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Oblivion by Slide
Chapter 20 : The Old Order Changeth
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 7


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The Old Order Changeth


‘You’re hunting Draco Malfoy.’ Ginny looked at the papers Albus had strewn over the coffee table. ‘Did you try a fishing rod with money dangling as bait? A whistle which only particular kinds of arseholes can hear?’

He looked up at his mother with a wan smile. ‘I thought you’d disapprove.’

‘I do disapprove. I think you should let him rot in whatever hole he’s found.’

‘I mean, this is going to take me out the country. The IMC is technically looking for him.’

Ginny shrugged. ‘I think you should talk to your father, for reasons which aren’t just to do with Draco Malfoy. But I get why you’re doing what you’re doing, Al. You know, your father used to be a rebel.’

‘And now he’s championing law and order. I thought it’d be Aunt Hermione who did that.’

‘So did I.’ She sighed. ‘How was Rose when she left?’

‘Tired. I think she wants to get busy, too.’ Al scrubbed his face with his hand. ‘I do need to talk to Dad. Is he - I mean, how long has he been like this?’

His mother’s lips thinned. ‘He took your leaving hard, Al - I’m not blaming you for his choices. Your father’s always shouldered the burdens of the world. He does his best to keep everyone safe, to put himself in danger for everyone. And that was one thing when it was just him and his wand and Voldemort. Now he’s got the whole Auror Office to use to keep everyone safe.’

‘So safety trumps choice.’

‘It’s not an easy thing, to accept the helplessness in loss. Your father never mastered it.’

Albus grimaced. ‘Guess I can’t judge him there.’

‘I don’t know,’ said Ginny softly. ‘You came back. You helped your friends.’

He looked up - then there was a knock on the door, a particular rat-tat-tat-tat which had his head snap around. ‘That’ll be Scorp,’ he said, before he knew he’d even recognised it. ‘I guess he and Rose are off soon.’

Ginny hummed, but neither passed comment nor stuck around as Albus went to let Scorpius in.

He was wilder-haired than usual, clothes rumpled. ‘Al! Glad you’re in. Wasn’t entirely sure you are staying here.’

Albus let him in. ‘You alright?’

‘Yes, yes. Train tickets out of King’s Cross for Niemandhorn in two hours. You would not believe the paperwork for international travel these days. I’m far too used to travelling illegally.’ Scorpius waved a dismissive hand. ‘I came here for, um. You’ve got some of my stuff.’

Albus’ brow knotted. ‘Yeah, like - old clothes and the like, they’re in a trunk. Do you really want all that?’

‘No,’ Scorpius sighed, and it was a bizarre sight, him stood in the sitting room in Godric’s Hollow, hands awkwardly shoved in his pockets. ‘I just needed an excuse to come by.’

‘What, like, you flitting off for a few days, and I might be gone by the time you come back…’

‘I was an arse last time we talked,’ said Scorpius flatly.

‘You weren’t - I shouldn’t have run off like I did.’ Albus scowled. ‘Maybe I’m just an idiot.’

‘I doubt it, mate. You’re the smart one.’

‘I didn’t…’ Albus stared at the carpet, then kicked at the corner of it. ‘I thought you were going to tell me I was wrong to run away. And I know I was wrong to run away. I just couldn’t, right then, stand to hear that from you.’

Scorpius’ expression fell. ‘I wasn’t going to judge you. How the hell could I, the choices I made? And if it had been - I mean, if things had gone differently, if it had been you in Ager Sanguinis, not me…’

‘You’d have had Rose -’

‘And she’s not you.’ Scorpius padded over, lifted a hand - and then instead of reaching out, punched him on the shoulder. ‘You made me, mate. You saw something decent in me when everyone else had reached their conclusions. Rose made me want to be better, in all sorts of ways. You? You made me believe I could be good.’ He shook his head. ‘I can’t judge you. I’d have been lost without you, too.’

Albus swallowed hard, unable to meet Scorpius’ gaze. ‘Do you think Matt’s right? That Saida can help with finding your father?’

He saw the wince. ‘I believe she’s on our side. I believe she’s skilled. And I believe she could make a speech a lot like the one I just made.’

