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Chapter 18 : O Earth That Soundest Hollow Under Me
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‘I’m not sure why I’m here,’ said Selena, looking around the flat with a guarded expression.
‘If I said,’ started Scorpius, looking a lot better now he’d had a sit down and a glass of water, ‘that I needed your help, and that it was important, what would you say?’
‘I’d ask for an explanation,’ blurted out Matt, and despite the flash of aggravation, Rose had to accept it was a sensible answer.
‘Maybe we should all sit,’ she said, spotting Albus’ frustrated expression. ‘I get the feeling there’s a lot of catch-up we need to play. All of us.’
‘I’d hoped it wouldn’t come to this.’ Scorpius rubbed his temples. ‘I guess I’d been hoping the IMC would deal with the Chalice, the Council, Lethe. Raskoph. Everything.’
‘Why were you trusting them now,’ said Matt, stiff-backed in an armchair, ‘when you didn’t trust them while you worked with Thane?’
Scorpius’ lips thinned, and he didn’t look at anyone in particular. ‘I’m not sure I trust them any more than you have. It’s possibly just been wishful thinking. But I need to stop fooling myself.’
Rose watched the wall while she made sure her expression was schooled. Her gut and mind still swirled with being inside his memories, his thoughts, and separating her very real present from fuzzy pasts and someone else’s feelings was no small task.
‘The Chalice,’ continued Scorpius after a moment’s thought, ‘is more-or-less in-hand. The IMC knows everything I know about it, presumably everything Thane knows about it, Rose’s mum’s Task Force and Nat Lockett are on the case.’
‘You and Thane were determined to get the Chalice,’ said Matt. ‘I assume you had something specific in mind once you had it? Not just denying the Council one of its toys?’
‘That was part of it, but yes.’ Scorpius scowled at his hands. ‘From our research, we believe that if the Chalice is destroyed, it will stop fuelling Lethe, and eradicate the virus everywhere in the world. It’s the plague’s power source.’
Matt’s brow immediately furrowed. ‘You can’t just destroy something like that; it’s bound together by magics more ancient than we know. How on Earth were you planning on doing it?’
‘I don’t know,’ Scorpius admitted. ‘Neither did Thane. I don’t know if the IMC knows. That was part two; most of our time was spent trying to get the bloody thing in the first place.’
Rose watched as Matt got to his feet, setting about pacing as he always did when he had something intellectual to chew on. ‘The most rational way of handling that,’ he mused, ‘would be identifying the actual magics which it’s built by and undoing them, if that’s theoretically -’
‘I’m sorry to interrupt,’ said Scorpius, not sounding sorry at all, ‘but that’s the one problem which is out of our hands.’
‘I’m not especially perturbed by whatever histories in your family are rearing their ugly heads, Malfoy…’
‘These monstrosities might give us more on the Council, Doyle. So unless you’ve stopped caring about the war now you’ve gone and played hero for Selena -’
‘Hey!’ That was Albus, and Rose felt a wave of gratitude that he was intervening in an even-handed manner, getting to his feet and glaring at both men. ‘Let’s stay on topic. We all care about beating the Council. We can leave the personal stuff at the door.’
Matt was glowering at Scorpius, but he sat down again, jaw tight. ‘Who’s Cassian Malfoy?’
A flinch. ‘Honestly, I’m not sure. I mean, the records were in the storage container, and he was my great-great-uncle. There’s not much on him. Slytherin House, apparently unremarkable student, was nothing but a social dilettante through the Grindelwald Wars, not in the country much. Died in a hunting accident in 1946.’
‘Except,’ said Rose, ‘that might not be the truth.’
‘Yes.’ His lips thinned. ‘I think I - it’s possible I spoke with a part of him, an echo of him, when I was… dead.’ Rose watched as his gaze locked on the wall, not looking at anyone. ‘He made it sound like he knew Raskoph, that he’d fought Raskoph. He said I had to find him, whatever that means.’
‘I think he’s a ghost,’ Rose said. ‘I think that wherever he died, a bit of him’s still haunting.’
