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Chapter 12 : Man Was Less and Less
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‘I don’t want to worry people,’ said Scorpius as they advanced through the shrouded woods of the Brocéliande Forest, ‘but I think we’re being followed.’
Matt gritted his teeth. ‘What makes you say that?’
‘Because there’s an Inferius behind us.’
Between the scant maps of the area and deep concentration, Rose had mass apparated them a way into the woodlands, but they still needed to get to Saint Annard by foot. If it really was a Council stronghold, there would be wardings and protections all over the ruined town, and nobody fancied getting spliced as part of their rescue plan. So they’d arrived a good distance away, all the better to check their advance and conduct recon before charging into danger.
Except it seemed danger was closer than they’d anticipated.
Sunlight streamed through the trees, the leaves turning to gold and drifting to cover the path. So when Matt glanced over his shoulder he could see the bone-white, skulking figure some fifty metres behind them at once. On the one hand, the Lethe-created Inferi were not discreet creatures. On the other, who knew how long it had been following them?
‘Shit,’ he said.
‘Yes,’ Scorpius agreed. ‘And it’ll stalk us until it can strike, and run if we try to take it down now. Just like Brillig.’
Matt glanced at Rose and saw her lips thin. ‘Where there’s one,’ she said, voice low and flat, ‘there’s always more. Is this a perimeter defence?’
‘Probably,’ said Thane. ‘And possibly storage. The Council deployed scores of Inferi across the world simultaneously. We know where they got their Hogsmeade corpses, but it was less obvious elsewhere. They might have been gathering an army.’
‘And making these woods their bloody barracks?’ said Matt.
‘Can you think of a better place?’
‘Enough,’ said Albus. ‘We need to plan, and move.’
‘There’s no plan to make,’ said Eva. ‘Intercepting it will take time and string us out. We need to press on, and now, and fast, because they’re probably stalking us until they can gather their numbers and strike as one. We need to make as much progress as possible in that time.’ She turned on her heel and picked up the pace, leading them tromping through the woodlands which would have been picturesque, shattered gold in autumn, were it not for the ghost of death behind them.
‘And then what do we do?’ said Rose.
‘Simple,’ said Albus. ‘We fight, we run, and we try to not die.’
‘Al, keep the cloak to hand,’ said Matt, keeping his hand on the hilt of the sword as they advanced. ‘If it goes wrong, you’re going to have to wear it and slip away, make for Saint Annard while we keep them occupied.’
‘And, what, stage the break-out of Selena myself?’
‘Then give me the cloak and -’
The matter was made abruptly easier by three Inferi lunging from the woodlands at their flanks. Eva didn’t break pace to spin and send a shimmering blade of magic energy scything through the air. It thudded into the Inferius’ throat and knocked it back, head at an angle and the creature downed at once.
‘Go!’ bellowed Albus, turning and pointing his wand at a tree behind them. There was a thunderous cracking as the bark splintered, and with the sound of shattering thunders it fell, crashing through branches and falling leaves and sending up a deluge of dirt and echoes on impact. Anything it didn’t take out, it would at least slow down. The last was sent flying by a blast from Thane, but it didn’t stay down, and then there were more pinpricks of deadly white light in the shadows.
Rose was by Matt’s side before he could blink, hand at his elbow. ‘Run,’ she hissed, and set off at a pace where she was almost dragging him through the trees, the northwards course they’d been holding so far.
‘I don’t need to be told twice,’ he said, breathing ragged through surprise and shock, and his hand remained on the sword-hilt.
Rose smacked it away. ‘Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare -’
He stumbled, but it wasn’t just Rose who kept him upright, but Eva, on his other flank, grabbing his shoulder. ‘She means everyone else here is immune, and I’m not repeating Brillig.’
Matt looked at her, shocked, only then remembering the two of them fighting their way across the island. It hadn’t occurred to him until that moment that she had been perfectly safe from infection - though not disembowelment and horrid death - when they’d staged that rescue. And she sounded sincere and she sounded determined, and in the last two years he’d never thought he’d have Eva Saida looking after his wellbeing. Especially not out of guilt.
‘We can’t be far!’ Rose called to the others as they ran, jumping over patches of undergrowth, scrambling over fallen logs, weaving in between the trees.
‘Then what?’ snapped Albus, hurling magic behind him as they came in their wake, a swarm of white shapes in the woodlands. ‘We just run into Saint Annard with this lot on our heels?’
‘There’ll be perimeter guards,’ huffed Thane, vaulting over a tumbled tree-trunk. ‘Take them down, and get us some distance from this lot. I know what I’m doing.’