‘But the things she’s done…’

I’ve done things,’ Scorpius pointed out, voice tensing. ‘With Thane, these last few months…’

‘But I know you.’ Albus looked up, eyes blazing, and his words had to be more forceful than he’d meant, because Scorpius took a step back. ‘I know who you are, deep down, I know I could hurl my life in your hands and you would never let me fall.’

A muscle in the corner of Scorpius’ jaw flickered. ‘I can’t tell you who to trust, or who to forgive. I can tell you that her and I? We’re not that different. Just my sins never hurt you.’

Suddenly, this was the last topic Al wanted to discuss. He looked away. ‘Did you see Rose?’

‘Um. Yeah. She stopped by this morning, though it was only really brief -’

‘Did you two talk?’ He had no idea what ripple the breakup was going to make, but there would be waves, for sure.

‘Not really.’ Scorpius winced. ‘I confirmed Niemandhorn, and that was it. She, uh - it wasn’t really time to stick around…’

‘Did you fight?’

‘No!’ He rubbed the back of his neck. ‘It was just awkward, ‘cos, er, she showed up really early and I had company.’

Albus frowned. ‘Company?’

‘Um. Selena made me go out with Bellamy and the guys last night, I think she was trying to give me a slice of normalcy, but the guys are so boring, Al…’

‘So you ditched them.’ Despite the inevitable spiral of drama this had to cause, Albus couldn’t help but give a wry smile. At least this was normal drama, the kind of problem people his age were supposed to deal with. ‘Who is she?’

‘Ah.’ Scorpius cleared his throat. ‘Not, uh, she. Colton. John Colton.’

Albus’ jaw dropped. ‘Colton?’

‘Yeah, I know… super awkward when he’s Doyle’s friend, but in my defence, he was flirting first…’

‘But he’s - I didn’t know you -’

Scorpius squinted at him. ‘I didn’t think I was exactly subtle.’

Albus flapped. Facts he’d taken for granted about the past were now like mud slipping out from underfoot, and the more minor they were, the more unsettling they got. ‘But you kept throwing flowers and chocolates at girls…’

Presenting flowers and chocolates as gifts.’ Scorpius waggled his finger. ‘I do prefer girls, yes, but in case you didn’t notice I’m appreciative of all manner of fine traits.’

‘But - but- Rose!’

‘I think we can call my death a breakup, and she’s with Doyle, and you have no idea how good it felt to just unwind with someone where there were no issues, no guilt, no agonising over what’s next.’ Scorpius’ lips twisted, and he clapped Albus on the shoulder. ‘You should try it!’

Albus had watched Scorpius flirt wildly with girls for years. As a defence mechanism, as a means of drawing fire off him, and out of what he presumed was genuine affection. Only now, looking back, could he consider that pointed jokes had been thrown at boys just as much, and he had to wonder how much more had gone on in their school years beyond his notice.

As such, he didn’t clock that Scorpius didn’t know about Matt and Rose’s breakup.

‘My last girlfriend was a spy sent to destroy us,’ he managed to say blandly.

‘I rest my case,’ said Scorpius, then sighed. ‘Look, I’ve got to go. But I didn’t want you still pissed at me.’

Albus shook his head. ‘I was never pissed at you, Scorp.’

Scorpius gave a gentle, pleased smile. ‘And I couldn’t blame you. Not for a thing, you hear?’

‘I’ll find your father. I’ll get you answers. Whatever it takes, even if it takes her. I promise.’

‘I don’t want you doing something which screws you up -’

‘You’re back.’ Albus grabbed his shoulder, voice firm. ‘And there’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you.’

Scorpius’ smile faded, the ghost of emotion still on his face but tinged with sombreness. He clasped Albus’ wrist. ‘I wish you saw the effect you have on people.’

‘I didn’t have it while you were gone.’

‘You don’t need me for it. It’s all in you. It is you. She didn’t love you for me. Amazing though my cheekbones are.’ Scorpius patted the back of Albus’ hand, then pulled away. ‘I’ll see you when I’m back.’

‘When we’re both back. You stay safe, you understand?’

