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Chapter 11 : I Trust Thee to the Death
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They sat in a tent, wayward friends and lovers and traitors and enemies, and gathered to listen to the tales of a dead man.
Rotterdam had been abandoned in a mass of arguments and uncertainties, but so long as Matt held the file with the Naglfar’s records and Prometheus Thane wasn’t surrendering to the justice of the International Magical Convocation, they had travelled together. It was a confused cease fire of Eva, Matt and Thane clutching their wands, of Scorpius Malfoy wearing a stupid, exhausted smile, of Rose looking further from an emotional reaction than ever before.
And Albus feeling like himself for the first time in years.
‘I’m not the person to talk about… you know, the complicated bits,’ Scorpius was saying, and flashed him a grin as Albus put a cup of tea in front of him. It was the same tent they’d travelled in two and a half years ago, the same mugs, tea made just the same way - milk and two sugars, and for a heartbeat it was like they were hunting Thane again, not sat across a dinner table from him. ‘Thanks, mate. But, yeah. Prometheus could explain it better. Maybe we should start with him.’
All eyes turned, with less kindness or confusion, to Prometheus Thane. He’d kept his wand because nobody broached the subject of taking it off him, and it was peculiar to see him in such a humble environment. He looked more worn than when Al had last seen him, his chiselled features pale and gaunt, and his eyes glinted with cold calculation. ‘The death of Scorpius was an enormous setback for the Council of Thorns. They - we - lost the Chalice of Emrys and our chance at Lethe in one fell swoop. You all saw how they fell from grace without either. Raskoph stopped trying to harness weapons and turned to harnessing power, wrestling control of the Council’s assets off Acosta in South America. And I was given a new assignment.’ He looked at Scorpius. ‘I had to do what nobody had ever done before: bring a man back from the dead.’
‘Resurrection - true resurrection - isn’t possible.’ Rose didn’t lift her eyes from the table, Matt stood at her shoulder like a jealous shadow. ‘The Chalice brought back Matt within an hour of his death; that’s just a more powerful version of what medical magic can already do. And that nearly didn’t work. But beyond that? Even the Resurrection Stone couldn’t -’
‘You can’t bring back someone who’s died, no,’ Thane agreed. ‘That’s the trick.’
Scorpius focused most of his attention on Albus. Al knew this was likely so he didn’t have to look at Rose, but it didn’t stop him from giving a wry grin. ‘Don’t get me wrong. I was dead. Passing through the Veil was to enter the Otherworld. But I wasn’t killed. And I had the Chalice with me.’
Matt’s frown deepened from caution to curiosity. ‘It’s an object of both realms -’
‘And it can pass between the realms,’ Thane said. ‘If appropriately summoned. Which took a long time, a considerable amount of expertise, and no small expense, but we did it. And because Scorpius crossed into the Otherworld with it, his soul was tethered to it, and so he came back with it.’
Albus furrowed his brow. ‘Your body?’
‘As a physical object it existed in the Otherworld, with the Chalice. Which is part of how it was possible,’ said Scorpius. ‘But this is starting to get into technical stuff, and it’s not really the point, and I don’t understand all of it anyway.’
‘No,’ Matt agreed, ‘and there are other questions. Like why, if you’re Scorpius Malfoy, you’re working with Prometheus Thane.’
Scorpius looked at Thane, who drew a deep breath and said, ‘The Council asked me, as an expert, to recover Scorpius. They didn’t care about him, but they cared about the Chalice, and they cared about what was in his body: Lethe. Once they had both, they were prepared to kill him again. Which was the point, eight months ago, I decided to go rogue.’
Eva narrowed her eyes. ‘Because you just couldn’t stand the thought that they’d hurt him?’
Thane gave her a smile that didn’t affect her expression one bit. ‘Because the Council of Thorns are led by Joachim Raskoph, who is mad. I’d had enough. Scorpius, I, and some of my oldest associates went renegade, and we’ve been fighting the Council on our own terms ever since. Just like you’ve been fighting the Council on your terms, Eva, in Balthazar Vadimas’ company. And, like you, I don’t fancy being locked in the deepest, darkest cell the IMC can give me.’
Albus’ lips thinned, and he glanced at Scorpius. ‘Why’d you stay with him?’
Scorpius looked at his tea. ‘It’s - you understand how I have to stop the Council, especially now? They have the Chalice again, they have Lethe again, because of me. Here, I could fight. And there wasn’t a whole lot of reason to come back. This way, I could do the job. No distractions.’