‘And if my father was looking into him, if there’s any truth to what this shadow of Cassian told me… it’s possible he’s very important. It’s possible he knows something.’ Scorpius shrugged stiffly. ‘I don’t know.’
‘There’s one thing which bothers me.’ Albus paused. ‘There’s one more thing which bothers me. In his interrogation, Thane implied that Raskoph wasn’t just a supervisor in the Chalice hunt, but that he’d been selected specifically for the quest, and that he had provided information which led to the Stygian Plagues. I don’t think that chasing the history of Raskoph is a wild goose chase. If the Thule Society had something to do with the magics from which it was made, then I think the past of Joachim Raskoph, his work a hundred years ago, is very bloody pertinent to stopping Lethe.’
‘Agreed,’ said Matt. ‘Which is why we’re here and talking as just us, I imagine. You can accuse me of bias, but I don’t trust the IMC.’
Everyone looked at Selena, who raised an eyebrow. ‘What, just because my mother’s running the thing means I should defend it? I don’t see Rose and Albus getting on their high horses.’
Albus rolled a shoulder. ‘My father’s getting pretty gung ho authoritarian. I don’t trust the IMC either.’
‘I trust my mother,’ said Rose. ‘But Scorpius is right, it’s a big organisation, and big organisations have holes. We might have been impetuous to try to rescue Selena ourselves, but we had our reasons.’
‘And forgive me, but they’ve arrested my father because he didn’t march to the beat of their drum. That might be the IMC being over-eager, or we know the Council has its fingers in some parts of them,’ Matt said.
‘So I suspect you’re going to like what I have to say next.’ Scorpius looked at him. ‘I want to find my father.’
Matt just frowned. ‘Why would I like that -’
‘The Auror Office isn’t handling the investigation of your father any more; that’s being done by the Ministry itself. Which is a bit odd, but then, one of the things your father was arrested for was looking into Ministry secrets it turns out were to do with Draco. Draco was the biggest Council fish in the British Ministry. You’re a bright guy. I assume you worry if your father was getting too close to some uncomfortable truths for someone’s liking.’
Matt watched him a moment. ‘So finding your father might get mine out of prison, is what you’re saying. Why do you want to find him?’
Scorpius wrung his hands together. ‘Because he’s a traitor. Because he’s an asset to the Council. Because it could help end this war a lot sooner.’ He glared at the coffee table. ‘Because I need to start putting right the things my family has done.’
Selena turned her gaze skyward. ‘As ever, we have well-reasoned and rational motivations to stick our necks on the chopping board.’
‘We could leave this to the IMC,’ Scorpius continued. ‘But what if some people in the IMC don’t want him to be found?’
Albus let out a slow, grating breath. ‘Oh, bollocks.’
‘So that’s two projects,’ said Selena. ‘Hunting down an international fugitive, and looking into secrets a hundred years old which someone is going to be sitting on if they’re any use at all. Just like old times.’
‘And I,’ said Matt, voice tight, ‘will be lucky if I can do a full day’s research.’ He tapped his metal hand on his armrest.
‘I need to look into Cassian Malfoy,’ said Scorpius with simple conviction, then he looked to his left. ‘So I have to ask something of you, Al, mate.’
Albus’ brow furrowed. ‘You want me to find your father.’
‘We all have our part to play,’ said Scorpius.
Matt’s expression crumpled, and Rose had to fight the instinct to go to him. If there was one evil in the world none of them knew how to handle, it was helplessness. ‘I’ll do,’ Matt said, ‘whatever I can to help you. But that’s not a great deal.’
Then a fresh thought hit her, and sympathy for Matt dropped off the top of her priority list. She looked sharply at Scorpius. ‘I don’t disagree with this plan, but if you’re looking into Cassian Malfoy, who probably didn’t die in Britain, who may have had dealings with the Thule Society if he lived a hundred years ago and knew Raskoph, you certainly can’t do that alone.’
‘I don’t even know what’s coming next. It’s a bit early to make plans.’
‘If this has something to do with the Magical Alliance, then we’re talking conflicts which crossed Europe. We know old Thule Society sites can be dangerous; you got stabbed in Badenheim -’
‘Technically, I got slashed in Badenheim. And choked.’
