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Oblivion by Slide
Chapter 16 : The Shadow of Any Lie
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 5


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The Shadow of Any Lie


‘You should only keep it on for an hour or so at a time,’ said Dwyer, looking at the prosthetic hand like it might explode if Matt did the wrong thing. ‘Do those exercises when you first put it on, do them before you take it off, don’t put it back on within six hours.’

Matt stared at the lump of grey metal that had been attached to his stump. While it had the shape of a hand, at that moment he could no sooner move it than fly to the moon. ‘Those exercises,’ he pointed out, ‘require me to have some manipulation of the living steel.’

‘It will come!’ Dwyer assured him. ‘The magic will start to plug into the impulses from your brain. That’s partly why you should wear it for an hour or so; let those connections form, and also, it’s most likely to work for the first time when you’re not thinking about it. You’ll act on automatic, try to move the hand that’s not there, only you’ll move the prosthetic.’

‘Isn’t that going to hurt?’

‘Excruciatingly!’ Dwyer faltered. ‘Um. You know, I could go sort out that discharge paperwork…’

‘That’ll take a while, I imagine.’

‘A couple of hours, Mister Doyle. But then you can go home; you have your appointment sorted for tomorrow -’

‘And tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,’ Matt sighed. ‘Please be about it.’

Dwyer left the stale hospital room that had been Matt’s world these past few days, but even though he was eager to leave, the idea of returning to his flat gave him nothing but a chill in his gut. He’d tried to convince himself it would be home. That Rose would be there, that he could go right back to -

To pretending everything was fine. It wasn’t fine. It hadn’t ever been fine.

‘I’ve got bad news, Matt!’ His eyes flashed open to see John Colton sticking his head around the door. ‘You’ll never play the violin again.’

At least, Matt thought, he was still capable of laughter. ‘You’re a funny guy, John. A funny, funny guy.’

‘I know, I’m a beacon of hope for the world.’ But John’s brow furrowed as he waltzed in. ‘How are you, old bean?’

‘Oh, you know. An absolute pacifist. ‘armless.’

John narrowed his eyes. ‘You’re a very bad man.’

‘I’m a little high.’

‘When do they let you out?’

‘This afternoon. I’ll be home.’

‘In the tender care of the lovely Rosemary?’

Their eyes met, and Matt couldn’t ignore the guarded glint that usually he disregarded when he and John discussed his relationship. Maybe the drugs were chipping away at his delusions. ‘She’s been - she’s been good.’

‘I’m glad,’ said John, unconvinced but playing along. ‘You don’t - oh, hell, Matt, I’m really sorry this has happened.’

He slumped against the pillows. ‘I made my choices.’

‘Lose the hand, save the girl?’ John jerked a thumb over his shoulder. ‘Speaking of “the girl”, she’s outside. Selena, I mean. Not Rose.’

Matt sat up like a shot. ‘Why didn’t you say?’

‘She said she’d let us talk first. That she’d wait. I thought maybe you’d want to bear your heart and soul to your best - fine, fine.’ John tossed his hands in the air, his frustration exaggerated. ‘I know how it is. I’m only chopped liver compared to the parade of beautiful women here to weep at your bedside.’

‘That’s not what I meant -’

‘No, no. Obviously I’m not welcome if I’m not going to beat my chest and fall on my knees beside you. Though I could go find a petticoat and sob on your bedsheets -’

Matt’s lips twisted. ‘I hate you.’

John laughed, and turned for the door. ‘Feel better. Drop me a Floo when you’re out and about; we’ll spend time together. You know, go to concerts which deserve raucous applause. Play golf. Juggle.’

It felt good to grin, but he still yelled, ‘Get out,’ at John’s departing form, and John was laughing when he left.

So his smile was intact when the door swung open again, and in stepped the apprehensive form of Selena Rourke. ‘I thought this was a hospital room, not a comedy club,’ she said, voice low, cautious, but wry.

His gaze softened. ‘Hey, I didn’t expect you to stop by…’

‘I figured it’s the least I could do. How are you?’

