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Chapter 17 : In Mine Own Realm
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Albus didn’t wait for a response before he dragged Scorpius in, gaze sweeping around the flat in a calm, authoritative manner. ‘Nice place. Nice sofa,’ he decided, and dumped Scorpius on it.
‘What the hell is going on?’ Matt hadn’t put down his wand as he stalked over. ‘What’s happened?’
‘This should look familiar to you,’ Albus said to Rose like Matt wasn’t there. ‘Because it’s a lot like what happened after you partially undid that rough Obliviation on him three years ago. I think something’s triggered buried or erased memories and it’s having an effect.’
‘The effect being he falls over?’ Matt looked critically at Scorpius, who was conscious but pale, stirring only weakly.
‘M’not fallin’ over,’ he slurred. ‘Al carried me - you don’t need to -’
‘We could fuss around with potions again,’ said Albus, talking over him. ‘Or I thought I’d take him to an accomplished Legilimens who might be able to deal with this in a more sophisticated manner.’
‘A Legilimens - Al, I’m massively out of practice!’ Rose said. ‘Why aren’t you taking him to Saint Mungo’s, or Mum, or…’
‘Because he’s worried what a Legilimens is going to dig out of his memories,’ said Matt, expression flat. ‘Scorpius has been allowed to walk free on trust and politics, and a Legilimens is going to get every opportunity to look into the last eight months, the last two years. And if there’s something in there he should be locked up for, a Legilimens in authority might make that happen.’
Albus’ expression didn’t change, his eyes still on Rose. ‘I came to you because I trust you.’
‘So, what I just said,’ Matt muttered.
Al’s gaze snapped over. ‘I’m not asking anyone to make promises or guarantees -’
‘But you don’t have to,’ Matt retorted, ‘do you? Not with her, not when it comes to him.’
‘I think that’s her choice.’
Matt eyeballed the ceiling. ‘Choice,’ he mused, ‘isn’t the word I’d use.’
Rose’s jaw tightened. ‘Will both of you shut up? He’s here, he’s clearly not alright, so I’m going to take a look at him.’
Scorpius’ eyelids fluttered open as she knelt by the sofa, and he lifted a hand to clumsily grab his wrist. ‘No,’ he croaked. ‘Not you.’
She looked up to Al. ‘I’m not doing this without his permission.’
Albus stepped over and caught Scorpius’ eye, stony-faced. ‘Mate, you need help, you flipped out when you saw that portrait, when you heard that name…’
‘What portrait?’ said Rose. ‘What name? What was the trigger?’
‘We found a portrait of an ancestor of his that Draco Malfoy had been looking into, someone called Cassian Malfoy…’
That seemed to send a fresh wave of pain through Scorpius, and he inhaled sharply through his nostrils, clenched his jaw. ‘Bugger it,’ he groaned after a moment. ‘You just need to - if I’m blocking you out of certain things, you stay out, alright?’
Rose’s lips thinned. ‘If I can tell what’s you blocking me out and what’s something else blocking, I will respect that. But if you want me to help you…’
His hand at her wrist let go, and Scorpius slumped back on the sofa, eyes shutting. ‘Fine,’ he grunted. ‘Let’s get this done.’
The grey wasteland was as dreary and bland as ever before. No wind howled, no dust stirred, and on the horizon was nothing more than the hint of jagged peaks that promised to be impassable.
Rose didn’t care. Nothing was impassable to her here. She looked across the chessboard at Scorpius, sat in a tall-backed leather armchair that matched hers, an eyebrow quirked. It was like a strange dream turned to reality; surreal as her subconscious, and yet nowhere near as haunting.
When he’d been in her dreams, they didn’t include boardgames.
‘I thought we agreed we weren’t going to try chess again.’ Scorpius no longer looked pained, drawn, and he wore a flash of a smile as he leaned forwards. ‘It didn’t go well last time.’
‘It went very well,’ said Rose, remembering a lazy afternoon after the Phlegethon Crisis where very little of the game had been played. ‘For me. There are two ways this goes. You surrender, and I see everything. Or you resist, and I beat you, and I still see everything.’
‘You say that like there’s no other option,’ Scorpius said, and moved a pawn. ‘This was Albus’ idea.’
Her jaw tightened. ‘I’m not going to force myself in. I’m trying to help you. Why are you keeping me out?’