I was gone. Rose had moved on. Your father would never have been enough to bring you back… Guilty, Albus dropped his gaze, but Scorpius cleared his throat and kept talking.
‘We did what we could, when we could,’ he said. ‘We had word that something was coming the night of the Lethe strike, and that’s why we were at Hogsmeade. If we’d had any idea how big it was, we’d have warned the IMC.’
‘I did suspect an abduction of Selena Rourke was in the works, now she was back in Britain,’ said Thane. ‘But I didn’t realise that was a secondary objective to unleashing hell.’
Rose dragged her eyes up from the table to look at Scorpius’ shoulder. ‘It was you,’ she said in a low, dull voice. ‘In the alleyway in Hogsmeade, that was you.’
He grimaced. ‘Yeah. But we were too late to stop them from getting away with Selena. Which is why we made the attack on the Naglfar, once we located it in Rotterdam. Looks like we all had the same idea; trace where that team portkeyed to.’
‘Why?’ asked Matt, scowl intact.
Scorpius blinked. ‘To rescue her -’
‘Why did you care?’
Albus saw Scorpius’ eyes flash, but it was Thane who spoke, his aristocratic drawl wry. ‘It didn’t sound especially good to let the daughter of the Chairman of the International Magical Convocation languish in the hands of Joachim Raskoph. Not when we are enemies of the Council of Thorns. But Scorpius was right when he said in Rotterdam that this was his operation. She’s his friend. She’s in trouble. We have the resources to locate her and do this extraction.’
Eva’s jaw tightened. ‘There are more of you.’
Thane nodded. ‘I might conduct a discreet war, but not with a two-man team. There are more of us.’
‘The plan on the Naglfar,’ said Scorpius, ‘was to stage an incursion, block off possible reinforcements, and arrive as fake reinforcements; hence the masks and robes. We had to step it up when your strike happened. But once we had the location, yes, we were going to rendezvous with the rest of the guys and probably not break into wherever Raskoph’s holding Selena just the two of us.’
‘I’m assuming,’ said Thane, leaning back in his chair, ‘that the four of you were here to rescue Selena Rourke. Or, well, the three of you.’ His gaze landed on Eva. ‘I don’t know why you do anything anymore.’
‘Certainly not because you tell me to,’ came Eva’s flat, taut voice, and Albus could see the tension in her shoulders, that mixture of control, fear and anger he could recognise even after all this time.
‘Yes, you’re positively your own master these days,’ Thane drawled, then glanced at Albus. ‘Do you come when he whistles, or does he have to at least call your name?’
Then Eva was on her feet, fists clenched, eyes wide. ‘This is ridiculous,’ she snapped, and looked to Albus and Matt. ‘He’s a killer, he’s a monster -’
‘As much as you are,’ said Scorpius calmly.
Pity crept into her gaze. ‘Oh, you poor fool - if you are who you say you are, you’ve just let him crawl in your head and play hero, but that’s what he does -’
Matt planted his hands on the table, shoulders squared. ‘I don’t care. I do not care about this. Who trusts whom, why he’s back, the history of Thane and Saida - none of this is bringing us closer to our objective: getting Selena back.’
Albus drew a slow breath. ‘He’s right. There are a hell of a lot of questions and issues, but that’s our mission, and we have to look to her first.’
‘I agree,’ said Scorpius. ‘So I suggest we combine forces. You have the records from the Naglfar, you can see where the team from Hogsmeade jumped with her on the night of the attack. Prometheus and I - and it’ll be just us, no need to bring in the rest of the team - have expertise and experience of the Council of Thorns’ operations; we know how to fight them.’ Thane looked pained at what appeared to be Scorpius’ unilateral decision, but he didn’t protest.
Matt looked troubled, but it was Rose who answered, Rose who peered at Thane through a veil of hair so thick it could have been another gateway to the Otherworld. ‘Or we Stun them both, call the IMC, and hand over them and Selena’s location.’
‘You are assuming, Miss Weasley, that I’m of any mind to come quietly,’ said Thane, his hand still firm on his wand. ‘If you strike for me, we will fight back, we will take those files, and we will go. And you will have no leads on Miss Rourke’s location. You might beat us, but is that a risk you’d have to take. I assure you, I’m no more thrilled about this cooperation than you are -’
‘We can’t stand on the outside forever, Prometheus,’ said Scorpius. ‘I wasn’t planning on coming out any time soon, but our hand’s been forced.’