Matt lifted his right arm and waved with the utterly still prosthetic. ‘I can’t go near magnets.’ But her expression creased, and he remembered this wasn’t John, there to make him feel better by making light of this. Nor was it Rose, here to fuss as if he was made of glass that her hammering guilt would shatter. ‘Sorry. It’s kind of a reflex.’

Selena stared at the hand for a moment, then went to sit on the stool by his bed. ‘If you need to take it off, don’t worry about being awkward in front of me. Do what you need to do.’

She was concerned without undertones of apprehension, and it went a way to soothe the twist through his gut. ‘I need to wear it for about another hour. It’s stupid and rotten, but…’ He let out a deep breath. ‘It is what it is.’

Her gaze dropped. ‘It is what it is because of me.’

‘I’m blaming Raskoph.’

‘You wouldn’t have fought him if you hadn’t -’

‘Hadn’t what? Tried to rescue you? Maybe I should have left you alone. Avoided you. Left you in prison.’ He couldn’t keep the deprecating tone from his voice, and she looked at him, surprised. ‘I made my choice, and I’d do it all over again. And it could have been a lot worse. Are you alright?’

She tossed her hair over her shoulder. ‘Don’t you worry about me, Matt; they didn’t do anything to me -’

‘I do worry, and just because they didn’t injure you doesn’t mean you have to be bouncing after the Council of Thorns locked you up.’

He was studying her face, knew her masks well enough by now that he could almost see the gears shift when she looked back at his prosthetic. ‘Does it hurt?’

His eyes narrowed. ‘I’ve figured out how you do that.’

‘Do what?’

‘Evade. You say something which isn’t really an answer, and then you make people talk about themselves. People love talking about themselves. So you ask, and all of a sudden we’re talking about my hand.’

‘There’s not much to say about me.’

‘Even if you don’t want to talk about the Council,’ Matt said carefully, ‘You and I haven’t spoken since we rowed at your doorstep, and before that we didn’t talk about things. I think there’s a whole lot to say.’

Her eyes narrowed, and this didn’t look like a mask. ‘This isn’t my first visit here.’

Matt frowned, thinking back to that haze of white sheets and fussing faces and drifting through swirling lights of white and gold. Eventually there was a snippet of something solid, the thought of her hand on his. I thought that was a dream. ‘Oh, yeah,’ he said. ‘I was… pretty high.’

Selena snorted. ‘Yeah, you were.’

‘See.’ He pointed his fake hand at her. ‘You’re doing it again.’

‘When did you get so bloody-minded about me?’

Matt’s breath caught in his throat, and he could see the flicker of apprehension about her gaze. He drew a deep breath. ‘If I answered that,’ he said quietly, ‘then I’d be letting you evade some more.’

‘What if I don’t want to talk about how I feel? About what happened?’

‘Then say so.’ He ducked his head in acknowledgement. ‘If you really don’t want to talk about it, then I’ll drop it. But I’m here if you want to talk. I’m here if you just want to sit with someone and say nothing. Day or night.’

Her gaze dropped, blonde hair falling across her face, a physical veil to fall over the crumpling mask. ‘I came to check up on you,’ she said quietly. ‘Not to talk about me.’

Instinct made him want to reach for her hand, but she was sat on his right side and that was awkward even if she’d been near his good hand. In the end, all he did was shift his bad arm, prompting a throb of pain, and he winced. ‘I’ll be okay,’ he said. ‘And I don’t want you feeling guilty about this. Raskoph did it.’

There was a long moment where she stared at his prosthetic. Then she straightened and brushed her hair back, and she was Selena again, poised again. ‘How’s Rose?’

He flinched. ‘Do you really want to ask?’

‘Do you really want to tell me?’

Bitterness rose in his throat. ‘How’s your work?’

‘Not happening,’ said Selena, not missing a beat to the change of topic. ‘On account of the paper being shut down.’

‘But you had a good story,’ he said. ‘The corporations? The smuggling?’