‘Maybe there are things you shouldn’t see.’
‘Things I shouldn’t see?’ She moved a piece. ‘Or things you don’t want me to see?’
‘Aren’t those one and the same?’
She looked up to meet those blue-grey eyes, breath catching in her throat. Except it wasn’t, because she had no breath here, because this wasn’t real. All of this was a construct of their combined imaginations, a framework around which she could pierce his defences and get to the memories underneath.
Which meant she wasn’t really testing her chess skills against his.
‘You’ve been trained in Occlumency,’ she said, looking at the board.
‘Yes.’ He sounded apologetic. ‘I’m not entirely trying to keep you out. There’s instinct at work, too. Occlumency wouldn’t be much good if you could only defend when you were thinking about it.’
‘And you’re hiding stuff you don’t want me to see.’
Scorpius inclined his head. ‘That too.’
‘How am I supposed to help you if you’re fighting me?’ She scowled. ‘I didn’t ask for this. Trust me, delving into your mind is not my idea of a good time.’
‘You’re right. I’m sorry.’ Scorpius stared at the board, then moved a pawn again - a place where she could easily take it. ‘I’m only partly trying to be difficult.’
‘I suppose if you weren’t trying to be difficult,’ she said as she took the pawn, ‘you wouldn’t be you.’
A dark room. Cold stone walls. Somewhere gloomy. Grey skies. Rain thudding down on the roof. A kitchen?
‘We couldn’t have anticipated this,’ Prometheus Thane says, arms folded across his chest, face etched in rock as harsh as their surroundings.
‘Really?’ says Scorpius, voice dripping with tension. ‘Because we knew they’ve got Lethe, we knew they’d use it. We should have seen this coming.’
‘I didn’t think they’d make abducting Selena Rourke a secret. I thought they’d want the world to know -’
‘Well, they didn’t! So now we’ve got to do something.’ Scorpius rounds on Thane, bristling, anger and frustration and guilt and helplessness flowing through his veins. ‘Nobody else is going to.’
Thane looks at him, impassive as ever. ‘We’re in this business to stop the Council of Thorns. Not rescue -’
‘The daughter of the Chairman of the IMC?’
‘Your friend. This is personal. You left personal behind.’
Scorpius steps back, chest heaving. ‘Yeah. But the world’s bloody changing, isn’t it.’
‘I don’t know what we can do to -’
‘You’re under the impression,’ Scorpius snarls, ‘that I’m asking for this operation. I’m telling you. We can’t stop Lethe worldwide, but it’s for the good of so many people that Selena Rourke’s free. At the least, we can find out what Raskoph wants from her, and maybe finding her finds us Raskoph. We’re doing this.’
Thane arches an eyebrow. ‘When did you get the impression you could tell me to do anything, Malfoy?’
‘I’m not an idiot. You broke me out for a reason. You let me help you for a reason. Maybe you reckon you can manipulate my father, maybe there’s something with the Chalice, but I’m not some tag-along. So I’m calling in whatever this is. We rescue Selena Rourke, or I promise you, Thane, I will not help you with a bloody thing again.’
And the grey rushed back in with a gust of air, and no more was she behind Scorpius’ eyes.
He dropped his gaze. ‘I was supposed to stay away. I would have done, if it weren’t for Selena. But we had resources, contacts; it’s one thing to stay away and fight the Council, it’s another thing to not help when I can.’ Only awkwardly did he look up. ‘Like in the Hogsmeade alleyway.’
Rose’s chest tightened. ‘I didn’t thank you for that.’
‘Since when,’ said Scorpius in a low, sad voice, ‘did you have to thank me for that kind of thing?’
‘I don’t know. You did manage to stay away, after all,’ she said, not meeting his gaze.
When he answered, his voice was low, gravelly. ‘Yeah. It wasn’t easy.’
She took another pawn.
Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters. Warmer, now, a soft breeze bringing the fumes of London amid the fumes of the trains.
He stands at the edge of a crowd, a body he can feel isn’t his own, watching with eyes that aren’t his own. And he can see them, see them for the first time in the flesh, so close, though he’s invisible to them. A face they have no reason to linger on.