‘Oh, Merlin.’ Selena’s eyes turned skyward. ‘The more things change, the more they stay the same.’
That prompted silence, and Rose bit her lip as colour soared to her cheeks. Scorpius didn’t look at her, Albus intently studied the table, and Matt’s expression had gone rather flat. She drew a deep breath. ‘If Albus is going after Draco,’ she said slowly, carefully, ‘then Scorpius needs backup if he’s going into danger. And we can have him turning to Thane’s goons, or I can go with him.’ She looked at Matt. ‘It’ll help your father, too.’
The look her gave her was the most unconvinced in the world, but he sighed. ‘It’s logical,’ he said.
‘So, I guess Albus is going after Draco Malfoy, who might be sat in the middle of a secure Council bunker, on his own?’ said Selena. ‘I mean, I could go with him. Or he could throw limp spaghetti against Thornweavers. That’s as valid a tactic.’
Matt looked at her with a frown. ‘You’re not bad in a fight -’
‘Being “not bad” in a fight against professional soldiers sounds like a super way to get killed, and to get Al killed when he tries to save me,’ Selena pointed out. ‘Frankly, if I’m going to be helpful in our third crusade, I’ll be best off returning to a place of comfort: playing second fiddle to the brainy researcher.’ She nodded at Matt.
Albus drew a deep breath. ‘I’m prepared to do this,’ he said. ‘And I can handle myself.’
‘I have,’ said Matt, ‘a better idea. Because there’s one more person we’ve trusted before, who’s a hot hand with a wand, has a lot of knowledge of Council matters, and a lot of international contacts. Of course, Al would have to ask his father to let her out of jail.’
Rose stared at Matt. ‘Are you crazy?’
‘Why,’ said Matt, voice dropping. ‘Because it’s awkward? It is. I’m not telling Albus to do anything. I’m just pointing out that there aren’t many people who match our parameters, and Eva Saida is one of them.’
‘So you thought you’d recommend Albus’ ex, who lied to and manipulated him and is now God knows what?’
Albus cringed. ‘Can we not - this is my business.’
‘Oh, don’t stop on my account,’ drawled Selena. ‘I haven’t had entertainment this good since my subscription to Witch Weekly lapsed.’
Scorpius looked around the room, brow furrowing. ‘Merlin,’ he sighed. ‘This used to go more smoothly.’
‘You died, dear,’ Selena told him. ‘And the world apparently lost its fucking mind.’
Rose’s lips thinned. ‘This is from the woman who conned us into waltzing unprepared to an isolated corner of Germany where we might have been murdered by Prometheus Thane.’
Matt lifted his hands. ‘Hey, let’s not -’
‘Oh, sure,’ Albus snapped at him. ‘You casually suggest I involve Saida in this, and then get sanctimonious when that idea doesn’t go down so well?’
‘Do you have any better ideas?’ Matt snapped. ‘I’d love to make the most of your experiences from when you were away, but we don’t know anything about them!’
Albus bristled, but Selena let out a slow breath. ‘Oh, there it is,’ she drawled.
Rose glared at her. ‘Would you stop acting like you’re so above it all?’
Her eyes flashed. ‘I’m not the one kidding myself. “Oh, I’ll help Scorpius!” Be more transparent, Rose.’
‘Fucking hell!’ Scorpius slammed his hands on the table, then froze. ‘Ow, that really hurt. But would you all shut up and listen to yourselves? Did you go nuts when I was gone? Did you forget why you liked each other?’ They fell into silence, gazes dropping as his grey eyes dragged across them. ‘We ended Phlegethon together. We robbed the Rabbit’s Foot, we found Ager Sanguinis, we defeated a golem-dragon, we saved Nat Lockett and Harley on Brillig, and we found the Chalice of Emrys. And we have sniped, but Merlin’s beard, we did not target each other like this.’
Selena arched an eyebrow. ‘And now you come waltzing back to -’
‘Now I’m standing here, looking at my friends, and seeing them in nine kinds of pain, Selena.’ Scorpius’ eyes locked onto hers. ‘I’ve been imprisoned by Joachim Raskoph before, and I know it is not a pleasant experience. And unless something changed while I was away, I don’t remember you being dangled in physical danger like that before. Not alone. So I reckon you’ve got some stuff to work out, too.’