They couldn’t keep it up for long, but they were all of them ready for this, fit, agile, and accustomed to running for their lives. Any shame Matt felt in keeping flanked by Eva and Rose faded for a tight focus on keeping his footing, keeping up the pace, and the knowledge of what came ahead.
Save being manly for later. For now, get the job done. Get her back.
The trees became patchier almost before he realised it. He lunged over the overgrown rubble of what had once been a wall, and then ahead of them weren’t more thick trunks, but sandy ruins.
The Inferi remained on their heels, tens of metres behind and perhaps twenty of them, but now they were moving into sandy old roads, crumbled remains of pale stone buildings a hundred years old, dust kicking up to paint everything in a hazy light.
‘Intruders!’ A shadow loomed ahead as they ploughed down the road, and Matt put his head down, shoulder out, and barged flat into the Thornweaver whose alert was cut short at the tackle.
Down they both went, and Matt was faintly aware of another Council guard being taken down by Albus and Scorpius with the zap of magic. Without thinking, Matt had his wand in the other man’s gut, a wordless Stun leaving him motionless, and he rolled back onto his feet. Rose and Eva had the road ahead covered, gazes alert, but there were no more words from deeper into the village, just the thudding footsteps from behind.
‘We’ve got to keep moving,’ said Rose.
‘No!’ Thane bent over the Thornweaver at Albus’ feet, reaching for the man’s hand. ‘We can stop this, we can -’ With a noise of triumph he lifted something that gleamed in the hazy light, a ring which he slipped on his finger. ‘Slow them down, give me just a moment…’
‘Are you kidding -’
The Inferi were like racing ghosts in the rising dust, but Scorpius didn’t run, and so neither did Albus. As the two turned to face the oncoming horde, Eva and Rose exchanged long-suffering looks and moved in front of Matt, spells hurled outward. Matt gritted his teeth and stood behind them. All their focused fire and volleys could bring down the first half-dozen Inferi charging while Thane tapped his wand against the ring and muttered incantations to himself.
‘Done!’ he barked after a moment. ‘Step back! Away!’ He lifted his hand, ring glinting through the dusty veil, and the next rank of Inferi that loped at them slowed, stumbled, and slumped to a halt.
Matt suppressed a shudder as he watched them. A heartbeat ago they’d been like beasts lunging with primal killer instincts, but now they stood motionless as statues he knew could be deadly. ‘What the hell -’
‘This is what Lethe does, Mister Doyle,’ said Thane. ‘Bends them to the will of the Council, makes them an army. I helped develop this; do you honestly think I didn’t also learn how to control them, too?’
‘They’ve changed things,’ said Scorpius, his wand not leaving the motionless ranks of corpses. ‘Tried to block us out from influencing them, and we haven’t had a chance to test if we could do it until now.’
‘And I didn’t want to let them know we could before now,’ said Thane. ‘But the moment they try to give this lot new instructions - I assure you this swarm in the woodlands will not all be controlled by this one, sorry perimeter guard - then it’s going to get messy and at least some of them will turn on us. Conflicting orders will turn this into chaos.’
‘So we need a plan,’ said Albus.
‘Also,’ said Scorpius, ‘we need the Chalice. If it’s here, we can’t pass up this opportunity to snatch it.’
‘Rose,’ said Matt in a firm voice. ‘Legilimens one of these two. Find Selena - and if he knows anything about the Chalice, so much the better.’
‘On it,’ she said, and bent over one of the fallen Thornweavers.
Thane clicked his tongue. ‘Very good, but do be quick, I don’t like how they look at me.’
‘Then maybe you shouldn’t have helped develop the fucking illness,’ said Matt, and turned to them all. ‘Here’s how it’s going to go down. If we find the Chalice location, then Al, Scorpius, and Eva are going after it.’
Thane opened his mouth. ‘I should -’
‘I’m splitting you two up,’ Matt pronounced. ‘So you don’t get the Chalice or Selena and then run off with either. And I bet you care more about the Chalice, and I trust Albus to stop Scorpius from absconding with it, and Eva’s a strong extra wand-arm for them. Which makes you a strong extra wand-arm for Rose and I going after Selena.’
Scorpius gave a low whistle. ‘Blimey,’ he said. ‘It’s almost like you’ve thought this through. And don’t trust us.’ He sounded amused and approving, not bitter.
‘I don’t fucking care,’ said Matt. ‘We’re getting this done, and we’re getting her.’
Rose straightened. ‘She’s in the town hall, west side of town. Chalice is north. I bet none of you will miss that magical signature.’