But he lingers. He lingers as he sees all that’s there and all that isn’t; no Albus, and no eyes searching for him, nobody wondering if he’ll be there, if he’s running late. That Albus won’t board the Hogwarts Express is as accepted as the fact that Scorpius Malfoy won’t, either.
Scorpius Malfoy is watching, unseen. Watching as his old housemates wave goodbye like it’s business as usual, trials and losses swept to one side by the average student. Watching as Oakes, Bellamy, Hollis descend the train and trundle to their families, the only Slytherin boys their age left.
Then there’s Selena, stood next to Miranda and Abena, all as beautiful as ever, poised as ever, perfect as ever. He can see the distance in her eyes, hear the echo in her voice when she tosses her head back and laughs. It’s not the repression and denial of the weeks after Methuselah’s death. She’s healing around the hole still in her. And she keeps her distance from them.
Them, Matt bounding off the train with a wistful look in his eye, reaching up to help Rose clamber down even if she’s perfectly capable of doing such by herself. But she takes his hand, and Scorpius can tell in that moment it’s not about misplaced chivalry as they don’t break contact, as their fingers entwine, and he tugs her back before she can head off to their families.
He can’t hear them, can’t hear what Matt murmurs to her as he leans in, but the meaning of the kiss afterwards is clear. It’s a more private goodbye before they’re back to families and home life and that separation, and he does it as easy as breathing.
She kisses him back like she needs him to breathe, and Scorpius turns away, away from the friends who don’t need him, away from what’s blossomed in his absence, away from the rifts he’s left behind. He shoulders his way through the crowd, gets to the exit, and once back on the Muggle station he tromps for the street.
There’s a car waiting for him, its enchantments invisible to the average man, and he sits in the passenger seat and slams the door. ‘Fine.’ He’s got a while before the Polyjuice wears off, but it’s relieving, for this minute, to not be Scorpius Malfoy, because Scorpius Malfoy is burning inside. ‘We’ll do it your way.’
The look Prometheus Thane, sat in the driver’s seat, gives him is actually sympathetic. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘You were right. I knew you were right. Now I’ve seen it.’ Scorpius waves a hand. ‘Let the dead man fight for the living.’
Thane keys the ignition. ‘It’ll be easier.’
‘Yeah.’ Scorpius slumps against the car window, watches as King’s Cross drags away from view. Easier, he thinks. For them.
Rose could taste his pain and bitterness, fresh in her mouth as on that day, and she had to pull away from the chessboard. ‘You watched us.’
Scorpius’ expression was pain etched into granite as he stared at the pieces. ‘I was always free to leave Thane. I think he wanted me on-side so he could use me against my father, if it became necessary. But he told me I had nothing to go back to. I didn’t disbelieve him, but I needed to see for myself.’ His gaze flickered up, colder and greyer in this land, so much more his father’s eyes. ‘I did.’
‘Matt and I - I didn’t rush into -’
‘You don’t have to explain not draping yourself in mourning black forever, Rose.’ He moved a pawn. ‘So which of my secrets do you try to pop open next?’
Her lips thinned, and she looked at the board. ‘This would be easier if you just let me in. I’m not here for what happened since you… woke up. I need to look deeper.’
‘If I don’t control this search, you get everything.’ His shoulders sagged, and he moved a bishop to a dangerous place. ‘This might help you understand.’
Heart in her throat, her knight took it.
Blood on his knuckles, blood on the desk, blood trickling from the corner of Holga’s mouth. Pain throbs through his hand, but it has to be worse for Holga, whose head slumps forward. No more does he struggle at the bindings keeping him trapped to his desk chair.
‘You know, we’ve done this dance a lot, I’m getting really tired of the steps.’ Scorpius hunkers down to be at eye level with the other man. ‘Can we have a new beat? Something a bit jazzier?’ He waggles his hands.
Holga spits out a tooth. ‘Fuck you.’
‘That’s not how you turn a fellow down when he asks for a dance.’ He slams his fist on Holga’s wrist, tethered to the armchair, and Holga hollers and swears as already-broken bones grind together. ‘Go on. Let it out. Your privacy wards will make sure we’re not interrupted.’
‘You’re… you’re in trouble.’ Holga’s breathing comes ragged, hoarse once he gathers himself. His eyes slam shut. ‘Thane’s gone too far. I’m a Counsellor of the IMC -’
‘You’re a comedian, then!’ Scorpius smiles with false delight. ‘As well as a bad dancer. But you’re not a Counsellor of the IMC. Real Counsellors of the IMC don’t give information to Thornweaver Erik Geiger. You’re a spy.’