‘Same to you, you great lug -’

But Scorpius wasn’t more than a footstep away before they both turned back for a firm, backslapping hug. It wasn’t exactly fear that squirmed in Albus’ gut, because a trip to Niemandhorn was not enough to strike terror into anyone’s heart, but they both knew too well how fleeting these moments could be.

It was enough of a burning, overriding need to make the most of having Scorpius here, with him, making him feel on top of the world, that Albus didn’t even think about breaking the news of Matt leaving Rose to him until long after he’d heard the crack of Scorpius’ Disapparition from beyond the front yard.

Leaving him stood in his front room to shove his hands in his pocket and glare out the window for reasons which he didn’t quite grasp. ‘John Colton,’ he muttered, venomous despite himself. ‘Son of a bitch.’

* *


‘If you two are here for another argument,’ said Ron as Albus crossed the Auror offices, ‘then let me know so I can take lunch. A long lunch. Possibly lasting until dinner. I’m a growing lad, you know -’

‘I’m not here to fight.’ Albus slumped into the chair across from Ron’s desk, his uncle forever the guardian to his father’s office. ‘What sort of mood’s he in?’

‘Oh, he’s thrilled, positively thrilled that Scorpius is leaving the country. You’d think I’d be the more angry guy, seeing as Rose is going with him, but apparently not.’

Albus frowned. ‘You’ve not legally got Scorpius under any restrictions. He’s not charged with or suspected of anything.’

‘He’s not suspected because we know, but you’re right. It was a kind of implication that in exchange for his freedom, he’d cooperate with us. And he is cooperating, he’s keeping us informed, he’s staying in public territory…’ Ron shrugged. ‘I know, he’s digging into whatever his father was digging into. I’m not the one who needs appeasing.’ He sighed. ‘Fathers and sons, hey?’

‘I thought Hugo was doing fine?’

‘He is!’ Ron beamed. ‘Captained Gryffindor to another Slytherin defeat -’

‘I’m going in.’ Albus stood, trying to not grin. ‘Angry Dad will be better than this -’

‘You’re assuming he won’t crow about it, too!’ Ron called out as Albus rapped on the door and let himself into his father’s office.

Harry had papers strewn about his desk, papers he pushed to one side when he saw Albus. For once, he didn’t look tired, worn, or angry. ‘What am I crowing about?’

‘Quidditch. Gryffindor. Slytherin.’

Harry lifted his hands. ‘I was thrilled when you guys won the Cup in your fourth year. I was really proud of you.’

Albus tried to not feel reassured about a victory some five years old, even if he’d felt guilty for beating his own brother, his cousins, with the best friend his family had never been thrilled by. He was supposed to be past these everyday disappointments. He sat down. ‘I imagine you’re not thrilled with me right now.’

Harry’s expression turned guarded. ‘What makes you think that?’

The fuzzy reassurance died when Albus remembered there were lots of reasons his father might not be happy with him. ‘I was specifically referring to Scorpius.’

‘That’s his choice. Not yours.’

‘Not exactly.’ Albus’ lips thinned. ‘We want to conduct our own investigations, and while we’re not in the habit of keeping the IMC or the MLE informed, I’d rather make sure none of us get arrested.’

‘Which “we”? No, don’t answer that - you mean the Five.’

‘Really, I don’t know why they call us the Hogwarts Five. Methuselah died, Matthias was never in the Phlegethon team, and none of us are still at Hogwarts.’

Harry’s gaze cut like jade gems, unwavering. ‘What are you investigating?’

‘Scorpius is looking into what his father was researching. Family history, Draco seems to have taken an interest in it. We don’t know why, but you can’t argue that Scorpius isn’t the best equipped to look into it. But he wants me to look at the trail for Draco himself.’

‘Telling me this is - I can’t clamp down on one set of vigilantes but indulge another -’

‘Right now, we’re not taking anything into our own hands. We’re just researching things. We’ve not fought anyone, we have no plans on fighting anyone…’

‘Except looking into Draco Malfoy will probably lead to the Council. To Thornweavers who’ll try to kill you.’

Albus met his gaze, calm, level. ‘They probably will.’