Selena’s mouth snapped shut, but Scorpius’ eyes kept sweeping, landing on Matt. ‘Like hell am I going to tell you how to live your life,’ he said, voice rough. ‘But I’ve met men with a Cause before, and you’re looking a lot like them. You know what they’re really good at doing? Getting other people killed.’
Matt’s expression folded into a frown, but he took a moment before he replied. ‘I lost a hand for this cause. I’m not asking anyone to take risks I wouldn’t take myself.’
‘Sure,’ said Scorpius. ‘But we can look out for each other.’ He looked away from Matt, and his gaze only brushed Rose before he turned to Albus. ‘Mate…’
Albus pushed away from the table, jaw tight. ‘Don’t you - a lot’s happened, Scorp.’
Scorpius looked like he’d been bludgeoned about the face as his best friend launched to his feet. ‘I’m trying to - my exact point is you can’t handle shit alone…’
‘I’ve been doing it a while!’ Albus snapped, bolting for the door. ‘And I don’t need you telling me I was wrong.’
Rose sagged as Albus slammed the door behind him. ‘…do we need to talk about anything else, or is it time we went our separate ways and reflected on how fucked up we are?’
‘I vote the latter,’ said Selena, for once without any wryness. She, too, got to her feet and started for the door - until she paused, turned, stalked back, and threw her arms around Rose.
Rose rocked at the impact, blinking, but she squeezed Selena’s hand, the unspoken apologies exchanged before Selena pulled back. She passed Scorpius on her way to the door, and brushed her fingertips against his arm. He’d been looking pale, withdrawn, but his lips twitched at the silent touch, and they exchanged a glance before Selena left.
Scorpius clapped his hands together. ‘Well,’ he said. ‘I’m not staying here.’
She cleared her throat. ‘Check the records of the Magical Alliance in the Ministry,’ Rose managed to say. ‘As a relative, and a hundred years on, there might be more about Cassian Malfoy available to you than the family would have seen at the time.’
‘Yeah.’ He didn’t meet her gaze. ‘I’ll let you know what I find. Who knows, it might be all we need.’ He nodded awkwardly, then left without another word.
Leaving her and Matt alone in their home, which had never before felt so unwelcoming. She turned to him, throat tight. ‘Are you -’
‘I need to talk to some people,’ was all he said, expression shutting down. The blandness of his voice was a chaos in itself. Until these past few days, his heart had been on his sleeve so much; if she’d been ignorant to what was going on in his mind, it had been a wilful ignorance on her part. Now she couldn’t read him, and the uncertainty was like the world falling away from under her feet.
It didn’t really scare her.
‘This family has an awkward obsession with history,’ said Scorpius, stopping in the doorway to the Ministry’s records office when he saw Victoire Weasley sat at the front desk.
‘You’re thinking of every pureblood family, Mister Malfoy.’ She raised an eyebrow at him and got to her feet. ‘Though I didn’t expect to see you here.’
Oh yeah. We’re not friends. He was used to treating most of the Weasley family with a level of charm that left them confused. Victoire, however, looked guarded. Perhaps it was him being a Malfoy. Perhaps it was him coming back from the dead. Perhaps it was…
Her eyes narrowed a fraction, and he nodded to himself. It’s definitely about Teddy. ‘He’s fine,’ she said. ‘I assume you heard about the wedding.’
‘I did! Congratulations. I should send him an owl. And flowers. Though the flowers would traditionally be for you, and I’ve just said I’m going to send flowers, so that’s somewhat lost the charm - when’s the wedding?’ He diverted himself before he rambled too badly.
‘We’ve pushed it back,’ she said, voice still clipped. ‘With the war and everything. Mid-December, now.’
‘Ah. Good. Winter weddings. Very nice.’
Victoire gave a smile that didn’t reach her eyes. ‘Can I help you, Mister Malfoy?’