‘And what the fuck are you, then?’
‘I’m the guy asking the questions.’ The smile fades, and Scorpius leans in. ‘I’m the guy who can ask what the IMC won’t, how the IMC won’t. They’ve got all these rules, you see. The people I work for? We’re a bit more… how shall I put it? Footloose and fancy-free.’
Holga’s gaze met his, dark, blazing. ‘You’re crazy.’
‘That would make this easier, wouldn’t it.’ Scorpius turns away and reaches for the black duffel bag he’s brought in with him. He doesn’t need many tools for this job, but the wand’s out of the question, so work has become crude. ‘For both of us. But it doesn’t matter. You’re going to tell me exactly what you told Geiger.’
He makes a farce of dangling his hand over the bag, letting Holga cook over what he’ll bring out, and his sense of theatrics - the whimsy that has been his mask for so many problems in his life and is now helping him keep his nerve, not throw up, and do the job - says it’s time to be anti-climactic. He can ratchet it up later.
So he only pulls out a small knife.
The nausea in Rose’s gut was definitely not just borrowed, and she fell from the chair this time, on her hands and knees, gulping huge lung-fulls of false, imaginary air. It only did so much to settle the churning in her stomach, heart, mind. ‘What the hell -’
‘Victor Holga, Danish Counsellor to the IMC.’ Scorpius’ voice was bland. ‘He passed on information about a relief mission going to the Azores after the strike in April. The Council was going to hit the team, wipe them out, compound the loss with despair and fear - make it clear people couldn’t even be helped. But we didn’t know that at first. We’d been watching Holga a while, we knew he’d leaked something to Geiger, and we knew the Thornweavers were rallying a team for something, but we didn’t know what. So we had to ask Holga.’
‘You beat him, you cut him…’
‘IMC security can be amazing sometimes.’ When she looked up at Scorpius, his gaze was distant, detached. ‘We could get me in, but we couldn’t extract me with Holga. And the security wards around his office would give us privacy, but they’d go off the moment spells started to fly, especially Legilimency. So I did it by hand.’
‘By “it”, you mean torture.’ Rose clutched the chair to get back to her feet. ‘I don’t need to see the rest, I can feel the rest -’
‘What else was I supposed to do?’ Scorpius shoved himself upright, expression twisting. ‘Even if I had a wand, I’m no Legilimens. Should I have asked him nicely? And if he said, “no”, let the twenty members of that relief team get slaughtered?’
‘The IMC -’
‘Did not suspect him. Even if we tipped them off, we didn’t have enough of a smoking gun to make them act quickly enough. There would have been fuss and procedure and then it would have been too late!’ His shoulders slumped. ‘It’s not their fault. They’re supposed to play by the rules, but the Council exploits that. It’s why they recruited Holga, he was in a good position and above reproach. But someone had to do something.’
‘Someone who didn’t care about rules.’ She couldn’t look right at him, just his shoulder. ‘Someone like Prometheus Thane.’
‘You didn’t care about rules when you went after Selena. You didn’t care about rules when we all went after the Chalice.’
‘I didn’t torture and then murder a man - yes, I read about Victor Holga being found dead in his office!’
Scorpius’ lips thinned. ‘What was I supposed to do after that? Hope he didn’t mention to the Council that their information was compromised, so they made a different attack a different day?’
‘You weren’t supposed to be as bad as them! We’re supposed to be the good guys, we’re supposed to have a moral high ground -’
‘And so people like me, people like Thane, could do what the IMC wouldn’t, shouldn’t. What I did was efficient. I don’t pretend it was right. But someone needed to do these things, and who better than the dead man?’ He sat down, expression again like granite. ‘I told you there were things you shouldn’t see.’
‘And what was that, a taster?’ Rose sank onto her chair across from him, jaw tight. ‘Scaring me off now? It gets worse?’
His gaze dropped. ‘Yeah. It gets worse.’
‘None of this is getting us closer to Cassian Malfoy, though. So you can cooperate, or -’
‘Like hell.’ Scorpius moved a knight. ‘Let’s play.’
He doesn’t know how long he’s been in this cell. It’s been his life and death and day and night, ever since he woke up.
