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Chapter 13 : Blasted and Burnt
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‘Potter, they got the job done -’
‘Begging your pardon, Chairman, but I had people pursuing the Naglfar. We were going to have it monitored and then track the movements of the Council of Thorns.’ Harry planted his hands on the desk, as angry as Rose thought she’d ever seen him. ‘Now the Council have abandoned the ship, and they’ll set up their transportation network somewhere else, somewhere we don’t know about.’
‘What’s that even worth, Harry?’ Rose said before she could stop herself. ‘You didn’t anticipate the attacks, you didn’t find where they sent Selena. Were we supposed to leave her there on the off-chance you set up a surveillance op?’
Harry flinched, jaw tight. For a moment he didn’t say anything, just scowled at his office door. Their return to Britain had been in a hail of chaos and acclaim, but there was a lot of judgement that had yet to be passed, dangling overhead still like a sword of Damocles. Lillian Rourke had come right down to the MLE office, as had Hermione, and the three of them stood on Harry’s side of the desk before Albus, Rose and Selena, like a Greek chorus of disapproval that stuck in Rose’s throat.
It took a moment before Harry spoke, and his voice grated when he did. ‘I don’t blame you. I understand you did what you had to do -’
‘And I, for one,’ said Lillian, ‘am grateful for what you did.’
‘But it still disrupted a slew of our operations, losing the Naglfar. I cannot believe that Gabriel Doyle gave you information and support for such a strike; he should have known better! If I’d known you were working with him -’
‘You were in America,’ retorted Rose. ‘Nobody was doing anything, and we had to act.’
‘We had people in America,’ said Lillian, ‘but that did lead to last night’s raid in Chicago which has gutted the biggest Council cell in the US. It’s crippled their operations in North America, and that came about with your uncle’s work and help.’ She cast a glance at her daughter. ‘It was the strategic priority.’
Rose could hear the pain and apology in Lillian’s voice, and the part of her that was still calm and patient winced in sympathy. She’d seen the reports as they’d returned; Lillian Rourke had marshaled Aurors and Enforcers from Europe and the Americas and overseen the cooperation of intelligence and manpower that had led to the first major blow against the Council of Thorns in this new outbreak of hostilities. Kicking Thornweavers out of the USA was no minor coup for the IMC, or for Lillian herself, or for her uncle, who had been up to his elbows in the operation.
But, strategic priority or not, it still hadn’t broken Selena out.
‘We didn’t tell any of you,’ Albus chirped up, ‘because we knew you’d stop us. And I, for one, am not sorry.’
Rose shot her mother a pointed look, and Hermione drew a slow breath. ‘I knew they were working with Doyle.’
Harry gave her a betrayed look. ‘You knew? He has been an utter liability -’
‘Something needed to be done,’ said Hermione, voice tightening.
‘He still gave them illegal Portkeys to conduct operations which have disrupted official operations,’ said Harry with finality, and straightened. ‘Ron!’
Somehow the bellow passed through the door to summon Rose’s father. He stood in the doorway, expression studied and blank, and she could appreciate that if ever there was a time to run to professionalism, it was now. ‘Sir?’
I have never, thought Rose, heard Dad call Harry, ‘sir’. This is a disaster.
‘Get a team together,’ said Harry, hands planted on the desk, ‘and arrest Gabriel Doyle. And when I say “people”, I mean Proudfoot, I mean Savage. Suspend Bell and Cole.’
Albus straightened. ‘Dad, what the hell -’
‘We are at war, and I cannot have the left hand not knowing what the right is doing. If Gabriel Doyle wants to fight the Council, he can do so with us. No more of this independent work.’
‘Surely you should be arresting us. We were the ones who hit the Naglfar, we were the ones who disrupted your operations -’
‘You didn’t know better,’ said Harry. ‘He did.’
Rose looked over her shoulder at her father. ‘If you want to find him,’ she said, voice arch, ‘he’ll no doubt be at Saint Mungo’s, with his son.’
Ron ducked out of the room without a word, and Hermione glared daggers at Harry. ‘This is setting a dangerous precedent -’
‘Enough.’ Lillian Rourke moved to the side of the desk, turning the lines of judgement into a semi-circle of discussion. ‘Bringing in Gabriel Doyle is the Auror Office’s right. At the least, conversations need to be had. We’ll have plenty of time to discuss what comes next. For the moment, I’d like to know more about what’s happened, and what’s going on.’