Albus stood, and the next breath he drew came with a wave of warmth and calm that was like coming home. ‘Then let’s look in the file, and see where Selena is. The longer we wait, the more likely it is the Council will realise we know, and they might move her.’
Matt hesitated, then he put the folder on the table and opened it. ‘This is raw data,’ he said. ‘The Council wasn’t in the habit of keeping meticulous records of all their comings-and-goings, so this is just the output from the rituals.’
Rose reached for the papers, expressionless. ‘Then I’ll be the person to decipher it, won’t I.’ Once, she might have been wry. Now there was nothing in her as she rifled through the pages, eyes roaming over the lines of numbers and words which Albus knew included locations but which was otherwise nonsense to him.
As she read, he looked at Scorpius, whose gaze had fallen on her now her head was bowed. ‘What do you do when this is over?’
Scorpius faltered as he met his gaze. ‘I don’t know, mate. Do you go back into hiding once you come out of it?’
Albus’ expression twisted. ‘I don’t know.’
‘The Brocéliande Forest,’ Rose said abruptly, and looked up. ‘Near to somewhere called Saint Annard.’
Reactions came from both Matt and Thane. The latter sucked on his teeth, while Matt swore and said, ‘Raskoph, you sick bastard.’
‘Explain,’ said Albus.
‘Saint Annard was an all-magical French village until a hundred years ago,’ said Matt. ‘Then Raskoph and the Thule Society happened to it, when France was under German occupation in the Grindelwald Wars.’
‘The witches and wizards were accused of harbouring Magical Alliance agents, and were ordered to give them up. When they didn’t - they didn’t actually have any - the entire village was wiped out,’ said Thane. ‘It’s been a ghost town ever since. Nobody can say Raskoph doesn’t have a sense for the dramatics.’ He paused, and looked around. ‘And the war crimes. I simply mean it’s “dramatic” under these circumstances.’
Scorpius glanced to him. ‘A site of a massacre, and it’s where Raskoph’s had a prized prisoner taken. This can’t be a random location. This has to be important to him.’
‘You think it’s where Raskoph himself is hiding out?’ said Albus.
‘He moves around a lot,’ said Scorpius. ‘If he’s there, he won’t be there for long. But he’s got something he can’t just leave lying around, which is at its safest and most stable if it’s somewhere the barriers between the realms are weaker: the Chalice of Emrys.’
‘Then we have our heading,’ said Matt, straightening. ‘We get the maps, plan some apparitions to Brocéliande, and we’ll be there by dawn -’
‘No,’ Albus found himself saying. ‘We’re not moving right away.’
Matt’s jaw set. ‘The longer we wait, the likelier they’ll move her -’
‘Except we broke their transportation hub for Europe, and they have no idea what we know,’ said Albus. ‘Moving Selena is more likely to get them noticed, under the circumstances. More pressingly, we are worn and tired and in no condition to stage a strike on one of Raskoph’s most valued bases. We need a night’s sleep, at the very least.’
‘I agree with Potter,’ said Thane. ‘We need to be at our best if we’re going to succeed. None of you look at your best.’
‘I could say the same to you,’ sneered Matt. ‘Scrapping with teenagers took it out of you?’
‘Or do you want a few hours so you can drop your associates a line and then we wake up with wands in our faces?’ said Eva.
Scorpius grimaced. ‘We’re not going to do that.’
‘You might not,’ said Matt. ‘I’m surprised you trust him -’
‘This isn’t up for debate,’ Albus cut them off. ‘We need rest. And if we’re going to work together, we have to trust that we do, at least, have aligned goals for now. Most of you look dead on your feet. Get some bloody sleep. I will go check the wards, make sure communications and apparition are blocked off. Does anyone have a problem with that?’ Thane looked at Scorpius, who shook his head, and none of the others said anything. With no desire to belabour this point, he turned to leave the tent, ducking out from the flap and into the chilly air of north-eastern France at night.
There had been a certain irony to using the Council of Thorns’ own ritual to let them cross international borders. But Thane had assured them that it would work - and that his parting charm would completely unravel the Naglfar’s magics, taking time to be rebuilt if it was even possible. Albus suspected Thane had come to the Naglfar with the intention of destroying the ship, along with everyone on board, but this suggestion had not been made in their shaky alliance. Nevertheless, he remembered the slain Thornweavers he and Rose had found. This wasn’t a bloodless operation.