Woke up. It’s easier to think of it like that, like he’s been sleeping. Not brought back from the dead by Council lunatics.
They’ve ripped Lethe out of him and cured him and he’s still here, this research centre, this prison, to be poked and prodded, because he’s done what nobody’s ever done before - come back from the dead after all hope was lost. Brought back to give them a weapon. Brought back to languish in their ‘care.’
When the door swings open and in steps Thane, Scorpius is on his feet in a heartbeat, fists clenching. He knows it’s useless, but defiance is all he’s got left. ‘You -’
Thane lifts his hands, expression flat. ‘Be quiet. I’m not here to hurt you.’
‘I’m not answering questions. I’m not cooperating. I’m not weak as a kitten any more -’
‘If I wanted to make you do something, I could. Don’t deceive yourself, boy, you are the prisoner of the Council of Thorns, and nobody, nobody is coming for you.’ Thane’s jaw is tight. ‘So you can clench your fists at me all you like and pretend you’re making a difference, pretend going down fighting makes you any less dead, or you can sit down, shut up, and listen.’
‘Why the hell should I listen to anything you’ve got to say?’
‘I don’t know. Maybe because I’ve resurrected you?’
‘So you can get the fucking virus out of me -’
‘There is so, so much more at play than Lethe. Not that Raskoph can see that. But Raskoph is mad and Raskoph is a fool and Raskoph really does want you dead now he’s got Lethe, so you can listen to me, or I can go and you can deal with him.’
Being dead’s been like the deepest sleep with the most intense dreams, except he can’t remember more than a whisper of them. Or perhaps this is the dream, this half-life he’s had dangled before him, which he knows they can take away at any moment and it’ll be all for nothing.
He lowers his fists. ‘Talk.’
‘I am not so cruel as to give a man a second chance at life and then put him down like a dog just because I don’t need him any more.’ Thane speaks in a low, grating, urgent voice as he steps over. ‘And speaking of dogs, I am not Raskoph’s dog.’
‘You did this for him, this impossible, insane, brilliant magic.’ Scorpius jerks a thumb at his chest. ‘My breathing again is your trick for your master. Does he give you treats?’
‘This wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for the Chalice of Emrys. Your death was a perfect storm; this feat cannot be repeated. It didn’t happen just because I’m brilliant, it happened because it could. If I hadn’t done it, someone else would have, someone for Raskoph, and that someone would obey the kill order on you he just gave.’
Scorpius narrows his eyes, his heart thudding in his chest like it wants to make the most of this second chance. ‘Are you here to convince me you’re not so bad a guy before you put me down? That it makes you feel really bad? Because, I gotta tell you, it makes me feel bad, too.’
‘I’ve done my job. I’ve brought you back. I’ve given them Lethe, and the Chalice of Emrys. They don’t need you any more.’ Thane meets his gaze. ‘And I don’t them any more. So.’ He stalks to the cell door and yanks it open. ‘You can leave with me and live, or stay with the Council and die.’
‘I don’t understand.’
‘I’m leaving the Council. Raskoph is insane, you know this, and the world has got worse since you’ve been out of it. I got into this job for a lot of reasons, but those have all dried up. I stuck it out to finish Project Osiris, to get you back. My service to them is done. Now comes the war.’
‘You’re turning on the Council?’
‘That doesn’t wholly surprise you. I gave you the Resurrection Stone back in Hogwarts.’
‘My father ordered you to do that -’
‘I got into the Council for people like him. Moderates who would pay me. Those moderates don’t call the shots any more. The Council is of monsters. I’m not a good man, but I am a man, and men fight monsters. Come with me. Fight.’
Scorpius’s hands drop by his sides. ‘This is insane.’
‘It is. And we can talk about the rest later. But, for now, all you have to do is trust that I’m going to get you out of this place alive. Or you can take your chances with the men in this place who are loyal to Raskoph.’
‘Me. Trust you.’ He has to laugh. ‘Since when was that going to happen?’
‘Since you don’t have a choice.’ Thane jerks a thumb at the door. ‘Right now, the guards are my men. We’ll leave this place together and figure out what comes next, next. Lethe’s come back, and it’s going to hurt people. If you don’t leave with me, you’ll just come back and die and nobody will know, and a lot of people will suffer. In five minutes, the shift changes, and you’re a dead man. Again.’