‘Oh,’ said Selena, ‘you mean the fact that I was accidentally right on top of the conspiracy that allowed the Council of Thorns to ship Lethe worldwide, and didn’t even know it?’

‘You don’t feel guilty about that -’

She shrugged. ‘Only sometimes. Only the normal amount. In so far as there’s a “normal” amount. I’m irritated I didn’t find more, but I don’t know what I could have done. After all, everything was formally by the books. The companies were all bought out by the same conglomerate. It was all done legally; with Ministry corporate oversight, even. Which it turns out was amongst the information my boss and your father apparently stole from the Ministry of Magic.’

Matt grimaced. ‘I had heard something about that.’

‘I think it’s the Ministry being rather pissy because all of this happened directly under their noses - the corporate buy-outs which led to the smuggling of Lethe. Your father’s thieving. And now it’s the hot-button topic.’

‘Isn’t that closing the gate after the horse has bolted? To care about it now?’

‘It is,’ said Selena, but she gave him a quizzical look. ‘They do have reason to fuss, though. Didn’t you hear?’

‘Hear what?’

‘The conglomerate that bought out all of those companies on behalf of the Council, oversaw the smuggling of Lethe internationally. It was just one man, operating through proxies: Draco Malfoy.’

* *


The hammering at Scorpius’ door was like rolling thunder drilling into his brain, so by the time he’d yanked the hotel door open, all he could do was yell, ‘What?’

Any guilt he felt at yelling at Selena died with the flash in her eyes. Of course she could take it better than others. ‘Being a resurrected hero is no reason to abandon your manners, Scorpius.’

‘I - sorry.’ He stepped back to let her in, running a self-conscious hand through his hair. ‘Though you could have knocked like a normal person.’

‘Didn’t you get the memo? You came back and nothing’s normal. Not me, not Albus, certainly not Rose and Matthias.’

Scorpius chose to ignore that, and the piercing look she gave him. ‘I thought you were doing well for yourself.’

‘Apart from being the daughter of a world leader and recently abducted by the Council of Thorns?’

‘Yeah.’ He shoved his hands in his pockets. ‘Apart from that.’

Selena tossed her hair over her shoulder. ‘Well, if you put it like that, I’m okay, I guess.’ Their eyes met, and her expression softened. ‘I hear that you made Prometheus Thane come help rescue me.’

‘I’m aware of the irony.’ He kicked at the floor. ‘I didn’t know what the others would do. I didn’t know Albus was back, and I didn’t know how deep Matt’s ties to his dad’s work went, but I did know the IMC was up to its eyeballs in too many crises to be able to go after you easily. And I know we were too late to stop the abduction.’

‘Scorpius Malfoy, back from the dead for me.’ She was drawling her indifferent drawl, but her gaze flickered to a spot above his head. ‘But not for anyone else. Let me guess, you’d hoped to rescue me without me ever learning of your existence?’

He winced. ‘More or less.’

‘So then you could go back to fighting the Council with Thane. Letting us all believe you’re dead. Your mother, Albus, Rose. What the hell were you thinking?’

He’d known he was due a yelling match, but he’d expected it from Albus or Rose. On reflection, he should have anticipated Selena was the person who’d be close enough to be angry, but detached enough to be capable of fury. ‘What was I supposed to do; waltz back and slip into my old life? That’s going so well right now, isn’t it!’

‘So instead you decided to, what?’ She glared. ‘Assume some mantle of duty you never gave a damn about before? Make a deal with the devil, the man who got Tim killed -’

‘I know!’

‘Who got Methuselah killed - and don’t say “the Council did it”, he could have given us the solution to that ritual when he gave us the Resurrection Stone! You let him be your ally and let us all stay ignorant?’

Scorpius took a step back, then drew a deep breath. It would be too easy to go to pieces in the face of her anger. ‘I had the opportunity,’ he said slowly, ‘to fight the Council. If I came back, what would I do? Join the Enforcers? Or be where I am right now; stuck in a hotel room, without a next step?’