Selena exhaled. ‘If Raskoph didn’t get in touch with anyone, I don’t know why he captured me. I wasn’t questioned. I wasn’t mistreated. I was just thrown in a cell for a couple of days. If he had something in mind, I saw no sign of it. Either it was going on beyond what I could see, or it hadn’t happened yet.’
‘He didn’t try to blackmail me privately, he didn’t try to use your abduction publicly. If Rose hadn’t witnessed it, we might still not know, and assume you amongst the dead at Hogsmeade.’
‘He fled,’ said Rose. ‘No idea where, though he may have a tough time leaving Europe without the Naglfar. But I bet he’s gone to ground. In the meantime, we have the Chalice of Emrys.’
‘And Prometheus Thane,’ said Selena.
‘And,’ said Albus, ‘Scorpius Malfoy.’
‘Or someone who claims to be him.’ Rose’s lips thinned.
‘You heard him in Rotterdam, Rose -’
‘I heard very convincing stories.’
‘So convincing you had to blast him in the face?’
Rose turned to Albus, throat tight. ‘From the conversation last night, I wasn’t sure he’d come quietly. I thought he and Thane might slip away. And whatever I think of this Scorpius, I know I don’t trust Thane. Would you rather we’d let them go, so you had nothing more than your faith to reassure you? If he’s here we can get answers.’
And if it’s him, she told herself, because she had to, then he won’t get locked up. Coming back to Britain was letting churning fear and spinning confusion form into the beginnings of firm thoughts, firm feelings, and while there was apprehension and bewilderment, there was, somewhere deep inside, a glimmer of hope. It was small and it was terrifying, and she had to work hard to not smother it with her old habit of cold indifference, but with each fact that came in, it gleamed a little brighter.
That. That’s why I Stunned him, brought him in.
Lillian lifted a hand again. ‘We also have Eva Saida. I have been contacted by Russian authorities, and it seems that Balthazar Vadimas is not seeking her release.’
‘That was on the cards?’ said Selena.
‘We’ve made deals in the past,’ said Lillian, ‘to not prosecute former Thornweavers, even if they’re working with figures like Vadimas. It’s meant that Thornweavers would switch sides. But apparently she’s not valuable enough to the Russians, so we get to keep her.’
At last, Harry glanced to Albus, who just said, ‘She helped us in Ager Sanguinis. We wouldn’t have got Selena back without her help. That’s all I’ve got to put forward. Do what you want with her.’
‘There are a lot of debates to be had. She’s not the first of her kind,’ sighed Lillian. ‘But she can provide us with information and the big questions can wait until after the war.’
‘Does any of this apply to Prometheus Thane?’ said Rose. ‘He has turned on the Council, and if Romano Vida was actually a traitor to the IMC, a man on the inside -’
‘We didn’t want to advertise Vida’s true affiliations,’ said Hermione. ‘It would make the IMC seem weak. Not that one of our national representatives being murdered was a great display of strength. But it’s certainly true that Thane has only been focusing on Council targets since he left them.’
‘However,’ said Lillian, ‘Thane has made no deals, come to no governments, cooperated with us in not one single way. He is an utter renegade, fighting his own private war against the Council, and that man is a danger to everyone. We are under no legal requirement to forgive him, and I, for one, would like to throw him into the deepest, darkest dungeons.’
‘Done,’ said Harry.
‘After,’ said Hermione, ‘we question him.’
‘Soon,’ said Lillian. ‘There’s still the matter of the Chalice.’
Rose’s jaw tightened. ‘There are few experts on the Chalice of Emrys,’ she said. ‘Thane is likely one of them. Another is Reynald de Sablé, but he’s an associate of Gabriel Doyle’s and so you might want to throw him in jail, too.’
Hermione grimaced. ‘Rose -’
‘The last is in Saint Mungo’s with his hand cut off,’ Selena finished for her. ‘He’s also the person most likely to know where de Sablé is and most likely to be able to get him on-side, after his father.’
‘Then for the moment,’ said Lillian, ‘I suggest we entrust the Chalice to Ms Granger’s Task Force.’
‘I can use it for curing Lethe abroad.’ Hermione nodded. ‘And get Lockett to work on it, too.’
‘Which brings us to the last topic,’ Lillian said. ‘Who, or what, is in our cells wearing the face of the late Scorpius Malfoy?’