Thane nodded, lips thin. ‘Then what do I do with this merry band? I was thinking of telling them to go on a rampage against all Thornweavers they find. It’ll cause chaos, not least because the Council will have to fight to get them back under control.’
Albus frowned at that. ‘We’re going to use them -’
‘Then that’s a plan,’ said Matt. ‘And I don’t give a damn if you like it or dislike it. Get to work.’
There couldn’t have been more than a dozen or so Thornweavers in Saint Annard, and it became quickly apparent that if there was anything to the north, they were not physically guarding it. Eva downed one Thornweaver before Scorpius or Albus even saw them, and then it was Al’s turn to Stun a would-be ambusher hidden amongst rubble of a shattered home, but that was the last living soul they saw.
Plenty of Saint Annard remained. It had once been a typical French village, the walls of pale brown stone, some even older with faded timberwork. Broken pale shutters hung off hinges, ancient metal signs lay twisted in the remains of the road, and any building which still had a roof lacked at least one wall. Behind them, they could hear the sounds of the Inferi as they sought out any remaining Thornweavers, the crash of combat and their inhuman hissing alongside screams of pain, but they had not come north. It seemed there were no targets there.
A shiver ran up Albus’ spine as he checked the corners, the few gaping windows that remained amongst the ruins. Or, perhaps, even they won’t come this far.
‘Did you hear that?’ said Scorpius, stopping short in the middle of the road.
Eva grabbed his elbow and pulled him into the cover of a nearby wall. ‘No, but I’d like us to live long enough to see what caused it.’
‘I’m not going to get sniped,’ he said, indignant. ‘There’s nothing here. Well. Nothing living.’
‘If you’re about to tell me that coming back from the dead gave you strange mystic-sensing powers -’
‘No,’ Albus interrupted. ‘There’s something here. I can feel it, too.’
She looked between them, frowning. ‘That’s called your survival instincts telling you that you might get your heads blown off at any moment.’
‘Yeah,’ said Scorpius, sweeping his wand up and down the street. ‘But by what?’
‘And if the Chalice is here, why isn’t it guarded?’ said Albus.
Scorpius shook his head, and cautiously advanced down the road, the paving patchy and broken. ‘That doesn’t wholly surprise me,’ he said. ‘If the Chalice isn’t kept somewhere which is really prepared for it, like the tomb in the Parisian Catacombs, it can start to… warp things. That’s why it’s best keeping it somewhere close to the dead. If a place is already disturbed, it breaks down fewer walls. But it does… feed them.’
‘That’s a great choice of words,’ said Eva in a flat voice, checking their rear as they followed.
‘What do you mean, feed?’
‘I mean,’ said Scorpius, and pointed his wand down the road ahead, where the dust was so thick as to almost be a fog, ‘if there is already the chance of ghosts, then that chance will become a guarantee.’ Which was when Albus heard the weeping.
Eva gave a long-suffering sigh. ‘I didn’t have to put up with this shit with Baz.’
It wasn’t sobbing, it was wailing, and then another voice joined it, and another; then there was the sound of magic fizzing in the air, and Albus jerked his wand up in a low guard until it cut the wailing short and he realised what it was. ‘Hells,’ he breathed. ‘This is the massacre.’
When they rounded the corner, before them stood the barn, and the fate of Saint Annard. Wide double-doors were open, hanging off their hinges, and in the yard and inside the shadowed building were the shimmering shapes. Some were more distinct than others. Those inside the barn - some standing, some kneeling, some lying on the ground and writhing in agony, probably fifty in total - were the translucent, white shapes Albus recognised as fully-formed ghosts. Those outside were different. The dust formed into humanoid shapes, like figures formed in the tumbling sand of an hourglass. There was a dozen of them, though at the outskirts of the courtyard were wispy shapes, the impression of more beyond this immediate moment. While the ghosts wore simple robes Albus would guess were a century old in fashion, the dust-figures wore robes which were more like coats, with square corners and identical lines of a uniform pattern.
‘Thule Society soldiers,’ murmured Scorpius next to him.
Eva’s breath caught as she looked at one dust-figure, not lined up with the rest but stood to the side, taller, more imperious. ‘Raskoph.’
Albus stopped himself from jumping when he realised what she meant; that they hadn’t been intercepted by Thornweaver forces, that they were trapped in a moment of death and despair, and the architect of this moment had been Joachim Raskoph a hundred years ago.