The wards were intact, but he pumped more power into them anyway, because it gave him an excuse to be out of the tent for a little longer. The sky was overcast, and the plain field they’d hopped to cast in such absolute darkness that he couldn’t see any sign of life out here, and certainly no indication anything was going to challenge their protections. But old habits died hard, so when he heard a crunch of a footstep behind him, he’d whirled around, wand in hand, before he knew what he was doing.
Eva had her own wand half-raised before she stopped herself. ‘You’re jumpy.’
‘Do I have any reason to not be?’ Only slowly did he drop his wand.
‘No. Keep up that paranoia.’ She looked up, dim light from the tent spilling across her face to cast the scar along her jaw into darker shadow. ‘It might keep us alive.’
‘Does that mean I should be wary of you, too?’
‘If it keeps you cautious.’ Eva thinned her lips as she slipped her wand away, and glanced to the tent before she pressed on. ‘You truly believe that’s Scorpius?’
He flinched. ‘I do. Maybe I’m a fool, but he knows so much, it looks like him, sounds like him, walks like him. Why would Prometheus Thane have planned this to infiltrate us? Or have a fake Scorpius up his sleeve just in case he ran into us? If we were at home, in a secure environment, I might press this more, but I can’t afford doubt right now.’ Albus rolled a shoulder. You can call me an idiot -’
‘I don’t think you’re an idiot for believing. Prometheus - Thane - he is manipulative and he is cunning, but he’s also efficient. He’ll use theatrics if it serves a purpose, but this would be… melodramatic for him.’
‘So he’s the one you think I should be wary of? I suppose you’d know him best.’ It was impossible to keep a sneer from his voice, even though he knew it wasn’t helpful.
She didn’t react to that. ‘Then trust me when I say that Prometheus Thane is very adept at earning and manipulating loyalties. Maybe that is the real Scorpius. Maybe he’s not been reprogrammed with Legilimency or mind-altering potions. But he’s still chosen to work with Thane for the last eight months, fighting the Council, assassinating people.’
‘If that’s Scorpius, if there’s even the slightest chance that’s Scorpius, then I’m not turning on him, I’m not turning away from him,’ said Albus, with a sudden heat in his chest he hadn’t expected. ‘And not for you -’
She flinched. ‘I am telling you to be careful, Albus, for the sake of this mission, Selena - for Rose, for Matt, for yourself. He’s not telling us everything.’
‘I suppose you would recognise a liar.’
‘I would. I know obfuscation when I see it. Why he’s with Thane, why he stayed away? Maybe he just wanted to fight the Council without dealing with personal problems, but that’s doesn’t sound like the whole story. I think he’s hiding something. And if he’s not lying, then I worry he’s not dancing to his own tune. For whatever reason, Scorpius trusts Prometheus, and he shouldn’t. He might be your friend, he might care for you, but there is a very real risk that he has become Prometheus’ play-thing, and you cannot assume that you have his loyalty like you used to.’
‘You’re right,’ said Albus. ‘I don’t assume I have people’s loyalty any more. You taught me a very good lesson.’
That made her stop short, the first flash of true frustration entering her eyes. ‘You want to talk about lessons on loyalty? Prometheus Thane has a talent for inspiring people to follow him to the ends of the Earth. It’s a very rare talent. I’ve only met one person better.’ She met his gaze, undaunted and without shame for once, and before he could answer, she pressed on. ‘Except that you didn’t do it through lying or manipulating, and that’s why you’re better. Or, were better. I’m not sure what you are any more.’
‘Neither am I,’ said Albus. ‘But whatever I am, you made me.’
‘Then we made each other, Albus, but this is still not the point. I’m not here to reminisce. I said I’d help you get Selena, and I will. Consider this my help: making sure you don’t get stabbed in the back by Prometheus Thane, or by whatever loyalty he’s inspired in Scorpius Malfoy. If that’s even who it is. Lots of people can know Quidditch scores.’
Then a new voice rolled across the darkness, and the sound as still enough to make Albus’ heart close into a fist. ‘Aw, c’mon, how many people knew about short-sheeting Oakes’ bed?’ said Scorpius, emerging from the gloom between them and the tent. ‘She’s still a smart girl, Al. You should listen to her.’