‘Every disenchantment charm has been run on him,’ said Harry. ‘It’s not a Polyjuice or an illusion or anything of that ilk. His face has to have been changed using permanent magics, or Muggle methods -’
‘It’s him,’ said Albus.
A glint of pity entered his father’s eye. ‘That’s not possible, Al -’
‘How many impossible things have you seen? Have you done? I know him better than anyone in this world, and I’m telling you, that is Scorpius Malfoy.’
Hermione stepped forward. ‘We can run tests on his blood. More reliable than Legilimency or Veritaserum; if he is a decoy, it’s entirely possible that he doesn’t know, so I’d rather not test his mind. Those won’t take long, and then we will know for sure.’
‘And when we prove he is,’ said Albus, ‘does he get thrown into a jail cell with Thane and Gabriel Doyle?’
Lillian winced. ‘I think that will depend on what Thane has to say, and what “Malfoy” has to say. I’m not committing to anything yet.’
‘That,’ drawled Selena, ‘and it’ll look terrible politically if the hero who gave his life to defeat the Council came back from the dead and was promptly locked up. If you have no more questions for me, I’m going to the hospital. Matt’s going to have a bad enough time waking up as it is.’
As she left, Rose didn’t budge an inch, even though she felt Albus’ eyes on her. She looked at Harry, still taut and angry, to her mother, tense and apprehensive, to Lillian, oddly calm and in control, and drew a deep breath. ‘What now?’
‘Lockett should have brewed us up the Veritaserum by now,’ said Lillian, and turned to Harry. ‘So I suggest you see about the interrogation of Prometheus Thane.’
‘I want to be there,’ said Rose and Albus in unison.
‘You can watch,’ said Harry. ‘I’m not bending the rules any more than that.’
‘And I look forward to the report.’ Lillian straightened. ‘In the meantime, I need to make a lot of Floo calls. You’re right about one thing, Mister Potter; we can’t have the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing.’
Hermione raised an eyebrow. ‘You’re going to call for a total state of emergency?’
‘I will not, in these times, have even more of our efforts at fighting the Council get waylaid by internal politics. This is a time for one single, strong voice to lead the world in this war. The Lethe attacks have left a lot of governments rattled, but I need to make sure they will not try to run from a strong voice in their fear.’ She sighed. ‘I’d hoped to give all of this up. But needs must. And I am truly sick of politics getting in the way of saving lives.’
Prometheus Thane sat cuffed to his chair in the interrogation room, unconcerned gaze fixed on Harry Potter. Even on the other side of the one-way glass, Albus could almost feel the tension radiating off his father.
‘He’s wound up too tight,’ murmured Hermione. ‘I don’t like this.’
‘That’s two minutes.’ Harry’s voice was piped magically through the glass, crystal clear. ‘The Veritaserum will be in effect now.’
‘Indeed,’ said Thane. ‘So you probably want me to tell all? I’ll start from the beginning, then.’ He leaned forwards, cuffs rattling as he rested his hands on the table. ‘The history of the Council of Thorns. Raskoph. Phlegethon, Eridanos, Lethe. The lot.’
‘Who recruited you into the Council of Thorns?’
‘A man named Gerald Wakefield, but you killed him last year. It doesn’t matter; I was hired to do menial tasks at first, tracing certain historic sources on necromantic rituals. Those needed begging, borrowing, stealing. It was information which eventually led to the creation of Phlegethon.’ Thane tilted his head. ‘Ask me about the origin of the Council.’
‘This is powerful Veritaserum,’ murmured Rose as Harry did so.
‘It wouldn’t compel him to be helpful,’ said Hermione. ‘I don’t like this.’
‘He’s an enemy of the Council,’ Albus said. ‘Perhaps he knows it’s in his best interest to cooperate.’
‘The Council of Thorns didn’t start with Raskoph, but it might as well have,’ came Thane’s voice through the glass. ‘After the Grindelwald Wars, a lot of the Thule Society fled Europe. They went to South America, just like their Muggle counterparts, hiding out in Bolivia and Chile and the like. And there they’ve lurked these past eighty years, lunatic relics.’
‘Did they -’ Harry stopped himself. ‘Who formed the Council of Thorns?’
Albus heard Hermione give a relieved exhale as Harry stuck to asking open questions.