‘Yes,’ snapped Selena. ‘Much better to murder your way through the Council of Thorns’ command hierarchy. Or, not better, but easier?’

‘Easier -’

‘You were afraid, you bloody idiot! Coming back was too scary for you, so you let them keep suffering, keep grieving -’

‘I’d been dead for two years! I couldn’t fix that. I could try to make the world a better place -’

‘How about you actually made the most of having a second chance? A second chance nobody else has had!’

Her voice quavered and now it hit him. Scorpius’ shoulders slumped. ‘Selena, I…’

‘No - don’t you dare try and wriggle out of this because I’m upset! If Methuselah were alive, even after all this time, there is nothing, nothing I wouldn’t suffer to know that, and it wasn’t fair for you to take the chance away from Rose and Albus!’ She had to thin her lips to push back the emotion he could see shining in her eyes. ‘And it wasn’t fair for you to throw away your chance.’

Scorpius stepped forward, lifting his hands and dropping his voice. ‘Selena, you should know I… I don’t remember.’

She tensed. ‘I don’t -’

‘You were going to ask if I saw him. Methuselah.’ Scorpius winced. ‘I remember falling into the Veil. I remember waking up in a Council-owned facility somewhere in Tibet. That’s it; nothing in between. And even after that, everything’s pretty hazy for the first few weeks.’ He looked at his feet. ‘This is going to sound like a dumb thing to say, but I’m sorry I’m back and not him.’

Selena took a moment to reply, drawing a deep breath. ‘You’re right, that is a dumb thing to say. There’s nothing to even say to that.’

‘I’m sorry.’

‘Oh, you little - you were dead. Now you’re alive. Forget how that’s impossible; do you have any idea what that means?’ Her gaze hardened, not unkind but determined. ‘Don’t you dare waste that, Scorpius Malfoy. Don’t you dare keep away from people because you think you know what’s better. Don’t you dare think you’re expendable because you died once, or think it would be better if you’d stayed dead. You’re alive. Live. Or I really will hate you for being here when others aren’t.’

Her words hammered into his heart and gut like hailstones in a storm, but the churning vortex of the unspoken was enough to make him nauseous, not inspired. Scorpius schooled his expression into a controlled, if guilty mask. ‘What if I don’t want to hurt people more than I already have?’

‘People get hurt all the time. It’s the time in between that matters.’ Selena’s eyes narrowed. ‘They need you. Rose won’t say it, and Albus is pretending he never broke, but they both broke, and unlike me, they stayed broken. Don’t you dare stay away because you think it’s for the best.’

Secrets rose with bile in his throat, and the mask collapsed. ‘What if it is for the best? What if?’ He faltered - then broke. ‘Selena, I’m not -’

That was, of course, when there was another knock on the door, and Scorpius slammed his eyes shut. Shadows returned to their corners, to squat and hiss from afar. ‘That’ll be Albus,’ he croaked. ‘We were going to do lunch.’

Selena looked between him and the door, then rolled her eyes. ‘Merlin knows I’m not getting in the way of your furtive reunion rituals.’

Albus looked wary as he stepped in, like he could smell whatever fizz the air still held of tensions and truths, but Selena swanned over to him like a tea party had just ended, laying a hand on his arm. ‘And it’s lovely to have you back, too, Al,’ she said, and kissed him on the cheek.

Albus grinned at that, and the twist in Scorpius’ gut managed to contort tighter and somehow ease in other places. It kept his mouth shut until Selena had left, but then it was just him and his best friend stood in the hotel suite, and the fizzing in the air hadn’t stopped.

‘Something’s up,’ said Al.

‘About a gazillion somethings,’ said Scorpius, and the obfuscation felt like a lump in his heart. He grimaced and looked away, running a hand through his hair. ‘Al…’

‘What is it?’

‘It’s time we got answers. I need to look for my father, and… I think the first place to look is the Manor.’

Albus straightened. ‘Do you want me with you?’

Guilt and relief burst and mingled like a kaleidoscope inside his chest. ‘To the end.’