Scorpius’ jaw tightens. ‘I don’t have a choice, do I.’
‘You will. When we’re gone from here, I promise you’ll have a choice. I intend to fight the Council. You can join me, you can go home, you can disappear. But that’s about living, and that comes later. For now, let’s focus on surviving.’ Thane extends a hand. ‘Come with me.’
It was less nauseating to return to the grey landscape this time, but Rose still closed her eyes as she took a deep, cleansing breath. ‘He really did break you out of Council hands.’
Scorpius nodded, slumped in his chair. ‘We were in Tibet. There was a location like Ager Sanguinis there - a place where the walls were weaker, but there wasn’t a Veil. The mountainside was covered in Dementors when we broke out. But we left the Council, and never came back.’
‘And you trusted him?’
‘I trusted him more than I trusted Raskoph. Raskoph clearly would kill me; he’d got what he wanted out of my resurrection with Lethe back. So I didn’t have much of a choice.’
‘What about when you did?’
Scorpius looked across the chessboard at her. ‘We covered this. I believed he wanted to fight the Council. I couldn’t go back. This seemed like the best compromise.’
Rose’s hands threatened to shake, not from anxiety but anger. ‘And then what? When the war’s over, you were just going to waltz back -’
‘I figured that there was a damned good chance I’d get killed, actually,’ said Scorpius without inflection. ‘But Lethe is back in the world and killing people because I’m still breathing. Yes, I decided that the most important thing I could do was fight the Council.’ He leaned forwards, hands on the edge of the chessboard. ‘Were we going to play?’
She moved her bishop, he backed off his rook. ‘I’m only feeling the slimmest thread to Cassian Malfoy.’
‘I can’t help you with that. I don’t remember the guy.’
‘The thread goes back. Further and further.’
‘You’ve gone almost as far back as you can. I wasn’t in the Council facility for that long before Thane broke me out. I sure as hell didn’t study a Malfoy family tree inside a cell.’
‘Then maybe,’ said Rose, moving a knight, ‘this is from before.’
Scorpius’ jaw tightened. ‘I don’t - I don’t remember anything from when I was dead. I didn’t want to say this to Selena, but I’m not sure there is anything.’
Rose gave a small sigh, and remembered her Uncle Fred. ‘There’s something.’ Then she frowned at the board. ‘What are you doing with that rook?’
‘I told you,’ said Scorpius. ‘You don’t get to see everything.’
‘If I’m going to figure out things about Cassian Malfoy -’
‘This has nothing to do with him.’
‘How do you know?’
‘Because I know what it is. Or do you want to see the bad shit I’ve done again?’ Scorpius ground his teeth together. ‘Do you want it rubbed in your face that I’ve changed?’
Rose planted her knight in prime position to threaten his rook. ‘So have I.’
Scorpius stared at the board, stared at the rook in danger, and sighed. ‘I suppose we’ll see,’ he said, and his bishop took her knight. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘You wanted - hey, what’s this?’
Of course the view of the stars atop the Astronomy Tower is perfect. Of course Orion’s shining bright tonight. Of course it’s worked out like this. But she turns away from the tapestry of loss and memories, looks to the stairway where Matt’s just appeared, bewildered.
‘I… I wanted to talk to you.’ Rose pads over, wringing her hands together. ‘I owe you some apologies. And explanations.’
Matt’s expression creases, shoulders tensing as she approaches. ‘I think I can figure out the explanations. And you never need to apologise to me. I should apologise to you, I didn’t mean for things to go so far.’
‘You didn’t do anything.’
‘I almost…’ Matt sighs and stomps past her, goes to the railing and grips it tight. ‘I’m your friend, forever, and I’m always here to help you. Whatever you need.’
‘I know.’ She forces her feet to move, and every step thuds with a whispered word, traitor. ‘You’ve always been here when I needed you. You’ve always done what I needed.’ She reaches to put a hand to his arm when she joins him, feels him tense under her touch. ‘Like wait for me.’
His grey eyes lock on her, but they’re a darker grey than Scorpius’, a rock to his gemstones. ‘This isn’t about that,’ Matt whispers. ‘It can’t be.’