‘They did. Krauser, Horn, Voigt. They were the first; Krauser propped up Acosta in Brazil. You’ll notice they’re all dead now, and that Voigt, at least, was removed from power by Raskoph, out-manoeuvred by him and surrendered his authority in Panama,’ Thane said. ‘But I’m getting ahead of myself. They were the first, but people like Raskoph were amongst their followers. I say “followers”; those three were more moderate, more reasonable. Even if Raskoph was closer to Grindelwald, more trusted by him - he liaised with the Muggles, after all - Krauser and the others were the ones capable of putting such a group together.
‘The Council of Thorns has rather disguised its Thule Society roots,’ said Thane, ‘or it did, before Raskoph. Even mercenaries think twice about working for those kind of Dark Wizards. So Krauser and the others presented themselves as a group looking to restore order in a desparate world, champion old traditions and principles left by the wayside, and if they happened to have some relics amongst them, if they happened to be relics, well, that was all a long time ago. But this facade allowed them to gather hirelings, followers, associates.’
‘What do you mean by “associates”?’ asked Harry.
‘People like Vida. Those in governments, those in powerful corporations who harboured traditionalist sympathies. The Council had wealth from everything the Thule Society stole from Europe, but this gave them more wealth, more influence, more power.’ Thane leaned back in his chair. ‘It was in these early days that I joined the Council, which was when I met Raskoph.’
‘Under what circumstances?’
‘I didn’t develop Phlegethon. I did develop the infection method, the massive ritual at Hogwarts and it was my idea to use the site of… well, your death, as a power source. But Phlegethon - and from it Eridanos, Lethe - are older. Far older.’ He shook his head. ‘Raskoph provided the roots with what he called ancient texts and ancient research. I don’t know what these texts were, but there was a reason he was given the assignment for the Chalice of Emrys. He is an expert in all things old, and he was the one who knew the Chalice could be used to create Lethe. It was “perfect”, he said, and while I assumed he was on board because we thought it might be in an old Thule or Nazi holding, his knowledge of the Templars and the magics of the Chalice went far, far deeper.’
‘Do you have any theories on the origin of Phlegethon?’
Thane grimaced. ‘I think it might have been something the Thule Society looked into in its heyday. I don’t know if they dug it up, developed it, derived it from something. But the Thule Society wanted the Chalice of Emrys back then, too. I think that the Chalice’s use in creating Lethe is more than magics which happen to align. It’s possible they share an origin.’
Harry nodded, and looked down at his papers. ‘Alright. Tell me about your separation from the Council.’
‘I was paid very well, well enough to look the other way on their misdeeds - to a point,’ said Thane. ‘It took me a while to realise how deep the Thule Society roots went, that we are talking about an organisation that is truly, truly evil. Like I said, they presented themselves as being traditionalists, not ancient villains of old. And by the time I saw them for what they were, I was too entrenched in a project to get out.’
‘Project Osiris. The recovery of the Chalice of Emrys and the resurrection of Scorpius Malfoy - and, through him, the reclaiming of Lethe.’
Albus heard Rose’s breath catch.
Harry met Thane’s gaze. ‘Did you really resurrect Scorpius Malfoy?’
There was a slow nod. ‘Absolutely. It took the summoning of the Chalice of Emrys from the realm of the dead, which required eighteen months of researching necromancy, finding locations which connected and tethered the Chalice to our world, and then finding somewhere the gap between the realms was thinnest. Which was expensive and time-consuming, but Raskoph was determined this would happen. He was prepared for the rest of the Council to flounder without Lethe, while he spent the last two years supplanting them, taking over, and biding his time until Lethe was back in his hands. And he wasn’t the only person who charged me with this job.’
‘The same man who gave me the location of the Hogwarts Five in Venice.’ Thane’s brow furrowed. ‘Draco Malfoy.’
‘Son of a bitch,’ Albus hissed through gritted teeth.
Harry remained silent for a heartbeat, then scribbled something onto a fresh piece of paper. It folded itself into a plane and floated out under the door. ‘Draco Malfoy is associated with the Council of Thorns?’
‘He is. He was one of those corporate types who jumped on board when the Council was just a “traditionalist” movement. He’s invested a lot of money into it, and it was through subsidiaries of his company that the Council managed to ship Lethe internationally. He’s probably the most powerful person in the organisation who’s not Thule Society.’
‘Is the man you were brought back to Britain with really Scorpius Malfoy?’
‘Yes,’ said Thane. ‘We resurrected him with the Chalice, and Raskoph immediately had Lethe extracted from him, contained. Raskoph spent the last eight months studying it, perfecting it, and then using Draco Malfoy to get it distributed worldwide. When that job was done, I had no reason to stick around with the Council.’
