with the Russian Federation and the IMC since the Council of Thorns became a threat. Perhaps I’ll go back to fighting law and order when all of this is over, but in the meantime, there’s a world to save, and we’re all on the same side.’
‘We are not -’
‘The Council of Thorns staged an Inferi attack within eye-shot of my place of work. They would have killed me as surely as they killed the hundred or so others. Dozens more have been infected with this new plague, this Lethe, and Russia doesn’t have its Resurrection Stones, its Nathalie Lockett. The cures which are out there cannot be everywhere at once.’ Baz stubbed out his cigarette, eyes tightening. ‘Joachim Raskoph is a madman who won’t stop until the bodies are knee-deep worldwide. That’s why I fight him, that’s why Saida here doesn’t work for him any more. Now, I haven’t thrown you out because Gabriel Doyle and I have done good work together the last couple years - he liked that I helped you in Athens - and because you were Scorpius Malfoy’s friend, but if you keep glaring at me with those judgemental eyes, I won’t give you a thing, boy.’
Matt gave Albus a warning look which only inspired greater anger, but Rose was at his side again, and squeezed his elbow. ‘Al, please,’ she murmured. ‘For Selena.’ That, at least, worked, and he subsided into an unhappy silence, settling for glaring at the floor if he couldn’t look at Baz in a civil manner. Saida he didn’t look to at all.
Baz nodded, and reached for the pack of cigarettes on the desk. ‘Smoke, anyone?’
Matt nodded, and pulled up the chair across from him, accepting the cigarette and the light. ‘What happened the other night?’
‘The same thing that happened everywhere else. We don’t know where they got the bodies from, or how they got the Inferi into the city centre so suddenly. But then they were here, on a rampage and a slaughter, along with the Thornweavers. Would you believe the Federation shut down the wards to stop anyone getting out of Morana Gate? Even us.’ Baz puffed on the fresh cigarette. ‘Fucking bloodbath.’
‘What can they want?’ Rose frowned. ‘All they’re doing is killing a lot of people and making everyone hate them.’
‘I doubt we’ll see more like this,’ said Baz. ‘This is to remind us they’re here. This is to scare the hell out of us. Then they’ll start targeting heads of state, topple weakened governments like they did in Brazil. I bet every government’s got Thornweavers in place, waiting in the wings, ready to seize power when people stop being angry at the Council, and start being angry at the people who didn’t save us from the Council.’
‘You don’t think this is about Raskoph?’
‘I think the Council of Thorns is a pack of lunatics who all want different things. Raskoph might be the biggest and the baddest and the one they’re all listening to right now, but he’s trying to please a dead Grindelwald and that means turning the world’s rivers to blood. The question isn’t what he wants, the question is what’s going to happen when he’s beaten, and how much damage he’ll do before we get there. But you know all of this.’ Baz puffed on his fresh cigarette. ‘You came here for a reason.’
‘Raskoph is the reason. If this isn’t him, then it’s some of his most important people who’ve pulled off a job for him.’
‘Your father said this. That’s why I asked Eva to be here. Which I see was a decision with no drawbacks.’
Matt took a drag on his cigarette, visibly steeling himself. ‘The Council of Thorns has abducted Selena Rourke.’
Albus heard the hissing intake of Baz’s breath, but he couldn’t stop himself from glancing to Saida to gauge her reaction - and there was one, a slight widening of the eyes. He looked away sharply. Of course that got a reaction. Selena’s Lillian Rourke’s daughter. It’s a big deal.
‘They’ve made no public pronouncements,’ said Matt. ‘But this is going to have been some of his best people. We need to find them, and we need to find her.’
‘There’s more,’ said Rose, her voice hoarse. ‘Prometheus Thane and his people were at the attack on Hogsmeade, which is where she was grabbed.’
Saida’s eyes narrowed at that. ‘Really.’
Albus bit back a comment, but Matt nodded. ‘It’s possible,’ Matt said, ‘they were trying to foil the abduction. The Thornweavers almost killed Rose, but Thane’s men got there in time to stop them, just seconds after they’d got away with Selena.’
‘Prometheus Thane is the wildcard,’ said Baz, speaking around the cigarette in the corner of his mouth. ‘He goes from Raskoph’s favourite pet, then eight months ago he starts killing the biggest names of the Council of Thorns?’
‘He’s killed members of the IMC, too!’ Rose said.
Saida shook her head. ‘Every person Thane assassinated in the IMC was in the Council’s pocket.’