Harry stared at him for a moment, then made a low noise of upset. ‘I appreciate you bringing this to me, but it puts me in an awkward position -’

‘And if I lied to you, you’d yell at me when it came out. And this isn’t explicitly why I’m here.’

‘Then why are you here, Al, other than to make my life difficult -’

Albus exploded to his feet. ‘Make? Dad, I have made so many decisions these past years for a whole menagerie of reasons. Not only have almost none of them been because of you, even fewer have been to piss you off, so will you, for once, stop looking at everything everyone does as an attack on you?’

Harry frowned as he rose. ‘I am the Head of the Auror Office, and right now we are one of the most professional law enforcement bodies in the world. I have to worry not just about Britain, because we take the lead on any international task forces which spring up, like America, like -’

‘Yes, Dad, you’re very competent, so perhaps you can trust that maybe other people are competent? That just because we see things differently to you, we’re not liabilities? That maybe Gabriel Doyle can conduct his own war on the Council without being a threat -’

‘I’m not talking about Gabriel Doyle; I will not discuss that, and we’re talking about me and you -’

‘It’s all the same thing, Dad! You are so screwed up by being afraid that anything not immediately under your control will go wrong that you just can’t conceive of trusting it! Me! Doyle! Scorpius!’ Albus’ chest heaved with the truths bursting past him. ‘And even if I come to you, now, needing you, you’re too damned pent up with your own tunnel vision!’

Harry flinched as if struck, then his expression closed up, and long, thudding heartbeats passed where the two Potter men stared at each other. At long last, Harry dropped his gaze. ‘What did you need?’

His voice had dropped, and Albus knew his father, knew pride well enough to know that he’d get no answer to his accusations right away. Albus thinned his lips. ‘I wanted to ask your advice, believe it or not.’

‘I won’t tell you how to conduct your extra-legal -’

‘It’s not about that. It’s not practical advice. No offence, Dad, but I know what I’m doing in the field.’ Albus let out a long breath through his nose. ‘It’s about forgiveness.’

Harry’s expression sank. ‘I’m not blaming you -’

‘Not me.’ But thanks for jumping to that conclusion. Slowly, Albus took his seat again. ‘You managed to forgive a Death Eater who’d killed and tortured people and even betrayed your parents. Forgave him so much you named me after him. ‘

His father looked nonplussed as he, too, sat. ‘The world’s done a fine job of condemning Severus Snape. Even if they know the truth, they remember what they saw better. They remember the Death Eater, they remember the Headmaster during Hogwarts’ darkest year, they remember the bullying teacher.’

‘Quite well, if Neville’s tales are anything to go by.’

‘I don’t blame or question someone who wants - no. Who sees the bad in Snape.’ Harry sounded honest, but unsure where this was going. ‘Especially when it was a badness that struck them personally. I can’t disagree with the world condemning him. But there was good in there, too. Virtues and courage and people who wouldn’t be alive without him. There’s a whole world to remember him as evil. Someone should remember the good.’

‘And you decided that someone would have to be you. And, in a way, me.’ Albus Severus Potter fiddled with his sleeve.

His father’s expression creased. ‘I think my Mum would want that. I’m not championing him. I’m not telling the people who hate him that they’re wrong. I’m just trying to make sure the world’s remembering the whole. Because it was more complicated than we like to think.’

‘It always is.’

‘I’m not sure I’d say it’s about forgiveness,’ Harry continued. ‘But if it is, it’s much easier to forgive someone who’s gone. Once they’re gone, they can’t hurt you as much any more. But when someone’s still around, forgiveness isn’t just about past pain, is it? It’s about pain she might cause you in the future.’

Albus stiffened. ‘I didn’t -’

‘I can’t tell you what to think about Eva Saida, Al.’ Harry’s gaze turned sympathetic, and he dragged his chair around the desk so they were sat together. ‘I don’t know what you’re thinking and I don’t know what’s right. I don’t think you should do anything because you think you owe her it, though.’