Albus looked at Scorpius - that rumpled blond hair, longer than he remembered but still artfully unruly, like he’d spent hours perfecting how little attention he gave it. That straight nose, the nonchalant manner with which he walked, hands shoved into pockets, the lopsided grin that reached his blue-grey eyes. It was him, every inch of him, and while Albus couldn’t pretend he understood, he knew the mere sight of his friend was breaking up the chunks of stone embedded in his heart and guts.
‘I could answer more questions, if you wanted,’ said Scorpius. ‘But I don’t know if that’s going to make much of a difference.’
Albus’ expression creased, but Eva took a step back, expression closing into her emotionless mask. ‘I think I’ve said all I can.’
‘Good night, Saida,’ said Scorpius amiably as she turned and headed for the tent, and he waited until she was gone before looking to Albus and continuing. ‘I wouldn’t be too hard on her, mate. And I say this as a guy who threatened to kill her last time we met.’ His gaze went wry, but the two fell into silence, staring into the horizon of black sky against black land. ‘I don’t - I’ve thought about what I’d say for a long time.’
‘I bet I’ve thought about it longer.’ Albus felt his throat tightening up, and he frowned into the night, voice coming out more rumbling than he liked. ‘If you’ve only been… back, for eight months.’
‘Yeah, I - I don’t mean…’ Scorpius sighed. ‘I wanted to come back. These past few months, I mean. I really did, I just - I thought it would complicate things.’
‘And working with Prometheus Thane is simple?’
‘In a way. Find the bad guys. Fight the bad guys. Sometimes, yes, kill the bad guys.’
‘Except he is one of the bad guys, Scorp -’
‘And she isn’t?’ Scorpius pointed at the tent, incredulous. ‘But you brought her on board to find Selena.’
‘That was Matt’s call!’
‘You two seemed like you were getting pretty honest with each other here! Not exactly a professional-only relationship.’
Albus drew a deep breath that quavered more than he’d have liked. ‘I believe she’ll help us find Selena. I believe she has no love for the Council. Truth be told, I believe the same of Prometheus Thane. That’s all I need out of those two. But you - I don’t -’ Words he would have once spoken without thought now sounded presumptuous, or even dangerous, like they opened up whole new chasms he wasn’t ready to stare into, and he glared at a spot in the darkness above Scorpius’ head. ‘You’re back, and it’s been so long, and I worry what he’s… done.’
‘Listen to me.’ Scorpius stepped in, hand coming up to grab a fistful of Albus’ jacket, but the emotion in his voice was fervour, not anger. ‘I am not Prometheus Thane’s man. This is all one bloody long story, and some of it I don’t know how to explain, and some of it I can’t explain, and right now really isn’t the time. I wanted to come back. I couldn’t. He didn’t stop me, I chose this, I just… didn’t have a choice, if you know what I mean. We’re allies of convenience, and I do owe him, but he’s not - and you’re -’ His expression crumpled, the determination fluttering from his voice, and their eyes met. ‘It’s me, Al. And I don’t just mean it’s not a trick, I mean I’m still me.’
‘I know,’ said Albus, the words bursting out unbidden. ‘I know it is, I knew on that bloody freighter, I knew it was you…’
Scorpius grinned, really grinned, his eyes brightening with that twinkle which had always made him look younger, before bashfully letting go. ‘You’ve no idea how damn good it is to hear you say that. You’ve no idea how damn good it is to see you.’
Albus bit his lip and clapped him on the shoulder, keeping his hand there. ‘I reckon,’ he said, ‘I actually do.’
Matt was still stood at the dining table, the lights dim but enough that he could read the maps and papers, when Eva ducked back inside. ‘Rose has turned in,’ he said, not looking up, ‘so I’d ask you to be quiet when you go to bed. She needs her rest.’
Eva glanced at the bunkroom door and she sighed. ‘I’ll sleep on the couch. You go be with her.’
He opened his mouth to argue, then decided he really didn’t want to share a room with the resurrected Scorpius Malfoy and Prometheus Thane. He frowned at the map. ‘Thanks.’ She didn’t answer, heading for the back room, and with a sigh he shut the folder and looked over at her. ‘Do you really think it’s him?’
‘You knew him better than I did.’ But she paused, her back to him as she thought. ‘A trick like this isn’t Thane’s style. He likes to paint himself as a good guy. This would just be sick. Then again, if he hasn’t changed these past two years, he’s the only one.’