‘Don’t get us wrong; he’s marching to the beat of his own drum, and I don’t know why he suddenly went rogue. Maybe he saw, like so many others, that Raskoph is deranged.’
‘He had all the evidence to see that two years ago,’ said Saida, derision creeping into her voice. ‘He didn’t turn his back on Raskoph then.’
‘While this is all interesting,’ said Matt, ‘it doesn’t get us any closer to where Selena might be.’
Baz looked at Saida. ‘Eva? Got any theories?’
She shrugged. ‘I still have contacts in the Council, people who like a little money, or aren’t all that fond of what the Thornweavers are up to these days. But this is the first I’ve heard of the abduction of Selena Rourke. Raskoph will have used his best men for the task, absolutely trustworthy people. Nobody who’d talk would know a thing about this.’
‘So that’s it?’ Matt squared his shoulders, that same fury and frustration creeping into him as when he’d kicked off on Albus. ‘You have no leads? They can’t have just disappeared into thin air!’
Baz gave Saida a look Albus would have sworn was pleading, and her lips thinned. ‘I have an idea where to look,’ she said, ‘but it’s risky.’
‘I’ll take anything,’ said Matt.
Something else flashed across Saida’s face, an emotion Albus didn’t dare read into, and she turned to him, walking over. He squared his shoulders and grasped his wand tighter, until Saida said, looking at a point just past his left ear, ‘I need that cabinet.’
‘Oh.’ He slid to one side, closer to Rose, but still trapped between them as Saida opened a drawer and rifled inside. He was close this time without being in a murderous rage, and could see she was as taut as him. He knew the signs from the short months of their acquaintance, their relationship - except all of those had been lies, hadn’t they? He hadn’t really read a damned thing, and she just knew how to play him…
She pulled out a map and returned to the desk with a haste he knew was because of him. ‘There is a lead we - and the IMC - have known about for some time, but they didn’t want anyone to interfere. We know where they manage, enchant, and supervise all of their illegal international portkeys.’
Rose frowned. ‘And the IMC don’t want anyone to interfere?’
‘This is something the Council will do anyway. Knowing of this location means we can monitor them, the odd portkey. If the base was hit, then the Council would set it up somewhere else, somewhere nobody knows about.’
Baz flicked ash off the end of his cigarette. ‘Saida…’
‘If ever there was a time to get their full portkey records, it’s now, after yesterday,’ she said flatly. ‘And whoever came from Hogsmeade with Selena Rourke will have needed a portkey off the Naglfar.’
‘Naglfar,’ Matt repeated with a sigh. ‘Of course that’s what it’s called.’
‘So it’s a ship,’ said Rose. ‘A mobile Council command centre to control their magical comings and goings.’
‘Most portkeys go to the Naglfar, we think, and then the teams travel on from there,’ said Saida. ‘If it wasn’t working overtime during the unleashing of Lethe, I will be surprised. There’s only one problem.’
‘Just one? In hitting one of the Council of Thorns’ most valuable bases?’ She arched an eyebrow.
Saida grimaced. ‘One first problem, then. We’re not sure where it is.’
A/N: Naglfar is a ship from Norse mythology, made entirely from the bones and fingernails of the dead. In Ragnarok it will ferry the forces who will do battle with the Gods. This is how Rose and Matt pick up right away that the Portkey base is, in fact, a boat.
I have been getting some upset from readers, all very worried about the fate of the characters without Scorpius in the world. I will only say three things: If I had something planned, would I honestly admit it? On the other hand, would I do an ‘easy’ resurrection? And, finally, I remind you: ‘Trust the fuckhead.’
On an unrelated note, I love how you guys all react differently to the characters. If everyone loved everyone, if nobody was hated or found irritating, I wouldn’t be doing my job right. Rose is a hypocrite, Matt’s a liar, Albus is naive, Eva’s a bloody traitor. Even Scorpius was petty and cruel and childish, and some of you rightly condemned him for it.
Except everyone seems to love Selena. I mean, I love Selena. But I love all of them. But Selena has lied and manipulated, she is hypocritical and tells people to sort out their own lives without sorting out her own, she can be superficial and cruel. And yet she appears to be the one character all of my readers get behind. How? Is there someone out there who dislikes her? It’s weird if there isn’t! Everyone has their detractors and I refuse to consider I have made the ‘perfect character’.
Otherwise, the plot marches on.