Albus dropped his gaze, stared at his hands. ‘Even I’m not sure what I’m thinking. I thought she was someone else, Dad, I knew she’d had a hard life but I thought she’d turned away from that. Only - who she turned out to be was so different and yet not. She weaved her lies so close to the truth…’

‘Lies are so much more believable when they’re honest,’ Harry sighed. ‘Did you ever see her full file?’ Albus shook his head. ‘I can let you read it. But, in summary? She’s a Muggle-born. So far as we can tell, she didn’t know she was a witch until she was found in Algiers by Prometheus Thane, who took her in, taught her, trained her - and used her in his operations as a weapon. A young girl’s easily overlooked. From when she was a teenager we’ve got reports indicating she’d been in missions with Thane which included lethal force.’

Albus slumped forward and scrubbed his face. ‘And as an adult she was on missions where she killed people, innocent people, yeah. I know she was the one who executed - murdered - the real Lisa Delacroix. In cold blood. And I know she was the one who broke us out of Ager Sanguinis. She didn’t have to, Dad, she could have stayed with the Council, left us to rot. It would have made sense. The IMC wasn’t going to take her in - we didn’t take her in, she’s in a cell right now - so doing that made her an enemy of both sides. All sides; she had to lie to Baz for him to employ her.’

Harry sighed, hand coming to Albus’ shoulder. ‘You can’t deny that was incredibly brave of her.’

‘One thing I don’t doubt is that she is brave,’ Albus rumbled. ‘Breaking us out of Ager Sanguinis. Holding off a swathe of spirits on Cat Island while we got the Chalice. Coming to rescue us on Brillig when she had to fight through a horde of Inferi. I could consider the last two were just doing her job…’

‘But Ager Sanguinis makes it harder to be cynical.’

‘And rescuing Selena. Maybe she knew Baz wouldn’t take her back, but she didn’t have to help us. And… and she didn’t have to surrender in Saint Annard.’ Albus’ shoulders hunched in. ‘This could mean her death, or the Kiss…’

‘Knowing all she’s done, or a lot of what she’s done, you don’t think she deserves that?’ Harry’s voice was gentle, without inference.

Bile rose in Albus’ throat, and he braced his elbows on the desk, looked away. ‘No,’ he croaked at last. ‘No, no, I can’t think she deserves it. I’d be dead without her, Dad; I think we’d all be dead without her, several times over. But then I think about the people she killed, and I think they’ll have loved ones who broke just as badly as losing Scorpius broke me, and I know when I was at my lowest I would have wrung Joachim Raskoph’s throat without a second thought -’

‘And there is a reason why victims and their loved ones don’t get to pass judgement. All they can see is their pain, when there’s a bigger picture to judgement.’

‘But it’s not a set of scales. Lisa Delacroix’s family doesn’t grieve any less because Eva Saida saved my life later.’

‘No, but Albus Potter’s family doesn’t grieve, because Eva Saida saved his life.’

Before he knew it, Albus had hurled himself to his feet, shoulders taut, and barely aware of his father starting at the sudden, angry movement. ‘What the hell am I supposed to do?’ he snapped. ‘What the hell am I supposed to think? She’s a killer, she’s a murderer, she deserves to be punished, but if I’m being fair then how the fuck do I overlook the good she’s done? To me, to anyone Baz helped these last two years! She destroyed her life to do the right thing. How do I decide that what little she’s got left needs to be destroyed, too, because of those times she did the wrong thing?’

‘Al…’ Harry got to his feet, hands raised. ‘You don’t have to judge this as an impartial observer. You don’t have to think or feel anything specific.’

‘I don’t want to be a hypocrite,’ Albus growled, stalking across the office as if it would burn out the flames that had smoldered for years and, in their way, singed him worse than Scorpius’ loss ever had. ‘It would be easy, so very easy to say that I forgive her for lying to me, because I can understand it, and say that she made it up to me with changing, with, when she had the choice, choosing the right thing…’

‘Is that what you feel?’ said Harry. ‘Because I don’t think you’re wrong to say that. Your other namesake once told me that it is our choices that show us who we really are. I don’t know how much choice she really had raised under the shadow of Prometheus Thane. And she still changed later. Do you know why?’