‘Why did you wait that long?’
‘Because the job was going to get done by somebody. I’m brilliant, but I’m not the only brilliant person out there.’ Thane shrugged. ‘Someone else would have brought him back, and then I wouldn’t know how it happened, where, when. So I waited until it was done, which means I know an awful lot about Lethe, and it meant that when I left the Council, I could bring Scorpius Malfoy with me, along with those loyal to me.’
‘Why did you bring him with you?’
‘He didn’t want to work for the Council. He hates them, and he’s hardly thrilled by his father’s role in all of this. That’s why he wanted to leave. I wanted him with me because… well, I like the boy, but I can’t lie. It’s given me a certain insurance against his father. Raskoph would happily kill us all, and Thornweavers who want to please him will try. But Draco Malfoy would rather get his darling boy back, and Thornweavers who would want to please him will thus try to take at least him alive. Which made them hold back, which gave me an edge.’
‘And Scorpius Malfoy didn’t want to return home?’
‘You’d have to ask him about that,’ said Thane.
Footsteps thudded to Albus’ left, and he turned to see Rose storming from the room. He exchanged startled glances with Hermione, but otherwise followed in a flash, bursting into the corridors of the MLE prisons to see her striding off. ‘Rose…?’
She stopped in the corridor, brought her hand up to her temples, and when she turned it was with a pained, anguished expression that was still the most honest he’d seen her in two years. ‘It really is him, isn’t it.’
‘It…’ Albus swallowed. ‘It looks like. You could see him -’
She closed the distance in three quick strides, threw her arms around him with such an impact he staggered. But he didn’t hesitate before returning the embrace, close and tight. ‘I’m already being a shit for not going to see Matt,’ Rose whispered. ‘He might be in Saint Mungo’s a while, but I have to be there when he wakes up.’
‘Okay. I understand.’ He didn’t even disagree, but he did know he didn’t envy Rose this snarl. He pulled back and tried a smile. ‘We did it, Rose. We got Selena back.’
‘Yelled at our parents together. And the IMC Chairman.’
‘It needed doing.’ He squeezed her shoulder. ‘Give Matt my best, will you?’
‘Sure.’ She bit her lip. ‘And - just see if he’s okay. If it’s him, he can’t stay here.’
‘I know. Don’t you worry.’ Albus let her go, keeping his smile in place. ‘It’ll be okay.’
‘It never is,’ said Rose as she left, but she was, for once, dry rather than fatalistic.
It was another hour before Harry emerged from the interrogation room, an hour of Albus and Hermione sat in the listening chamber, drinking coffee, watching as Prometheus Thane rattled off reams and reams of information on the Council of Thorns’ operations. Some of this seemed already known to the IMC. Some of it had even Hermione writing frantic, scribbled notes.
As Thane did nothing more interesting than reel off dates and names, Albus glanced at his aunt. ‘So, Dad’s become a whole lot colder these past two years.’ He was too angry to be guilty.
Hermione’s gaze tightened, and she nodded. ‘It’s been hard. Not just with you gone, but with the Council, with everything. He’s been overworked for too long.’
‘You don’t agree with how he’s handling it.’
‘I think it’s Harry’s job to worry about fighting the Council. I think it’s my job, and Lillian’s, to worry about how we make the whole world fight the Council,’ was the diplomatic answer, and she looked at him. ‘It’s good you’re back. I think it’ll help him.’
‘Mn.’ Albus grimaced. ‘I’ve obviously been away too long.’
But then Harry was wrapping up, gathering his papers and leaving the interrogation room, so he bounced to his feet and went to the corridor to intercept him. ‘I cannot believe you’re arresting Gabriel Doyle.’
Harry stopped, frown deepening. ‘He’s stolen government information, and he’s acted without our knowledge to disrupt our operations. Just because we have the same enemy doesn’t make us on the same side. I have offered, again and again, for him to work with us, but he’s refused.’
‘Have you considered why?’
‘Ironically,’ interjected Hermione, appearing in the door behind Albus, ‘it’s because of the politics which slow down the process. The politics Lillian’s now trying to clamp down on by giving the IMC more worldwide power. I can’t say I don’t sympathise.’
‘This isn’t the old days, Hermione,’ said Harry. ‘This isn’t a corrupt Ministry failing to fight the real threat. We’re doing everything we can, but I can’t have a rogue element undermining my efforts. Nobody thinks Thane was a hero for fighting the Council on his own terms, and background aside, he’s no different to Doyle in this!’