Scorpius handled the Apparition, because even if he’d barely been to Malfoy Manor since getting his license, he still knew the place best. Soon enough Albus stared through the wrought-iron gates, up the long drive through the overgrown garden to the shuttered windows and imposing heights of the house and said, awestruck, ‘I’ve never been here.’

‘What?’ Scorpius looked at him, gobsmacked.

‘No, seriously. Remember how we never hung out in the holidays, except for Diagon Alley trips?’

‘We’ve wasted so much time, haven’t we?’ Scorpius sighed.

Albus elbowed him. ‘Then let’s stop wasting.’

The gates opened at the swish of Scorpius’ wand, and something caught in his throat at the creak of metal, so familiar. ‘I thought he’d have taken me off the wards.’

‘I guess if he was funding the job to get you back…’ Albus grimaced as they crunched up the drive. ‘Maybe he kept hope?’

‘I mean before. When I left home. After Phlegethon.’ Scorpius sighed, studying the upstairs windows, the imposing masonry of Malfoy Manor silhouetted against the bright but grey sky. ‘Dad, you messed up bastard.’

‘You can ask him when you find him.’

‘I’m not looking for him so I can ask him questions and put my mind at ease.’ Scorpius shook his head. ‘I’m looking for him because he’s the final piece of the puzzle with the Council of Thorns. There must be so much he knows about their operations, their plans. The Malfoy family has helped this new age of chaos happen, both him and me, and I have to set this right.’

‘You didn’t choose to be brought back with Lethe,’ Albus said roughly. ‘You can’t feel guilty for -’

‘I can use the knowledge I have, the resources I have, to bring in the one of us who did have a choice, though.’ They reached the double doors, and Scorpius considered knocking before he just tried the handle and bellowed, ‘Rigby!’

There was a crack from the other side of the door, right before the Malfoy family House Elf swung it open, eyes wide and dark. ‘Master Scorpius is -’

‘Alive, yes - nobody told you?’ Scorpius’ expression twisted.

Rigby shook his head. ‘Master Draco left abruptly! Then Aurors came, and they looked all over the house - and Rigby couldn’t stop them, Master Scorpius, they had papers -’

‘It’s okay! It’s okay. Bloody hell.’ Scorpius raised his hands to calm down the frenetic House Elf, and he and Albus stepped inside. ‘You did right. You did what you were supposed to. It’s been just you in the Manor, all this week?’

‘Weeks, sir. Mostly. Master Draco spends much time abroad. Not much time here. Rigby sees to the Manor, sir! And now Master Scorpius is back, Rigby can make the bedroom -’

‘That won’t be necessary.’ Scorpius blew his fringe out of his face, pondering. ‘Okay. Rigby, help Al and I look around today. But when you’re done, I want you to close this place down properly, put things in storage and all that, and then you’re taking a holiday.’

Rigby’s big dark eyes filled with tears, and the House Elf tackled his ankles - then let out a wail of despair. ‘A holiday? What has Rigby done wrong -’

‘Nothing wrong! Rigby!’ Scorpius tried to shake off the House Elf’s agonised grip without kicking him into a wall. ‘A paid holiday, Rigby! And I’m raising your pay in compliance with House Elf union guidelines.’

Union -’ Rigby reeled back like Scorpius had just uttered the most vile of curses. ‘No, no, Rigby hates the unions, they undermine the rightful place of the masters…’

Scorpius looked at Albus as Rigby sobbed into his hands. ‘In case you were wondering,’ he sighed, ‘this is a great example of reasons to hate my father. Do you know where Harley’s up to?’

Albus shrugged, visibly torn between sympathy at Rigby’s distress, and faint, guilty amusement at how melodramatic the little House Elf was. ‘I’ve been away.’

‘Right. Of course.’ Scorpius hunkered down so his face and Rigby’s were level, and drew a deep breath. ‘Rigby. Rigby, look at me.’