Albus stopped, spine stiffening, and he glared at the map on the wall like it had personally offended him. When he spoke, his voice was still that low croak. ‘Me,’ he said at last. ‘Because I tried to help her. Because I made her believe she could be a better person.’

Harry gave a slow, measured nod. ‘I’d say,’ he said quietly, ‘that you were right.’ Albus half-turned, but Harry was crossing the office to grasp his shoulder. ‘I can’t tell you what to do. I don’t think condemning her would be wrong. But condemnation is easy and it is also safe. To trust someone to be better, to have faith that they can be better? That’s a million miles from safe, that belief, that compassion. And I get that you put trust in her and feel like she broke it, and if you never wanted to see her again for that betrayal, not a person in the world and least of all me, would blame you.’

Albus’ jaw tightened. ‘There’s a “but” coming.’

‘I never had to do this. I only had to forgive people who were long gone, think well of people who couldn’t hurt me any more. My perspective hurts nobody. It’s safe.’ Harry sighed. ‘But to believe in her, and to be right? To turn something broken, hurt, cruel, into something good? I think that forgiveness, when it finds its mark, when it heals, is better than a thousand condemnations of evil.’ He paused, gaze on Albus, studying every inch of his expression. ‘But all of this - these higher questions, these moral questions which will torment man and wizard for thousands of years to come, are all irrelevant compared to one question: how do you feel about her? You don’t have to be a judge, looking at a bigger picture. You’re a man so close to this that your emotions can’t be dismissed.’

‘I…’ Albus’ voice trailed off, and he looked away. ‘Her rotting away forever, or getting the Kiss, it doesn’t - I once thought that was what I wanted. Now the thought makes me feel sick. The thought of hurting her, or her being hurt, makes me sick.’

Harry nodded, watching him a moment more. ‘I’m sorry she hurt you, Al. I have no idea what it’s like. Not to be betrayed like that.’

Al’s eyes slammed shut. Never in his life had he contemplated discussing this with his father, but now he wasn’t sure if he could discuss it with anyone, despite the honesty of his conversation with Rose last night. ‘I think I loved her, Dad,’ he croaked. ‘And I’m only using the past tense because that’s safe.’

Then both his father’s hands were on his shoulders, grip tight, and still Albus didn’t look at him. ‘I do trust you,’ Harry said roughly. ‘And so I’ll trust Rose, and even Scorpius, and the others. Gabriel Doyle’s out of my hands, now; the Minister’s office is looking into him. But I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt if you just don’t… don’t hide from me. We can do some of this together, yeah?’

Albus turned to face him, and his smile felt like it creaked with anxiety. ‘Yeah. Yeah, Dad, that sounds… we’ll try, yeah?’

He managed to sound honest, not awkward, but still his father sighed. ‘You used to be so full of hope. Belief in the world, determined in what was good.’

‘Someone told me, once, that it’s not true bravery if you’ve not known true loss. It’s easy to be courageous, it’s easy to champion goodness, when you’ve no idea of the true price of failure.’

‘Maybe I’m biased,’ said Harry, ‘because a father always sees the best in his children. But I think you sell yourself short if you think you’ve not been a great man in the past. If you think you’re still not a great man. You’ve got a big heart, Al. Don’t treat it like a weakness.’

Albus opened his mouth, unsure of what he was going to say - then there was a clatter at the door and Ron burst in, short of breath, hair wild. ‘We got a problem.’

Harry turned sharply, expression now cool, calm, professional. ‘Explain.’

‘Council takeover,’ Ron reported, voice ragged. ‘Greece. They’ve fallen.’

* *


‘It’s not that much longer than a Portkey,’ said Scorpius as they ducked through the barrier out of Muggle King’s Cross Station and onto Platform Six and One-Sixth. ‘I mean, sure, it’s an overnight train -’

‘Considering a Portkey is instantaneous, it’s considerably longer.’ Rose was doing that thing he knew so well, because she’d done it all the time when they’d been enemies: not looking at him when she spoke. There was also, he thought, the slightest hint of condescension, and with a sigh he wondered if he was going to get the cold treatment the entire journey. That should not have been his biggest problem. They had to make it to Switzerland to hunt clues about his errant ancestor which might lead to difficult truths about the Council of Thorns, and the clock was ticking. And yet the thought of Rose being angry or upset with him, beyond the natural bewilderment surrounding his resurrection, made him feel like crap.