‘Yes! Yes, I didn’t just come down here to be weird at you, though I concede it is my speciality. Word of advice: don’t die, it makes everything really awkward, including paperwork, and -’
‘What can I help you with?’
He let out a deep breath and approached the desk. ‘Correct me if I’m wrong: if Ministry files were declared classified eighty years ago, the law’s lapsed on upholding that, right?’
‘Unless for some reason the law was renewed. And you need to provide a valid reason for requesting the files. Really, I could explain better if you’d tell me what the files are - and I can’t fetch you the files unless you tell me.’
‘Right, right.’ Scorpius scratched his nose. ‘I’m looking for files the Magical Alliance might have on British citizens involved in the Grindelwald War. I’m only assuming they’re classified because I’ve heard nothing about -’
Victoire pushed her chair rolling down the room towards a row of filing cabinets. ‘Name?’
‘Malfoy,’ he said. ‘Cassian Malfoy. So I can invoke family history as a reason.’
She opened a draw and pulled out a reference list. ‘I didn’t think it was the Malfoy family style to fight for the Alliance. Maybe against it…’
So Teddy picked the most charming Weasley he could find. He planted his hands on the desk. ‘Maybe that’s why I had no idea who this guy was before the other day, let alone that he fought in the war.’
‘I’m sure he was very heroic in doing filing for the -’ Then Victoire reeled back as the paper in her hands turned bright red. It folded itself up, twisting into the shape of a horn, and gave a deafening blast that had Scorpius - even five metres away - clamp his hands over his ears.
‘Bloody hell!’ he yelled over the sound, while Victoire shoved the paper back in the cabinet and slammed the door shut. Silence fell. ‘What was that!’
She stood with wide eyes, and took a moment to smooth her ruffled hair. ‘That,’ said Victoire Weasley at length, ‘was a notification that the files of Cassian Malfoy are still under the highest levels of security.’
‘Huh.’ Scorpius furrowed his brow. ‘Who do I have to see about getting past them? Office of the Minister?’
‘No, this isn’t sealed under British law.’ Her chair rolled, wobbling, back to the main desk. ‘These are old Alliance security restrictions. Which means it needs to be lifted with the authority of the Magical Alliance.’
He stared at her. ‘The Magical Alliance was dissolved after Grindelwald’s imprisonment…’
‘No, it wasn’t. It was downscaled, but they continued to hunt remaining Thule Society members. And there remains a small office of surviving caretakers of the records and information; old wizards who ensure these matters don’t fall into the wrong hands. You’d have to go to them directly.’
‘Okay. Where are they?’
‘The old Alliance headquarters, the most secure place in Europe. You might have heard for it; it’s where the IMC is shifting its central operations, for the exact same reasons. The castle of Niemandhorn.’
‘Switzerland.’ Scorpius gave a low whistle. ‘Could be worse.’
Victoire nodded, then plastered a fake smile across her face. ‘Was there anything else, Mister Malfoy?’
He furrowed his brow, opened his mouth to say something to dismiss her frostiness - then remembered all the reasons that was a bad idea, and sighed. ‘No, Miss Weasley. Thank you for your time.’ Perhaps it would be best if she remained Teddy’s protective guard-dog. Keeping him at bay was not the worst thing someone could do right now.
The return to the Caelestis was without incident; it was easy to get from the Ministry to Diagon Alley, even when the streets were as subdued and fraught as they were now. But he wasn’t in his suite for more than a minute, eyeballing the coffee machine like one might regard a diabolical nemesis, when there was a knock at the door.
Albus, surely; they had to talk, they needed to talk -
‘Selena.’ Scorpius froze in the doorway. ‘If you’re here to yell at me -’
‘For deciding to waltz back into everyone’s lives and point out unpleasant truths like you’re me?’ She arched an eyebrow, and he couldn’t tell if she was being facetious or not.
‘Er. Do you want coffee? I can’t promise it won’t kill you.’
‘No. I’m just stopping by.’ She looked him in the eye. ‘This is your five minute warning.’
‘You have five minutes until you have to leave this hotel room.’