At the direct order, of course Rigby looked up, still tearful. ‘Rigby is a good elf -’

‘You are. You always have been. And…’ Scorpius sighed, and reached up for the scarf around his neck. It was one of his old ones from school, returned to him by Rose in the box. He pushed that thought to one side as he looped it around Rigby’s neck. ‘You’ve been a free elf all along, I know. But you really are, now. You will always have a job with the Malfoy family so long as I’m around, and now it’s going to be a job with a fair wage, you hear me? And you get that holiday. But I’d like it if you’d see about speaking to Hermione Granger -’

Rigby gave another, distraught sound at the name, but Scorpius saw how his hands curled around the woollen scarf anyway.

‘…and tell her I asked you to speak to her, and that I’d like her to help you. She’ll help you, you know?’

Rigby was still playing with the scarf when he gave a slow, sombre nod. Scorpius knew there was no magic in giving this House Elf clothes; by law, House Elves in Britain were still free, but freedom required choice, and his father had made sure that the family kept things as close to how they’d once been as possible, paying elves who didn’t know better an absolute pittance. There was a strength in the gesture, or so he hoped.

Scorpius smiled at him. ‘Thanks. Now, if you could help us, we’d appreciate it. Is there anywhere in the house the Aurors didn’t go, didn’t find?’ Rigby shook his head silently, and he fought a grimace. ‘Okay. You said Dad hadn’t been here the last few months. Do you know where he was?’

Another shake of the head, and it was Albus who spoke next, voice gentle. ‘Do you know of any jobs he was doing? People he spoke to, work he was doing, things he was… interested in?’

Rigby’s forehead creased. ‘Only one thing, sirs,’ he croaked. ‘Rigby doesn’t know if it’s useful.’

‘Anything you can think of, Rigby.’

‘Well… Master Draco did dig out family records and portraits from storage. Said it was urgent. Important. Only a month ago.’

Scorpius exchanged a glance with Albus, then nodded Rigby onward. ‘Let’s see them, then.’

‘Oh, no, sirs, the room they’re in is so dusty; if Master Scorpius and guest would make themselves comfortable in the parlour, Rigby will bring down everything…’ And without waiting, Rigby turned on the spot and disappeared with a crack.

Albus exhaled in the sudden silence as they tromped towards the dusty parlour. ‘You know what’s messed up? Aunt Hermione really can help him stand on his own two feet, introduce people to show him the whole new way for House Elves. But he’s only going because you’ve asked him to, which in his mind is as good as an order.’

‘I’m ordering him to be free. I’m aware of the irony.’ Scorpius sighed and glanced over. ‘Did you talk to your dad, by the way?’

‘Only a little.’ Albus shifted his feet. ‘I was busy.’

‘Busy?’

‘I spoke to -’ He caught himself, then frowned at the shuttered window. ‘I went to see Eva Saida.’

Scorpius raised an eyebrow. ‘Damned judicious full-naming there, mate.’

‘What?’

‘You call her Eva, that seems intimate. You call her Saida, that seems forcibly cold.’ But Albus flinched at that, and Scorpius winced. ‘Sorry. Are you okay?’

‘She - I don’t know. They’ve locked her up, they’re going to keep her locked up, and if she gets tried and sentenced then she’ll be dead, or Kissed, or in prison forever. And I have no idea how I feel about that.’

The wince deepened. ‘Yeah, that’s a tough one. She was a spy.’

‘And even if she didn’t sell us out to Ager Sanguinis, she still lied and manipulated us for weeks on end.’ Albus’ expression tightened into a mask of conflicted pain. ‘Not to mention all of the shit she did to people before she signed on with us. With the Council, with Thane, with others…’ He caught Scorpius’ expression, and lifted a hand. ‘Don’t you dare, I know what you’re thinking.’

‘What?’

‘You might have been doing shit these past eight months, but you were doing it to fight the Council. I’m not even judging things Eva - Saida - did since Ager Sanguinis, I’m talking about everything she did before that. That wasn’t fighting bad guys, that wasn’t for a cause.’

‘No,’ Scorpius conceded awkwardly. ‘It was just when she was a teen-aged girl overawed and used by Prometheus Thane, who’d never known anything better.’