‘I think background’s pretty damn important,’ said Albus, fists clenched. ‘And I think that Gabriel Doyle allowed us to take action to save Selena when you couldn’t. When you didn’t.’
Harry flinched. ‘I have a lot of responsibilities and can’t be everywhere at once.’
‘I think you’re pissed at him,’ snapped Albus, ‘for doing what you should have, and now you’re punishing him because if he did something wrong then you can convince yourself you couldn’t have done the exact same thing.’
‘Albus!’ Hermione’s voice was both shocked and warning, but Harry just straightened, having to lift his head to look his son in the eye.
‘I sent orders for the arrest of Draco Malfoy; I need to see how that was resolved,’ he said, voice veering into calm professionalism. ‘Someone will see about the release process for Scorpius. That’ll take a little time; enough for you two to talk. He’s in cell 3B.’
Then he turned on his heel and marched down the corridor, leaving Albus with a sinking gut and the disapproving gaze of his aunt.
‘That was very -’
‘Correct?’ Albus turned on her, scowling. ‘You don’t even agree with him, not if you knew we were working with Doyle. And Uncle Ron’s clearly going to do what he’s told. But Dad’s -’
‘Hating that he has to do everything by a process, and that he has responsibilities to a whole slew of people, and wishing his own son didn’t have to hurl himself into danger to do what he thought needed doing.’ Hermione’s voice remained low and firm. ‘I doubt Doyle will be in jail long. He does need to cooperate with the IMC, and if this scares him into being a team player, then perhaps that’s what has to happen. But you’re not IMC. You’re not Auror Office. And he doesn’t need this from his own son.’
‘He needs it from someone,’ Albus snapped. ‘And you’re right, I’m not IMC or Auror Office. I actually get things done.’
‘We’re trying -’
‘Then how about you stop lecturing me and either check up on your daughter, or go help Lillian Rourke make the world stop screwing around? If that’s what it’ll take to make the proper authorities more useful than one lone rich man?’
Hermione’s lips thinned to the sort of disapproving expression he was used to getting from Rose. ‘You might have come back, Albus,’ she said, ‘but you can still work with your family, not against. Talk to them.’
‘Talking to my family,’ said Albus, and turned away, ‘is exactly what I’m going to do.’
Either his father had told the cell guards to let him through, or nobody was going to get in the way of Harry Potter’s son. He was unimpeded leaving the interrogation rooms for the jail, and a dour-faced Enforcer escorted him down the line of barred cells until he was there.
Scorpius sat on the bench, head resting against the stark, grey wall. His eyes were shut, but one slid open at the footsteps, and the corner of his lip twisted. ‘I guess if they’re letting you see me, they’re not about to lock me up and throw away the key.’
‘They’ll want a debriefing. And I bet they’re going to keep a close eye on you.’ Albus stood in the corridor, suddenly awkward, and wrung his hands together. ‘But they believe you. The blood tests; Thane’s admission under Veritaserum… I guess it really is you.’
Their eyes met. ‘I thought you believed me?’
Something stuck in Albus’ throat. ‘I did. But I’ve seen how leaps of faith can be wrong.’
Scorpius’ brow creased, and he got to his feet. ‘I am so, so sorry how things have gone down the last few years, mate. I mean - I couldn’t control any of it, I just…’
‘Why didn’t you come back?’ Albus glared at a spot just above Scorpius’ head. ‘When Thane busted you out of Council hands. Why did you stay with him, why didn’t you come back to, to… us…’ To me.
‘I tried.’ Scorpius’ expression fell. ‘I wanted to, I mean… I almost did. Thane warned me it was all different, and I read the papers, got some intel… I knew Rose was with Matt. I knew you were gone. What was I supposed to come back for? You’ve seen the chaos I’ve caused by being around for less than a day.’
Albus grimaced, but nodded. ‘And then there’s your father.’
‘Thane told you about that. Good.’ Scorpius’ lips twisted. ‘I knew - I mean, they told me in Ager Sanguinis. He’s the reason Thane handed the Resurrection Stone over to me in Hogwarts, he’s the reason they found us in Venice, he’s the reason Thane had the funding and the mandate to get me back. So I guess I owe him that, except fuck him.’
‘Dad’s ordered his arrest.’
‘Good,’ Scorpius said again, but didn’t look much reassured. ‘Bloody hell. If he’s being brought in, if Thane’s locked up, if I’m not staying locked up… what happens next?’