He was talking in accented French, and Albus and Scorpius glanced at Eva, whose brow furrowed deeper and deeper as she listened, until she translated. ‘He’s ordering his men to shoot them in the legs so they can’t run, so they’ll die slower,’ she said, voice grating, and as they watched, the lined Thule soldiers did as directed, with vicious slicing charms that felled the ghosts of the villagers of Saint Annard. ‘And now he’s - you sick bastard…’
‘The Chalice must be here,’ murmured Scorpius. ‘These are the ghosts of the people Raskoph killed a hundred years ago, but the Chalice’s magic is so powerful it’s not just making them re-live their deaths, it’s making facsimiles of their killers, too, it’s bringing back the whole moment of death. Not just the dead.’ His expression had gone very still, tight and controlled like Albus had rarely seen.
‘They’re accused of harbouring agents of the Magical Alliance,’ Eva continued as Raskoph spoke on. ‘He says the women and children are in the church, that his men are searching the village. That the villagers must give up those agents. If they don’t, the men here will die first. And if those agents are still not found, or surrendered, then the women and children will be killed, too.’
One ghost of the villagers threw himself down on his knees, speaking in choking, anguished words Albus didn’t need to speak French to understand. He knew a plea for mercy when he heard one.
There was a ferocious crack as the memory of Raskoph flicked his wand, and the ghost screamed as his legs were broken. The Colonel’s shape just nodded at his men, spoke in German, and turned away.
‘Jesus fucking Christ, I wish we’d killed that bastard in Panama,’ Scorpius hissed as the soldiers advanced, downing more of the ghosts but not yet slaying them, and they dragged them into the shadows of the barns. More pleas and begging could be heard, and despite the screams of pain, it seemed nobody was being killed yet. Raskoph’s shape outside became more indistinct, and Albus guessed that the full scene of despair and death was now contained inside the barn, with the memories of the dead.
‘You think this is bad,’ murmured Eva, ‘remember that to unleash Lethe, they have wiped out entire villages to convert into Inferi. Not to mention the body-count from the following attacks. This is insane, and evil, and things like this are still happening.’
A low noise of pain escaped Scorpius’ lips, and Albus couldn’t tell if this was just horror at the sight or something else, something only a man who’d been to the realm of death and back could see of this anguish. But then he couldn’t think about that any more, because he heard the wailing of the villagers hit a whole new pitch at the sound of crackling flames.
‘He had their legs broken and blasted,’ Albus murmured, mouth dry, ‘had them dragged into the barn, then had the barn burnt. Fucking hell.’
Scorpius straightened with a jerk, expression set. ‘These aren’t even proper ghosts. Proper ghosts don’t just re-live their deaths. This is a memory of death, an echo of death, and it can only be here for one reason: the Chalice must be inside.’ He stalked into the swirling dust, echoes of Thule soldiers bursting as he brushed past them, shoulders squared as he headed for the barn.
More and more could Albus see the blackened stones, the building showing its true, gutted form as the memory marched on. He glanced at Eva, whose jaw was set in that pained, determined way he recognised, before they followed. He could understand why even the Thornweavers didn’t come here. Saint Annard was protected by secrecy and by the Inferi; without their raid on the Naglfar, without Thane’s understanding of Lethe, they could never have got this far. That this resting place of the Chalice had no final protection did not surprise him.
The figures of dust were collapsing as the memory went on, as the living walked amongst them, and Albus’s shoulders slowly relaxed as the screaming from inside the barn subsided. Even if he knew it was stopping because the ghosts were too far gone to make a sound, at least he didn’t have to hear them. They found Scorpius stood in the shrouded, gloomy barn, cast in darkness by the tall, blackened walls even if the roof had burnt out. He was frozen in place, staring at the remains of an internal stone wall upon which sat a silvery cup.
Albus had seen several resting places of the Chalice of Emrys, but this was by far the least impressive - and yet the one which made his skin crawl the most. ‘I hate that bloody thing.’
‘Not as much,’ murmured Scorpius, and the shreds of sunlight that crept through the ceiling reflected off the silvery surface of the Chalice to cast pale angles across his sharp face, ‘as I do.’
‘This is an upgrade,’ said Selena, and tugged at the bindings that kept her tied to the chair, hands behind her back. ‘Do I get room service now?’ It was easier to joke now she was out of the prison cell, and so she was going to make the most of it. Perhaps to annoy her captors. Perhaps to distract herself while she still could.
Joachim Raskoph stood with two of his masked guards. The town hall was one of the few parts of the village - not that she’d seen much of it - which was still intact, and it was where the Thornweavers had established their base of operations and barracks. She’d been dragged out of the cellars only minutes ago to hear the screams of death and shouts of combat, and bundled into the office that was Raskoph’s sanctum here.