Albus flinched. ‘That doesn’t make the people she killed any less dead.’

‘No,’ Scorpius said again, and looked away. ‘I guess it doesn’t.’ There was another silence, but he could feel the guilt rolling off Albus in waves. He drew a deep breath. ‘She used to make you smile.’

Another flinch. ‘Don’t -’

‘I mean, I can make you laugh, and grin, but she made you - I never saw you smile like you did with her. This soft, stupid little smile, even if you did it when she’d just blasted a Thornweaver across the room without breaking a sweat…’

‘That was then -’

‘And this is now, and in the now she’s been trying to fight Thornweavers and you’re still torn up about her -’

‘What are you saying?’ Albus rounded on him, voice raising enough to make Scorpius take a step back, even if he knew it wasn’t about him. ‘That I forget she hurt me, I forget she killed people, and I just, what, break her out of jail and sweep her off her feet?’

Scorpius gritted his teeth. ‘I’m saying just what I’ve had drilled into me today; this is our life, here we are, make it matter, make it count, be happy. Maybe you can’t forgive her and I get that. But not letting yourself forgive her because you think it’s not proper is, is…’ His voice trailed off, and the two of them stared at each other while he clutched at thin air for words and points.

Why is it so much easier to tell other people how they’re living their lives wrong?

Crack! Rigby appeared in the middle of the parlour atop a large wooden crate. ‘Rigby has found the records!’ he declared with a beam, oblivious to the tension.

Scorpius looked away from Albus’ hurt, conflicted gaze, and rubbed his temples. ‘Great. Thank you, Rigby, you can - that’ll be all for now.’

Rigby bowed, and Scorpius didn’t have the heart to tell him not to. ‘Rigby will start to close down the Manor, Master Scorpius,’ he said, and disappeared with another crack.

At least that had changed the subject. Scorpius’ lips thinned as he approached the crate and reached to haul it open. ‘Guess we see what Dad was interested in.’

There was clearly quite a lot in the crate, because the portrait was almost at the top. But it was big enough to obscure the rest of the contents, and blue-grey eyes so much like his own peered up at him through oil and canvas.

‘At last,’ declared a voice which didn’t sound that dissimilar to Scorpius’, but was a good deal more cultured and cultivated in its accent. ‘You have no idea how stuffy it is in here.’

Scorpius blinked at the portrait of a blond man with good cheekbones in fine robes. ‘…if you’re not a Malfoy, I’ll eat my hat, but I have no idea who you are…’

The Malfoy ancestor harrumphed. ‘Of course you don’t. Neither did the last one. Let’s always overlook old Cass, hm? Forget all the work he did, toss him to one side as a rake and a fool and assume there was nothing more to him? I know it’s been, what, eighty years almost to the month, but I wouldn’t have thought I’d be that easily tossed aside…’

‘My father spoke with you?’

‘Older fellow, bad hairline, pointier face than you, attitude sour as brimstone? He was most upset I couldn’t help him. I don’t know what he thought I was going to say. I am just a portrait.’

Albus popped his head over Scorpius’ shoulder, peering down at the painted figure. ‘What did you say your name was, again? Cass?’

The portrait straightened to what passed for its full height, looking rather indignant. ‘Friends can call me “Cass”. You can call me Cassian Helios Malfoy -’

And something very familiar but very painful exploded in Scorpius’ skull.

* *


‘This is stupid.’ Matt glared at the stuffed bear on his flat’s coffee table. ‘I feel like a child.’

Rose, stood over him, shifted her weight. ‘We need something you won’t break -’

‘Because picking things up is too hard.’ He extended his arm, the metal prosthetic shimmering in the afternoon light. He’d only been back home for a couple of hours, and already he wanted to break something. ‘So let’s not give the man anything delicate…’

‘You need to practice this.’