Scorpius bit his lip. ‘If my life’s in danger, this is the worst heads up -’
‘It’s not. Well, probably not.’ Selena waltzed past him and let the door swing shut behind her. ‘In five minutes, Bellamy, Oakes, and Hollis are stopping by. And you’re going out tonight.’
‘They are? I am?’
She huffed. ‘You’re back from the dead and you’re still mooning around over Rose and freaking out about the Council and your father, and these are sincere issues, but I think you could stand to be back in the world a little bit.’
Scorpius winced. ‘I -’
‘…and let’s face it, if you’re weird and screw up with Bellamy and the others, this is hardly the worst thing in the world. But you want to throw truths at me? My truth at you is that you’re going to explode if you keep on walking around this bundled up.’
‘Is this retribution for what I said? Inflicting Bellamy on me?’
‘You lived with him for five years -’
‘So I know what he’s like!’ But Scorpius smiled, a small, sad smile, and he kicked at the carpet. ‘Thanks. Are you okay?’
She sighed, turning her eyes up. ‘Rose looked through your memories.’ It wasn’t a question, so he waited. ‘Did you - was there -’
‘…it’s not, mostly, like having a conversation.’ He stepped forward, reached to take her hands. ‘It’s like - it’s like drifting in a sea of everything that makes up everyone, and mostly you’re in the depths where it’s still, and calm, and content. Like you’re in everyone’s good dreams. And so it’s not really precise, but I did get snippets.’ He caught her eye, though could see her struggling to keep his gaze. ‘Methuselah’s there. He’s at peace. He’s happy. And he loves you.’
Her eyes slammed shut as the guilt stirred in him. It wasn’t that he was lying; these were all things Scorpius believed, though he had to admit to himself a lot of it was extrapolation more than fact. Treating it as fact was not the worst thing he’d ever done.
‘I don’t…’ Selena’s voice wavered. ‘I don’t wake up missing him any more and, you know, the dumbest thing is that Rose makes me feel so guilty because she never put herself back together after losing you. So I look at her and I think, I think, should I be like her? Should I be so broken -’
Scorpius wasn’t sure what to do with the description of Rose as broken, but he did know what to do about the tears pooling in Selena’s eyes. He pulled her closer, wrapped his arms around her. ‘Let me tell you,’ he croaked, ‘as a guy who loved a girl and died. We want to be remembered, but we want you to be happy. Not mourn us forever.’
‘That’s what I tell myself,’ she said, voice muffled against his shoulder. ‘I just - I had to know.’
‘I know.’ He let her pull back, let her dab at her eyes, and drew an awkward breath. ‘You and Matt…’
Thud! ‘Malfoy! Open up before the staff realise we snuck past them!’
Selena’s composure was back in a flash, and Scorpius rolled his eyes at the ceiling. ‘Oh, Merlin,’ he groaned. ‘They’ve not changed.’
Her lips quirked in a smile as he padded for the door. ‘No,’ she assured him. ‘They haven’t. And I will not be sticking around for this.’
‘Traitor,’ Scorpius muttered, and reached for the doorknob, internally bracing himself for the sea of revelry and irreverence about which he suspected Selena was right: it was probably what he needed.
The likelihood of travel meant Rose had to do what she’d been putting off doing for a while: requesting a formal leave of absence from the Curse Breakers. With the Council of Thorns on the rise, Gringotts weren’t starting excavations, but leave meant paperwork which took a while, which meant it was dark by the time she let herself into the flat.
To find Matt perched at the edge of an armchair, obviously waiting, his travel bag at his feet. It looked full.
Every inch of cold and stone in her rushed out from underneath, leaving her in free-fall. ‘…Matt?’
He didn’t look at her, staring into the fireplace. ‘When Scorpius came back, one of the first things you said was that you wouldn’t leave me for him. And I believe you. You resent so badly the idea that this - that you and me - is just a rebound that you’d fight tooth and nail against anything that would make someone say that.’ Matt stood, hefted his bag with his good hand. ‘But I’ve seen the way you two look at each other, and there is something there. Of course there is. You loved him and he’s back from the dead; a reaction’s inevitable. I don’t know what you’re thinking, I don’t know what you’re feeling, but there is something.’