She’d seen him before. He’d come down into the darkness and the whispers of her cell, just the once. Conversation had been neither stimulating nor enlightening, and she had no idea how long she’d been there or what was going on. But if someone was killing Thornweavers, if she was being moved closer to be guarded better, it was a good enough reason to hope.
Raskoph gave her an emotionless look. ‘You think you are being funny.’
‘I think this beats being in a dark, tiny, cold room and having to shit in a bucket.’
‘I could gag you.’
‘And I was just starting to enjoy our talks.’ Again, she tugged at the bindings. Again, she concluded this rope was magical. ‘I do love your rhetoric about how you’re going to destroy the world’s corrupt, depraved ways, and especially how you’re going to destroy my mother. We could bond on that.’
Raskoph hefted the cuffs she’d been transported in, removed when they’d bound her to the chair. They were large, enchanted shackles that had attached themselves to her wrists and ankles with just the flick of a wand and made it hard to think, let alone move or walk. The Thornweavers had all but carried her out of her makeshift cell, through the echoing and ruined town hall. ‘You are very bold,’ he said, voice still without inflection, ‘for a girl at my mercy.’
‘If you were going to kill me, you wouldn’t have abducted me,’ said Selena with a shrug. ‘I’m the daughter of Lillian Rourke. You want to use me, probably to manipulate her - which, newsflash, won’t work. I don’t think even a Killing Curse would crack her these days. But you’ve gone to some effort to abduct me, so you won’t just finish me off for being annoying.’
‘True,’ said Raskoph, and rested his hand on the wand sheathed at his hip. ‘But if this is a rescue effort that might succeed, I could kill you to stop the IMC from recovering you.’
The thudding fear that buzzed through her veins and thudded with her heartbeats hit a new, faster tempo. Selena licked dry lips. ‘Yeah, okay,’ she said, and the whimsical voice of a defence mechanism was no longer defiant. ‘You might do that.’ At this point it seemed judicious to fall silent.
At this point, the wall was also blasted in by Matthias Doyle.
Heavy stone rubble flew through the air to crash into one of the Thornweaver guards, who collapsed with a gurgle, countless somethings probably broken. Selena’s heart lunged into her throat as Matt stormed in through the gap, sword in one hand, wand in the other, hurling curses and covering fire - and behind him, already beginning an onslaught at the standing Thornweaver guard, came Rose -
Then Prometheus Thane marched in with them and Selena was really confused.
‘Get Selena!’ Matt yelled at Rose, taking her target.
Thane rounded on Raskoph, aristocratic features twisted into a superior smile. ‘Hello, sir. It’s been a while.’
Raskoph barely batted an eyelid, but then his wand was in his hand and levelled at Thane, so fast Selena wondered if she’d blinked and missed it. ‘Traitor,’ was all he said, still without inflection, and then magic flew through the air like wildfire.
Selena swore and tugged at her bindings, then Rose was at her side, wand tapping on the rope. ‘What the bloody hell is going on, Weasley?’
‘Rescue mission! You’re welcome.’ Rose muttered incantations, needing to break down the enchantments on the rope before she could untie it.
‘There are so, so many stories to tell you when this is over. You’re not hurt?’
‘I’ve been stuck in a cellar for the past few days, so tell me the truth: how bad is my hair?’
‘I’ll take that as a no…’
Selena had seen many fights, and she’d seen them all with a barely-contained panic at the knowledge that she was never the best combatant on the field. She always stuck with someone, helping shield them, focusing on their target, making sure she could watch someone’s back and have hers watched in turn. It was terrifying and a little embarrassing when one stood beside formidable fighters like Albus Potter, but it was nothing like being bound and helpless and only being able to watch.
Matt had closed the distance, like he always did, moving with a magically-enhanced speed to bring his sword into the equation as he clashed with the standing Thornweaver. Spells flashed through the air along with the edge of metal, and the fight was as much physical as it was magical, both men in a back-and-forth dance of striking, evading, retaliating.
What was happening between Thane and Raskoph was a completely different game. Neither man hardly moved, wands swishing with ultimate efficiency, but the energy crackling between them was enough to make the hairs on the back of Selena’s neck stand on end. One would flinch, then the other, and with no incantations given, barely any kind of magical light show, she had to guess the spells were mental more than physical. Then Raskoph gave a grunt of pain and staggered back, and that made Thane move. He lunged forwards, Raskoph’s wand snapped up, and then it was a fight the like of which she recognised better - albeit on a whole new level of speed and terror.