‘I know.’ He gritted his teeth, concentrated hard, and managed to force the hand to make a fist. It was strange, having to think about moving. Every other muscle flexed and moved as nature intended, but making this magical prosthetic react as it should took a strange mixture of focusing, and trying to make instinct kick in. Moving individual fingers, subtle manipulations, were beyond him yet, but for the moment, he could grab stuff. And then -

The bear dropped. ‘Son of a bitch -’

‘It’s okay!’ Rose rushed to pick up the toy. ‘It’s fine, Matt, it’s fine, you can take your -’

He got to his feet quickly enough to rock the table, and she stepped back, lips thinning. ‘I know it’s fine - but it’s not fine, this is stupid and embarrassing and I don’t need you watching me while I fail to pick things up.’

She straightened, jaw tightening. Her eyes were less guarded these days, he thought, and he could see the flash of hurt across her face. Good, he thought without guilt. I didn’t think I could hurt you. I didn’t think you cared enough. ‘I’m trying to help.’

‘You can help by not hovering over me like I’m going to fall apart if I walk across the room. My hand’s gone, not my legs. I can still pick up a toy with my left hand.’ Defiantly, he snatched up the stuffed bear, and then he realised this was an achievement for his wasted body. ‘Fuck’s sake, I’m not an invalid!’

He hurled the bear at the wall, though there was no satisfaction to be drawn from throwing a stuffed toy around. There was no clatter, it just hit the floor and lay there, betrayed and abandoned, and so he had to give Rose a reproachful look. The glint in her eye didn’t help, not with the unspoken answer it held.

You are an invalid.

Fine,’ he spat. ‘But I don’t need your pity.’

‘I don’t pity you -’

‘Yes! Yes, you do, that’s exactly how you’re looking at me.’

Rose drew a slow breath, and he was gratified to hear the edge of frustration. ‘I’m trying to help,’ she repeated.

‘I didn’t ask you to! And I certainly didn’t ask you to by supervising my exercises, like I might fall over if I did them wrong!’

She opened her mouth - then shut it, sighed, and that old mask descended, dragging away all emotion. ‘I’m sorry. It wasn’t my intention to be coddling -’

‘No -’ His throat tightened, but anger reigned more than disapproval. ‘Don’t shut down like that, don’t give up - I’m furious, I’m hurt, I’m unreasonable, and you’re just backing down, and - and keep yelling, damn it!’

Rose stepped back with a startled look. ‘What?’

‘When did we last argue? Yell?’

‘You’re saying that like it’s a good thing if we have an argument while you’re hurt, recovering -’

‘I am not made of glass!’ he snapped, throwing his hands in the air. The gesture was genuine, but felt clunky with the metal prosthetic. ‘Nor are you. But we’ve acted like that for years, haven’t we, like if we raised our voices or got upset or frustrated with each other, then the sky might fall in…’

Her eyes widened - then she closed the distance, reached out for his good left hand. ‘Matt, this isn’t about us. You don’t need to pick a fight or stand your ground or - or do something stupid to make a connection. You have my attention. My focus. I want to help you, support you…’

His shoulders slumped, stump throbbing. ‘I know,’ he sighed. ‘This is just… frustrating.’

She tried a smile, and it was awkward and hesitant in a way she hadn’t looked in years, because her gaze had stopped being that honest unless it was honest anguish. He couldn’t feel comforted by that. He was not the one who had summoned her sincerity. ‘And I’m here for you. Every step, you know?’

Matt swallowed. ‘Have you been to see him?’ He didn’t really want to know the answer.

Rose’s gaze dropped, a response and admission of something all at once, even if that something was a mere thought. ‘I gave him his stuff back. It’s his, I guess. Not mine.’

‘Did you talk?’

‘A bit. What’s there to say?’

Thump thump thump thump -

‘Is someone trying to beat the door off its hinges?’ Matt lunged to his feet at the knocking, good hand reaching for his wand, but Rose waved him down.

‘I’ll get it,’ she said, but the hammering didn’t stop until she pulled the door open.

Albus stood with one fist raised to knock, other arm slung around the dazed and barely-standing form of Scorpius Malfoy. ‘We need your help.’



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