Rose’s throat went dry. ‘And you’re -’
‘I’d wager even you don’t know what you’re feeling. Because you’re not letting yourself think about it.’ He looked at her, expression flat, voice holding a croak. ‘Because if you think about it, you might realise you love him. And then where does that leave you? Trapped with me, and you think of yourself as a good person, and a good person doesn’t run off with their ex after dumping their recently-maimed boyfriend.’ Only now did he meet her gaze, grey eyes dull. ‘So I’m leaving you.’
‘Matt -’ Her eyes widened and she flew towards him, but he stepped back, looked away.
‘Maybe you love him. Maybe you need to be with him again. Maybe you don’t, maybe it’s just a memory, but you need to know, you need to find out, and I - and I need you to find out.’ Finally, he quavered, drawing a shaky breath. ‘I will not live this life, wondering if you’re with me because you felt you should be. I’ve - I’ve done that for too long, haven’t I?’
‘Matt -’ She caught his good hand before he could pull away. ‘You can’t - you can’t make this call for me, you can’t just decide I’m going to want to be with him -’
‘No,’ he said, and looked her in the eye, tone firmer. ‘You need to decide. But you need to figure it out. Without obligation, without expectation. Not for me, not for him, not for what people will think of you. For you.’ He sighed. ‘Of course I hope that you’ll think about it. Decide it’s not him you want, let go of that memory you clung to for so long. And - without obligation, or guilt, or grief, return to me.’
Before she could reply he’d stepped in, bowed his head, and kissed her. Kissed her more softly than he ever had, a kiss full of regret and gentle acceptance, a kiss that lingered, and she knew why. This was possibly one last kiss, possibly one last goodbye, and he had to make the moment last.
But he pulled back soon, too soon, and the tumbling inside her spun around to rise in her throat, choking. ‘Matt - Matt, you can’t leave me, this isn’t - please, you can’t do this -’
The corners of his eyes crinkled. ‘Then tell me I’m wrong,’ he whispered. ‘Tell me you’ve let him go. Tell me you love me.’
A part of her howled and scrabbled and tried climbing through the darkness to do just that, but it was swallowed by the swirling cold, and fell into oblivion. Her lips parted, and nothing came out.
He let go and stepped back. ‘See? So I’ve got to do this. Because - I love you, Rose. I love you so much it is killing me. Even aside from Scorpius, the Council, I have to do this. Because if I stand around waiting for you, by the time you figure things out there might be nothing left of me. I have to let you go for you, and for us. But I have to leave you for… for me.’
Matt’s head dropped as he stepped around her, starting for the door, and the chill reached her skin as he pulled away, that sense of being incomplete that had defined her since Scorpius fell. She reeled around, reached for his jacket, but she was too slow and clutched only at air. ‘Matt, no - I need you - you said you’d always wait for me!’
He stopped at the doorway with his back to her, shoulders tense, and took a moment to draw a deep breath. ‘I was wrong. And we both know that was melodramatic posturing from a boy who thought he could say the right thing to make a girl love him. It’s more complicated than that. And yet, not complicated at all.’ He reached for the doorknob. ‘I’m going to Selena’s. You can stay here as long as you want.’
Then he left, left her in the cold and the darkness of the shattered husk of the empty world they’d built for themselves on illusions and denial, and even though she was more alone than she could remember being in years, the swirling vortex inside of her whispered that he was right.
They were neither of them, not him and not her, coming back.
A/N: Just a couple notes on this chapter. The 'Magical Alliance' is the unoriginal term that's thrown around for the worldwide magical forces that opposed Grindelwald's reign, though I would imagine British involvement was quite slim considering Dumbledore's presence kept Grindelwald away from the Isles.
Niemandhorn is a location of my invention, and we'll see more of it; yet another Unfindable Magical Place, in this case a mountain of the Alps. The name's a butchering of German for a meaning of roughly 'Nobody Peak' (in the same way that 'Matterhorn' means 'Meadow Peak').
On a final note, for those interested in my writing outside of fandom, my second book's kit the Kindlesphere. Links are on my Author's page for those curious.