Blue energy crackled from Raskoph’s wand-tip, Thane caught it with his left hand and hurled it harmlessly into a wall before making the floorboards under Raskoph’s feet buckle and surge. Raskoph seemed to step upwards into thin air and hovered for a moment, his footing not remotely threatened, then swished his wand for a spell which howled as it sliced through air, through thought, through space itself. Thane ducked that one, and sheer stone in the wall behind him shuddered at the perfect, narrow, straight slice that appeared in it.
There was a yell of pain, and Selena’s head snapped around as she thought it was Matt - but he was still standing, sword gleaming a trail through the air, Thornweaver falling with a spray of blood. She couldn’t tell if that had been a lethal blow. I remember when he tried like hell to not use that to kill. But then Matt was turning on Raskoph, moving to join and reinforce Thane.
‘Rose, this is dumb; go help and the three of you can take down Raskoph,’ Selena hissed.
‘We’re not planning to win. We’re planning to run. Thane’s not sure he can take him -’
And Raskoph broke Thane’s guard, just in time to prove that suspicion right. The spell didn’t do much; Thane had deflected most of it, his shields absorbing the rest. But it did make him stumble, and in that stumble, Raskoph struck. By magic he hurled not a weapon at Thane, but the magical shackles which had bound Selena on the way up here.
Rose swore as the shackles found Thane’s wrists, then dragged him jerking forward so they could snap onto both hands, his ankles, trussing him up as they were enchanted to do. There wasn’t more than a gurgled curse from Thane before he fell to the floor, hog-tied, wand spinning out of his grip. Matt lunged over Thane’s fallen form, sword in a low guard before him, wand in his left hand, held back and ready for defence. ‘Rose!’ he bellowed. ‘Untie Selena and go!’
Then he threw himself at Joachim Raskoph for a fresh bout he couldn’t possibly win, and it was Selena’s turn to swear. ‘Did he go absolutely mental when I wasn’t looking?’ But Rose didn’t answer, redoubling her efforts to unlock the magical bindings keeping Selena in place. ‘You’re not actually listening to this stupid plan?’
‘I’m almost there…’
Almost, thought Selena as she watched Matt and Raskoph clash, might not be good enough.
Matt wasn’t letting Raskoph get any distance, because if he had one edge, it was the sword that could slice through magical protections. He’d been training with it, Selena thought as he even lifted the blade to deflect a spell Raskoph hurled at him, the metal glinting as it absorbed the magic that would have likely killed him. For his age, Raskoph was not at all slowed. But he was pressed back, for no barrier he raised could block adamantine, and so he had to evade physically, not magically. Matt kept his wand ready to defend himself, sword-blows the bulk of his attacks, body already surging with those charms he used to make himself stronger, quicker. Still Raskoph ducked, sidestepped and weaved. Once he sprouted a long blade from the tip of his wand, parried and attempted a riposte, but Matt was quicker, and on the second clashing of sword on sword, the Templar blade shattered his summoned weapon.
‘You know,’ said Selena, eyebrows raised, ‘he’s actually not doing too badly.’
She should have known better than to curse him like that. Raskoph leapt backwards from the latest swipe, expression set. ‘Adeptly done, Mister Doyle,’ he said. ‘But those old ways are long gone for a reason.’
Matt’s voice came ragged, exertion getting the better of him more than his enemy. The charms which reinforced his body also took their toll, in time, and the battle stretched on. ‘They’re doing me alright for now.’
‘Enchantment’s down,’ muttered Rose, and clicked her tongue with satisfaction. ‘I’m just getting the rope.’
‘Indeed.’ Raskoph swished his wand at his free hand, conjuring another blade, this one to be held instead of produced at wand-tip. ‘Sometimes it is worth revering them.’
Matt glanced at the edge. ‘You know adamantine will break that.’
‘I know,’ said Raskoph, and lashed out with his wand again. Three spells in quick succession, so swift Selena couldn’t guess what they were, and Matt blocked the first two adroitly. The third was further to his right, and the sword swept out, parried the blast, his blade outstretched to the side, which was when Raskoph struck like a snake. He closed the gap in one bound, and wand-magic met wand-magic in his blast and Matt’s defence.
Then metal met flesh as his conjured blade sliced through Matt’s wrist.
There was no noise of impact save the scream that tore from Matt’s throat and through Selena’s chest, and black pinpricks sprung up at the corner of her vision as she watched him fall. Blood surged from the stump, his wand dropped so he could clutch at it in agony and instinct to staunch the bleeding. And Raskoph just stepped back, expression impassive.