‘I don’t know,’ Albus sighed, and extended his hand through the bars. ‘But I do know we can handle all of it like we always have, mate. Together?’
Now Scorpius smiled, now he grinned that grin that lit up his eyes and made the world that happier, more fun place which was only a hazy memory, and he clasped his hand for a firm shake. ‘Together.’
He’d plunged his hand into fire, and it wouldn’t stop burning. He writhed, twisted, tried to pull it back, but the skin seared away, blackened and charred until it was just bone, and even if he lashed out, it wouldn’t stop burning -
When Matt’s eyes flashed open, his throat was so hoarse he realised he’d been screaming. But he wasn’t stood in fire, he wasn’t stood before Joachim Raskoph, he wasn’t in France; he was in a white bed with white walls under white light, with the dark eyes of his older sister gazing down on him. Her hands were on his shoulders, lips pursed with concern, and she drew a deep breath as he saw her. ‘Matty, you’re alright.’
‘Annie…’ His voice came parched and cracked, and he slumped on the bed, eyelids drooping. ‘What happened - where - Raskoph, Selena -’
‘You’re home, or, I mean, you’re in Britain.’ Annie Doyle let go of him as he stopped struggling and reached for a small bottle, which she lifted to his lips. ‘Drink this. Your friends got you back. Everyone’s safe, and you’re… you’re okay.’
But she looked pale and worn, and her voice creaked, and his hand still smoldered. With a groan he pushed himself up with his left elbow and drank the acrid substance. He squinted around the room as he tried to ignore the taste. Annie was not alone; Rose stood at the foot of the bed, exhausted and worn, and in the corner sat Selena. She was a silent bundle, a blanket around her, bags under her eyes, but her gaze was locked on him with a quiet blaze he didn’t understand.
‘We got Selena out,’ said Rose in a small voice. ‘And Thane and Saida and - and Scorpius are in jail. Uncle Harry’s sorting all of that out. You did it, Matt, you pulled it all off…’
Even sitting up was tiring, though, and Matt slumped back. ‘What’s happened?’
Annie’s hand was at his left shoulder, touch gentle. ‘The Healers have done everything they can. You’re going to be fine, and there are long-term options we can look at, but what happened was - I don’t know if you remember it…’
Pain. He remembered pain, and blood, and a soul-wrenching fear that went even deeper than his terror they would fail their mission. With shuddering breath he looked down at his burning hand, only to see white sheets and the white bandage-wrapped stump of his right arm.
‘Oh,’ he said, voice bland because there was no emotion which fit. ‘Shit.’
‘There are options,’ Rose reeled off, a little fast, like she was relaying answers in a stressful test. ‘Magical prosthetics, but first you need to rest and recover and the Healers will talk about things.’
‘Sophie’s going to be here, she’ll be pulled out of Hogwarts tonight; Mum would be sorting that out but she’s got…’ Annie’s face creased. ‘Matty, I don’t want to put too much on you -’
‘What else has happened?’ His mouth felt like he’d swallowed a carpet.
Annie managed to not give Rose a reproachful glance as she said, ‘Dad’s been arrested by the Aurors. They think he’s been stealing information from the Ministry, interfering with IMC operations, and undermining the war with the Council of Thorns.’
‘Oh,’ Matt said again, and when he coughed it came with a rueful laugh. ‘I guess he has been doing that.’
‘They’re also investigating Uncle Toby on suspicion of helping him…’
‘And - look, you should rest.’ Annie looked down at her hands. ‘You really are going to be okay.’
I don’t have a hand, Matt thought, his gaze going to the ceiling. That’s a textbook definition of ‘not okay’. The blazing in his wrist remained, a dull throbbing sense that threatened to make any rest impossible, but he was too worn, too exhausted, to feel anything other than slow-dawning acceptance.
What use would any other feeling be, anyway?
‘I’ll check in with Mum,’ said Annie after a pause, and got to her feet, brushing herself down. ‘I’ll just be outside.’ He croaked an answer, then she was gone, and all he had was Rose’s awkward gaze and Selena’s blazing stare, and the burning in his hand.
It was Rose who spoke, still in that tense, quick voice. ‘Matt, I’m so sorry…’
‘Don’t…’ Don’t look at me like that, was what he wanted to say, but his voice did him the mercy of cracking before the words could come. ‘Did we get the Chalice?’