‘Right.’ Matt frowned at the folder, then straightened. ‘I’m going to bed.’ She didn’t answer, which suited him fine as exchanging pleasantries with Eva Saida wouldn’t have felt trite so much as psychotic. He ducked into the bunkroom, keeping his footsteps light, only to find the candles still alight and Rose most certainly not asleep. She was a bundled shape at the foot of the bottom bunk, knees drawn up under her chin, still fully dressed. The candlelight played fire in her hair but darkness in her eyes as she looked up at him, flinching as badly as she might if he’d come in swinging his sword, and he stopped.
‘Hey. You’re - you’re not okay.’ Astute observation out of the way, he hurried to kneel at the foot of the bed, hands on the sheets. This pattern was well-rehearsed from when he’d find her in the dorms at Hogwarts on a bad day, coming to give comfort but knowing it was best to keep his distance until she reached for him. That hadn’t been needed in over a year now.
Her eyes fixed on him, dark and cavernous, but boring right through him. ‘It can’t be him. He’s gone, it can’t be, how can it be?’
‘I don’t know. He knows things, certainly, and Al seems to believe him.’
‘He fell, I saw him fall…’
‘Yeah. But it’s a big world, Rose, and I don’t…’ Matt extended his hand to put it next to hers, the old code of offering affection, the one she always took.
Instead, she shied back, and whispered, ‘I’m not going to leave you for him.’
Oh, fucking hell. Matt blinked. ‘I didn’t think -’
Now she grabbed his hand and hauled herself to the edge of the bed. ‘I don’t care what John says, I don’t care what Albus says, I need you, you can’t go. I can’t do this without you -’
‘Hey.’ He lifted his other hand to her cheek, breath catching. ‘I’m not going anywhere. We’ll get through this. We’ll get Selena back, we’ll get to the bottom of everything, and we’ll be okay. You hear me?’
She was shaking under his touch, but nodded, fervent - and then she was pulling him to her, and he knew this fire, he knew this desperation. He’d seen it in her darkest moments of grief, but never before had she poured it into a kiss, because he’d been so sure, so sure she was moving on before anything happened with them. But now he could taste the grief and anguish on her lips, strong enough to make him falter.
‘Matt, please.’ Her plea was a whisper against his mouth, crumpled and desperate. ‘Please, I want you, I need you…’
If she can’t tell you she loves you, now of all times, when will she? The thought sliced through the haze of habit and instinct which howled at him to pull her closer, and it brought with it a cold, cruel clarity to fill the gaps. He pulled away. ‘We don’t - we should rest,’ Matt said, and felt a coward. ‘We make a move tomorrow, we need to be at our best. Or we’re no good to Selena.’ Selena. You have to get Selena back. The rest of the world can wait. ‘And you need to sleep.’
Rose drew a shaking breath, like she was half-drowning still, but she did slide back. He saw colour rise to her cheeks, and couldn’t meet her gaze. ‘You think I can sleep right now?’ There was a wry stab in her voice, but she at least sounded a bit more like herself.
‘No,’ he conceded. ‘If you want, I’ll charm you.’
She looked away, eyelashes fluttering before she nodded. He’d never used a Sleeping Charm on her before, because that sounded like a great way to start down a slippery slope when she’d been in the fits of her grief. Normally, he would have refused to use it on someone in the field, but he preferred the possible risk of her being drowsy in the morning - which he could still use spells to counter - than definitely strung out and exhausted in battle.
But he was, himself, not sleepy any more. He waited until she was still under the blankets, her breathing deep and peaceful, before he stood and stalked out of the bunkroom. Eva was a silent bundle on the sofa by now, and he could still hear the rumble of voices from outside. That was where he went, fists clenched, jaw tight, into the darkness and towards the tall silhouettes of Albus Potter and the man who claimed to be Scorpius Malfoy.
Al saw him first, and his brow knotted slightly. ‘Hey, Matt -’
Matt ignored him, grabbed Scorpius’ collar, and kicked him in the back of the knee. There was a yelp, but down Scorpius was forced, and Matt shoved his wand in the other man’s neck. ‘Oh, good, you’re not some master fighter -’
Scorpius gave a hiss of pain. ‘You’re attacking a man from behind and bragging about it?’
‘Matt!’ Albus’ heavy hand fell on his shoulder, voice rumbling with surprise and warning.