‘Yes, but you can’t Portkey to Niemandhorn,’ he pointed out, more testy than he meant to be. ‘So that’s that.’

Rose tilted her nose in the air as they wound through the crowds of passengers. ‘Does the Ministry know you’re travelling?’

‘I told your father. Yes. Considering that we’re going to the centre of IMC activity, which is going to be positively crawling with security, he didn’t seem worried.’

She sniffed. ‘He wouldn’t.’

Scorpius kept his mouth shut as they reached the train doors until they’d passed their tickets to the conductor. ‘If you think I actually need security oversight, then why are you bloody here with me?’

She stared at him for a moment, then followed him on board. ‘I don’t,’ she said at last. ‘I’m just worried about what the Auror Office does and doesn’t have time for.’

‘Yeah, well, that’s why we’re taking matters into our own hands,’ he muttered, winding down the corridor. ‘Your dad’s keeping an eye on me because formally he’s charged with the hunt for my father. But he blatantly can’t make any bloody headway with that when the Aurors are going to go apeshit over Greece.’

‘Weakening the Council’s hold over an entire nation is a bit more important than one man.’

‘I’m not disagreeing with that -’ He stopped himself. The old habit of arguing her was, it seemed, set into his bones just as deeply as more affectionate impulses. He looked at the next door they came to, and sighed with relief. ‘Oh, here we are.’ As this was an overnight train, they couldn’t see into the compartments from the corridor, which made sense as soon as Scorpius gave it half a moment’s thought. But he’d not been thinking - not now, and not when booking the tickets, so they both stared at the small room. And its two bunks.

‘So I guess I’m next door,’ said Rose after a moment.

He stood in the middle of the cramped room, looked at the tickets, and said, ‘Um.’

She raised her eyebrows. ‘So I guess we’re sharing a compartment and what were you thinking?’

Scorpius waved the tickets wildly in the air. ‘Would you believe that I didn’t look, just blindly threw money at the problem?’

‘Of course you did! Of course that’s what happened! Scorpius Malfoy doesn’t think, Scorpius Malfoy just enjoys the finer things in life and his own whims!’

That took extra effort to not rise to. ‘This wasn’t a whim, this was our only bloody means of transport to Niemandhorn - and you volunteered to come with me on this trip! Insisted on it!’ Or maybe he was going to rise to it.

‘Well, yes, but that was before I realised my presence was getting in the way of your indulgent life! Going out with - with men while I’m…’

But she stopped herself and they stood in the narrow compartment for a moment, facing off. It was the first opportunity he’d had since coming back to properly look at her. The rest had been stolen glances or guilty eye-contact, because even looking at her felt like he was plunging a fresh knife into his heart.

She looked older. Not just in terms of two years; her face was more drawn, her brown eyes more sunken. Once, she’d let her shining red hair fall loose, satisfied with tying it back only in times which demanded practicality, otherwise prepared to battle with errant locks that were only more cooperative than her mother’s because there were herds of rampaging wildebeest more cooperative than Hermione Granger’s hair. But now the tight braid was the hairstyle for every day, and rarely did her eyes light up with curiosity or amusement or the fire he’d once loved provoking, her lips reduced to a thin, emotionless line.

He remembered her as a girl of passion and gold, but now he studied a woman of ice and steel.

You. You did this, and if you’re a fool, you’ll just do it again.

‘I’m going to the bar,’ he said, folding his arms across his chest. ‘You can get changed, or unwind, or whatever. I’ll try to crash in one of the communal spaces on board, so we can see each other as little as possible this entire bloody trip.’

And before she could answer, he’d turned on his heel and left the compartment, trying to not think about how going on a train trip with Rose Weasley was so much like old times it could choke him.


—————————

A/N: Recent canon mentions other magic platforms at King’s Cross, including ones for international trains. Platform Six and One-Sixth is just a blatant Marvel reference; ‘Earth 616’ is the designation for the main/real reality in the Marvel superhero comics continuity.


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