‘We did - there’s lots happening, but you don’t need to worry about it for -’
‘Can I just - I think I’d like to rest. Just for a bit.’
Rose stared at him for a moment, then nodded. ‘Okay.’ She padded to his side, reached out to smooth the sheets on the bed like he had no hands instead of one, and bent down to give him an awkward peck on the forehead. ‘I’ll check in with things, but I’ll be back, okay?’
He just nodded and slumped back, eyes shutting, and heard her walk off, heard the door to his room creak open and shut. His jaw tightened in the silence as his chest did, a choking sense to cut off all breath, all thought, as the fire in his hand - no, in his wrist, in his stump - spread along the arm, into his lungs, smothered him -
‘I can go,’ came a low voice and the scraping of stool legs, ‘I just wanted to - to -’
Matt’s eyes snapped open to see Selena pulling up the stool next to the bed. She was pale, her hair a state, worn and exhausted, with sunken cheeks and dark eyes. When her fingers reached for his left hand, he could feel the tremble in her touch, and squeezed back. The fire in his throat subsided, and a drained smile came to his lips, unbidden. ‘Hey - you are okay, aren’t you? They didn’t hurt you?’
Her breath caught and she shook her head, mute for a moment. ‘No, no. I’m fine, don’t you worry about me, don’t you dare worry about me -’
‘I do…’ Then their fingers were entwined, and she’d bowed her head for golden hair to trail over the white bedsheets, along the back of his hand. The fire faded to dull embers, and its absence made his head spin and dip and dive amongst the blazing light of this white sanctum.
‘I know,’ she breathed. ‘They told me what you did, how much you did to get me back.’
‘We all -’
‘They told me how much you did.’ Selena’s gaze snapped up to meet his, clear-eyed and anguished. ‘And I saw you in Saint Annard, I saw how you fought, you stupid, stupid man…’
But the reproach was grief-stricken rather than admonishing, and he pulled his hand from hers to raise it. His fingertips brushed across her cheek and she tilted her head to press it against her palm, breathing unsteady. ‘You’re okay,’ Matt whispered, and without the fire holding him down, he could float, or so it felt. ‘You’re okay, and that’s all that matters, and I’d lose a thousand hands for that price if it meant you could keep spinning gold all over me with your hair…’
Her gaze flickered, then the tiniest smile of wry realisation crossed her face. ‘Oh, Merlin.’ Guilt faded from her voice. ‘Those anti-pain draughts are really kicking in, aren’t they.’
Maybe. ‘I mean it,’ he said instead, thumb running a line across her jaw, like he could brush away the tarnish coating the silver and gold he knew was underneath her pain. ‘You’re okay and that’s everything, and you don’t look at me like I’m saving you from drowning and you owe me for it… and I didn’t mean to run to Rose over you, I didn’t, I really didn’t…’
Her touch at his wrist tightened and her lips parted, but he carried on before she could cut him off. He was floating, but all of this was holding him down, pinning him down, and if he didn’t shrug off these burdens then the fire he could still feel thrumming through his right wrist would consume him whole.
‘I had to help her,’ he croaked, ‘but I thought you were running from me. I thought you were pushing me away, and I tried and tried, but I couldn’t. I wanted to chase you, but I had to help Rose, and I couldn’t do both, so I helped her when she was in pain and I thought you… I thought you ran from me.’ Her face sank as he rambled, but now she wasn’t interrupting him. ‘I don’t know if I got too close, or if you thought I’d hurt you, and I’m sorry. So when it mattered, I had to do this, I had to… to save you. And I always will, if you - let me save you…’
Every word took a chunk out of her veneer of control he had never been deceived by. When his voice trailed off, she was staring at him with a sunken expression of grief and guilt, until she pulled away to stand, and the absence of her touch was like fire again at his fingertips.
‘You need to rest,’ said Selena in a low voice he’d never heard her use before. With only a moment’s hesitation, she bent down to kiss him on the forehead, and that was enough, for now, to douse the flames. ‘You stupid, stupid, dear man.’
He wanted to catch the gold that dangled at him as she bent, but then it was gone and so was she. Let me save you, he thought, drifting amid the white sheets and the white walls and the white lights of his hospital room, with the faintest embers at the stump where his right arm ended.
A/N: They say “write what you know”. I assure you that the amount of sense Matt’s making while high on anti-pain drugs is about as much sense as I’ve made in hospital doped up on gas and air. It really does make you super-honest and utterly nonsensical.
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