‘Don’t worry, Al.’ Matt didn’t let go of Scorpius, kept his wand firm at his neck. ‘I’m not going to hurt him unless he gives me a good reason. So if you’re picking this guy, who could be an impostor, over me, who’s definitely on your fucking side, you need to take a serious goddamn look at your life and choices.’ He felt Al’s hand falter, and shrugged it off.
‘So,’ said Scorpius between gritted teeth. ‘You’ve become more charming in all this time -’
‘If you’re some trick,’ hissed Matt over him, ‘if you’re some agent of Thane’s here to manipulate us, I strongly suggest you admit now. It’ll go better for you. Because if you’re fucking with us, if you’re lying, if you have done this to her because of some greater scheme, then I am going to boil that face off you, I swear to all the Gods.’
Albus took a step back, stunned, but Matt could see Scorpius’ lips twisting into that accusing smile of his. ‘Oh, you’d love that, wouldn’t you? Brave Matthias finds the scheme, keeps the girl -’
‘You think I’m kidding?’ Matt snarled, ramming the wand into a soft spot in his neck. ‘You think this a fucking joke?’
Scorpius growled with pain, twisting his head back to look him in the eye. ‘I think I’ve lived this too long to not be able to laugh at it. And I think you’re not angry about the idea I’m a trick so much as you’re terrified by the idea I’m not. So, bad news, Doyle. Be afraid. I’m me.’
‘Yeah, you said, real convincing -’
‘Does Rose still have those freckles across her shoulders if she’s been out in the sun? That mole on her right shoulder-blade? Does she still do that flicking thing with her tongue when -’
His ribcage tightened enough to stop his breathing, stop his heart, turn him into a solid block of anger as he planted his foot in Scorpius’ back and kicked him face-first into the dirt. ‘You son of a bitch…’
Albus stepped between them, hands raised, jaw tight. ‘Enough. This isn’t helping anything.’
Matt’s eyes flashed, but he stepped back, lowering his wand. ‘You’re right. Guess it is him. Guess he’s still a prick.’
‘Guess you’re still a prickless wonder,’ Scorpius muttered, clambering to his feet.
Matt stabbed a finger at him. ‘I stand by what I said. Mess with Rose, and I will make you pay,’ he said, then turned on his heel and stalked back to the darkness of the tent. Perhaps some things couldn’t wait until we got Selena back. The thought was treacherous, accusing, and he couldn’t make it shut up. Without thinking, he grabbed the file off the dining table before returning to the bunkroom where Rose still slept, oblivious to the world, magic bringing her a peace he could not.
He stared at her, and knew he should join her. Curled up on the bunk, even in these hard times, was a place where he could hide from his woes, will back the trials and tribulations before him. But the folder hung heavy in his hand, and with a groan he clambered onto the top bunk, sparked up a Lumos with his wand, and started reading. He would be a hypocrite not to sleep, to spend the night studying all the information they had on the Council of Thorns, on the Brocéliande Forest, on Saint Annard. But he knew he’d be a failure if he didn’t spend every minute between now and their operation making ready for it. Because if they didn’t get Selena back, then all of this was truly for nothing.
And if they didn’t get Selena back, he didn’t know how he’d live with himself.
She knew the darkness, because she saw it night after night. But since she’d woken, darkness had been her morning and her noon, a darkness broken only by the occasional footsteps of her captors. A metal door scraped open, food shoved in. The diatribes of a madman, just the once, because all men like that had to reaffirm their control, their victory, even if she was just a tool in someone else’s war.
But otherwise there was the darkness. And the cold that came more from cool stone underground, the chill that seeped into her bones and her soul and she knew so well, so very well, because with it came the whispers.
Ages gone by. Aches that were by now like scars carved inside her, their marks eternal; these days, they were part of her. Pains that were still recent and raw and like flesh scraped on bone.
And then the new. The torments she thought were just in her head. Only here, in this darkness, in this place, they were as much her prison as the cold stone walls or the hard metal door or the madmen that had abducted her in the first place. And not a single one of her captors cared when she screamed, but she didn’t do it to try to make them stop, because when had screaming ever made anything stop?
Selena Rourke screamed anyway, because that was all she could do in the darkness.
A/N: The Brocéliande Forest is a place of true legend in French mythology, said to have played a major role in several Arthurian legends.
The ‘Annard’ in Saint Annard is derived from Annard Noz, which is one name for a Breton myth derived from the Celtic traditions of triple goddesses. Les Lavandières, as they are more commonly called, are three old washerwomen who wash the graveclothes of those about to die.