Rose was crossing the gap before Selena could blink, and had she been capable of speaking, Selena would have yelled at her for leaving her still bound. But then Rose was by Matt’s side, voice stumbling over healing incantations that would never regrow a limb, but might stop him from bleeding out, and the note of panic in her friend’s voice was so very, very familiar.
‘Now would be time for you to surrender, Miss Weasley,’ said Raskoph, and Selena jerked her hands to tug at the bonds that had been only partly loosened. ‘Lay down your wand, and I will let you live, girl.’
Rose didn’t answer, still bent over Matt’s fallen form. Either he’d passed out or she’d charmed him into blissful unconsciousness, and for a moment Selena was afraid Rose wasn’t responding because she’d gone too far away inside to have heard Raskoph. Then she stood. ‘Girl,’ repeated Rose in a whisper that somehow still stretched across the room shattered by magics. ‘If nothing else, do not forget that I am still a witch.’
Oh, Rose, you fucking idiot, was all Selena could think as her wand lashed out for a fresh flurry of spells. Raskoph had just beaten Thane, just beaten Matt, and while she rated Rose over him, that didn’t mean she thought this was a fight they could win. She went back to struggling at her bindings, and watched the inevitable defeat unfold.
Rose had never been their best fighter. That had always been Albus. Scorpius had been excellent for sheer unpredictability, and over time Matt had proved himself a solid opponent. Rose was not especially inventive in combat; while she might use an obscure spell, it would still be entirely by the book. This at least meant her shields were always the best the Hogwarts Five had to offer. Raskoph’s spells crashed against them, and Rose hurled back the odd retaliation, jaw tight, eyes bright with concentration, every wand move conservative, precise. But though she stood steady, there was no way she wouldn’t be worn down.
She’s stalling for time. Selena blinked - then realised she was the only possible cavalry that could come and save this rescue from calamity. Rope tore at her skin as she tugged, but this wasn’t the worst pain she’d suffered, wasn’t the worst fate she could hope for, and she struggled and yanked and then -
Freedom. Free hands, and she could pull the rope away from herself and the chair, stand, and…
And do absolutely nothing, stood in the middle of the battle-scarred room while Raskoph and Rose clashed spell on spell. They either hadn’t noticed her, locked in their fight, or they were ignoring her because she was harmless and useless and -
Prometheus Thane’s voice was a low growl. She knew how hard it was to do anything with those bindings on; they didn’t just tie up the body, they tied up thoughts, too, and to speak must have taken a supreme effort of will. She turned to face him, saw those blue eyes that still thudded hatred through her heart, and saw his gaze flicker from her to a point on the ground. ‘Wand.’
His wand. Of course. She ran, scooped it up, turned on Raskoph, and hesitated. He could take them both in a straight fight, probably with one hand tied behind his back. She was not a great addition to combat. If she was going to do anything, she had to do it now, take him down, take him by surprise. There was only one spell she knew for sure would do that.
Selena lifted Prometheus Thane’s wand, narrowed her eyes at Raskoph’s unprotected back, and drew a deep breath. ‘Avada Kedavra.’
The air was sucked from her lungs, from her ears, and Prometheus Thane’s wand shuddered in her grip at the eruption of green light. A distant part of Selena’s mind mused that she’d never seen the Killing Curse used, but it still seemed like the light was bursting too soon, dissipating too soon, and sound came crashing back into the world too soon. Raskoph spun at her words, eyes wide, trying to hurl himself back - but the spell hit, and at once Selena knew that she had not cast successfully. You have to mean it. That was what Professor Tully had said in her NEWTs, that was what her great-uncle Barnabus had grumbled about when he got too far into drinks and work over family dinners. And despite all Raskoph had done, despite all she knew he was going to do, she’d hesitated.
The half-spell, the ghost of flawed hate and uncertain pain, still thudded into Raskoph’s side and sent him staggering back. His robes and skin smoked on impact, and there was a yell of pain as the green-hued light rippled across him.
Rose lifted her wand, but looked too startled to exploit the opening, and in the chaos Selena scrabbled around the room to join her. Two wands were better than one for Shielding them from the inevitable onslaught and retaliation.
Raskoph had a hand to the struck cheek, but when he lowered it the skin was smoldering, blackened with a greenish hue, and tugging at his lip to give him a sneer. ‘Go, then.’ His voice was a rasp on granite. ‘Just know you are saving nothing.’ Then he swished his wand, turned on the spot, and with a crack he disappeared.