He tugs his arm back, cautious but not cruel, and her fingertips ache at the absence, an ache that’s been in her for so long she doesn’t know how it’s not drowned her yet. And in all this time, he’s the only thing that feels like fresh air; not salvation, not yet, but flotsam in a storm.
The storm’s not over, but he’s been the only thing which makes her think she can survive it. ‘There’s only one thing you’ve done wrong, Matt.’
‘Yes,’ says Matt, and he can’t look at her any more, just glare at the night-sky beyond the Astronomy Tower. ‘And it’s called almost kissing you last night.’
‘You’re right.’ He tries to step back, but she grabs him by his jacket, locks him in place, and she closes the distance. ‘I didn’t want you to almost kiss me.’
And he’s frozen when her lips touch his, a statue that only melts when her hands run across his shoulders, pull him closer, coax and lure him. Only when he’s no longer ice does a shudder run through him, a shiver of ache and pain and shock and want, and then he’s kissing her back, kissing her like he’s stood atop a crumbling wall; he wants to be careful, gentle, but he also wants to kiss her like she’s never been kissed, kiss her like he’s dreamt of doing a thousand times, kiss her like he can make one kiss as perfect as a kiss can be.
It’s not perfect, because the wind still howls in her, the pain still stabs in her chest. But she’s not drowning any more.
The storm rages on, but he can be her anchor. The storm rages on, but the skies are clear, and Orion shines down.
‘You -’ Rose rocked back in her chair as the grey barren wasteland came rushing back, and she clutched her chest. ‘You had no right -’
‘You’re in my head, turnabout is fair play,’ grunted Scorpius, ashen-faced.
‘I’ve been asked to do this! To help you! But I can’t help you if you fight me, and I didn’t sign up so you could -’
‘So I could see you move on? Trust me, that was not top of my wish list.’
Rose drew a slow, shaking breath. ‘Can we just get this done?’
‘Sure,’ said Scorpius. ‘Move a piece.’
Trying to take that rook was all she could do, the only tactical move that made any sense. But he still snapped the rook away, protected it like it was a queen, and she pursued, encircled, drove him back and back, until -
‘Fine,’ said Scorpius. ‘There’s only one way this goes, isn’t there?’ And he moved his king so that her most sensible move wasn’t to pursue the rook, but to slide her knight into checkmate.
Rose stared at the rook. ‘This makes no kinds of sense.’
‘It does,’ Scorpius said. ‘You just don’t get to see every little bit of me any more.’ And he toppled his king.
Rushing darkness, a swirling void of shadows and voices and feelings and thought, pain and laughter and joy and loss, and for so long he’s been unaware of it, just lived in it, been part of the vortex like a single drop is a part of the ocean. Only now he’s taking form again, being dredged out from the abyss -
- no, it’s not an abyss, it’s everything, it’s every feeling and every bliss, shared and combined and -
- he has a body again, and he’s tumbling upwards, out of the ocean, back towards the light -
Voices call out to him, some he knows, some he doesn’t, and he flails as he’s dragged out of the sea, grabs at hands that are half-formed of feeling.
‘Tell her -’
‘Tell them -’
‘I’m sorry -’
‘Just one more -’
But they belong here, the voices and the feeling, and so they’re a million different thoughts and regrets that envy him his ascent. He knows there’s joy here, satisfied reflection and acceptance, but it’s sunken at the bottom of the ocean, settled, content.
His tumble back to light is stirring only the regrets and loss.
‘I can’t!’ he bellows into the void. ‘I can’t tell them, I’m sorry!’
Then his hand hits something solid, and he knows the irony of this. The only solid things in here are incomplete, because they can’t surrender to the ocean while they wait for a part of themselves.
‘You’re going back,’ says a voice that sounds familiar, though he’s never met them in his life or death. He knows those eyes, he knows that face; when he was alive, he saw them in the mirror every day. ‘You have to -’
‘I can’t do the whims of some bloody Malfoy ghost!’ Scorpius yells into the abyss.
‘You’re going back to fight,’ urges the shadow. ‘The Council, Raskoph - part of me’s back there, trapped there. You have to stop him, you must stop him -’
‘What the hell -’
‘Find me!’ hollers the shadow. ‘It was his doing, finish my work!’
‘Your work -’
‘Raskoph, the war. Free me, let me finish my work, find me!’