‘Bloody hell.’ Rose’s wand dipped, and she looked at Selena. ‘Did you just - did he just -’
‘I screwed it up.’ Selena’s brow pinched, and she turned to Matt. ‘Is he -’
‘Alive.’ Rose hurried back to his side. ‘I’ve staunched the bleeding, but we want to get him to a hospital as soon as possible - once the others are here -’
‘The others - and what the hell is Thane doing -’ It seemed neither of them was going to finish a sentence, as that was the moment three figures burst through the hole in the wall: Albus Potter, Eva Saida, and Scorpius Malfoy.
‘We saw the green light!’ said Albus, eyes wide, wand hefted before him. ‘Is everyone okay?’ Then his gaze found Matt’s crumpled form and he swore.
‘He’s alive,’ Rose said again, lifting a hand. ‘We drove off Raskoph.’
Albus nodded. ‘We got the Chalice. The Inferi are fighting each other out there now; looks like conflicting Thornweaver orders. But whichever side wins is going to come for us soon.’
Selena stared at Scorpius. ‘What the fuck is going on?’
‘It’s a long story,’ said Rose, but she, too, watched Scorpius as he hurried across the office to the side of Thane, still on the ground, still bundled up by the magical bindings. ‘Don’t let him out of those.’
Scorpius stood over Thane, and gave her a sidelong look. ‘We just helped you -’
‘Yes,’ said Rose. ‘You did.’ Then she lifted her wand. ‘Stupefy.’
Scorpius - or whoever the hell it was - didn’t have time to give more than a garbled oath before the spell thudded into him, and he fell like a stone next to Prometheus Thane.
Albus strode forwards. ‘Rose -’
‘Are you a complete idiot, Al?’ Rose’s voice was low and flat. ‘I heard what he said on the Naglfar. In the tent last night. But there is no way, no way I am letting whatever this is walk away from here. Neither him nor Thane. Even if it’s just so I will have answers.’
Selena kept gawping at Scorpius’ crumbled form. ‘So that’s a crazy illusion? Polyjuice?’
‘We’re going back to Britain,’ Rose said, ignoring her, ‘getting Matt to a hospital, and giving those two to the DMLE.’ Then her gaze fell on Eva Saida, who had barely moved except to shift her wand into a low guard. ‘You…’
Eva grimaced. ‘Do I get double-crossed, too? I don’t have enough moral high ground to get indignant about that.’
Rose flinched. ‘Get out of here. Go wherever you damn well please. You - you helped us in Ager Sanguinis. We wouldn’t have got to the Naglfar if it weren’t for you.’
‘True enough.’ But Eva bit her lip, her gaze flickering from Thane’s fallen form, to Rose, then finally to Albus, whose expression was pinched, pained. Then she straightened, and flipped her wand in her hand, extending the grip towards him. Emotion fled from her face and her voice. ‘Be sure to tell the British government that.’
Albus stared. ‘What are you doing?’
Eva drew a raking breath. ‘Surrendering.’
‘You could -’
‘Run? And keep running? And run for the rest of my life and never see -’ She stopped herself. ‘Just bring me in with them. We’ll see where judgement falls.’
Rose’s expression hadn’t changed. ‘Then let’s go, before Matt has to wait any longer. We can Apparate to the border, French authorities in Calais can pick us up and get us routed straight to London…’
Selena’s jaw remained dropped as she looked at the trussed-up Prometheus Thane who’d helped rescue her, the Stunned Scorpius Malfoy who’d come back from the dead, the disarmed Eva Saida who’d just surrendered, and the bewildered Albus Potter who was holding the Chalice of Emrys, and swore. ‘Not that I’m not grateful for the rescue,’ she said, ‘but I’m really confused.’
A/N: The notion of the massacre of Saint Annard, and the specifics of how it happened, are derived from the genuine, historical massacre of Oradour-sur-Glane by SS forces in 1944. For however comic-book evil Raskoph can seem, in this incident he has been no worse than genuine monsters of genuine history.
There is a spot of headcanon at work with Selena’s Killing Curse misfire. The Killing Curse cannot be easy, or it would be the bread-and-butter of every single ‘bad guy’ attack if they had no reason to hold back. My thinking is that it takes concentration and focus, which is not always available in the middle of a rolling scrap, and that it takes - like the Cruciatus - true belief, hatred, meaning on the part of the caster. The further headcanon is that something like that might not be a spell you’d want to throw around with the risk of it going wrong; either backfiring or possibly doing nothing. So more reliable if less-lethal spells like Stuns or general slashing/cutting/combat magics would be more bread-and-butter in a fight.
Basically, Raskoph hasn’t just survived a Killing Curse. Selena screwed it up and hit him with something nasty but absolutely non-lethal.