Cassian, murmurs the mouthless voices of the abyss. Cassian Malfoy, scion of his house, a soul trapped here because too much of him lingers in the light.
The light, the light dragging Scorpius up, up, out of the ocean, out of the vortex, and now he’s not falling up, he’s climbing, clawing while the vortex howls beneath him, because nobody escapes. Even when it’s quiet, even when he’s not a regretful soul, even when he’s adrift in the ocean with his joys and his victories and his peace, nobody escapes.
Except Scorpius Malfoy.
‘Come back,’ calls a voice from above, and it’s a voice of warmth and trust and conviction, a voice of safety, and Scorpius scrabbles upwards because no son can ignore his mother’s call.
‘Stay,’ urge the masses below, the envious wanting to be in his place, the peaceful urging him to let go his burdens, the hateful wishing him pain.
‘We need you,’ call the voices above, Albus and Rose and Lockett and others, even his father.
‘You’ve earned your rest,’ chimes the chorus below, Methuselah and Tim and the rest.
His foothold in his climb slips, and Scorpius grits his teeth. ‘Up,’ he whispers to himself, seeing the light glimmering ahead, hearing the voices. ‘Up, you’re going, move…’
For those calling. For their need, for their belief, to see them again, to laugh with them again, to love them again.
For Rose. Rose, Rose, and her name becomes a mantra with every dragging foothold as he clambers up from darkness to the light.
Bright light, blinding light, all-consuming, and then he’s not in the vortex any more, he’s cold and he’s still and he’s somewhere white and sterile and quiet, without a thousand clamouring voices or a thousand soothing feelings. Air rushes into his lungs and it feels like dust is kicked up with the breath, and Scorpius plants his hands on solid ground, feels muscles quiver across his body, muscles he’s not used to needing.
Hands grab his shoulders, firm and warm, and he collapses into them because he’s not used to needing his body. He’s slumped on his back, dead weight in a firm embrace, and the voice that calls to him is still that mingling of his mother, his loved ones, even though he knows it’s not real.
‘Welcome back, Scorpius.’
A rumble ran through the grey wasteland, and Rose jerked up, breath catching. Scorpius’ hands gripped the armrests, knuckles white, and even as the ground quaked, for long moments they could only stare at each other.
‘Cassian Malfoy,’ said Scorpius. ‘He’s still a ghost in this world? And he knew Raskoph? Maybe -’ Then the ground quaked again, and the chess table tumbled over. He lunged to his feet. ‘You need to go.’
Rose nodded, pushing the chair away, standing. ‘We’ve got what we need.’ But her feet didn’t move, nor did her will stir to drag her from this place, not yet. ‘Scorpius -’
‘Go!’ yelled Scorpius, and the grey landscape exploded into blinding dust and shards of rocks as he finally ejected her from his mind.
It was not a smooth exit. It was all tumbling thoughts as the magics connecting their minds broke down, and Rose had to scrabble her way through to keep track of what was hers and what was his, to extricate herself with the least damage to either one of them now everything collapsed.
Which wasn’t easy when so much of what she had to drag herself through to get out was her.
‘I’ll come back every time -’
‘You’re in my head, under my skin - in every thought, in every breath, and I protected myself because if you left you wouldn’t be tearing away from me, you’d be tearing out of me.’
‘I love you. That’s what I should have promised I’d say, so I’m saying it now, before the next disaster happens, before the next interruption -’
‘I’m not just being cute. To hell with arguments. To hell with it all. To hell with golem-dragons and Prometheus Thane and Eridanos itself if it comes to it; nothing will keep me from you.’
‘I’ll be okay. I’ll come back. Every time.’
She could breathe, maybe, feel her own body and her own lungs and feel reality instead of the echoes of them rumbling through Scorpius’ mind. ‘You can’t promise that,’ she remembered saying, almost the last thing she’d said to him.
‘Don’t care. It’s a promise.’
And then she was in the flat she shared with Matthias Doyle, knelt with only inches between her and Scorpius Malfoy. His eyelids fluttered open, eyes bluer in the light, and his expression was barely more focused than it had been when Albus had dragged him in.
‘I promised,’ he croaked, throat parched. ‘I’m sorry…’
She flew back like she’d been stung, lunged to her feet and tucked her wand away, and stumbled for composure when she looked at Albus and Matt. ‘I - we have answers.’