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Chapter 21 : Love Most, Say Least
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The Muggles had built the Gare d’Orsay over a hundred years ago, one of the latest stations built in Paris to play hub to the blossoming rail network. Wizards, as ever a little behind the curve on technology, had taken the fifty or so years of industrial development before they’d seen the merit of trains, and slipped their way into the building process to make sure another station was constructed alongside the Muggle works, deep underground.
The magical station had outlived its Muggle counterpart. No wizard cared if a station’s platform was too short; space, especially when folding space in the inner workings of one of the busiest cities of Europe was a common, simple for professional enchanters. So while the Niemandhorn Express started from London, within four hours it was pulling up in Paris. More passengers swarmed aboard, government officials and specialists in certain fields and the odd journalist, all winding their way to the new beating heart of the magical world: Niemandhorn Castle itself.
If the trip from London had felt to Rose like being back on the Hogwarts Express, then this felt like being on a rattling train dragging her from Athens to Aleppo to find Ager Sanguinis. Not that the Niemandhorn Express was anything like that run-down Muggle contraption. It was a handsome steam train, the carriage interiors all polished dark wood and imperial blue furnishings, keeping her in the lap of luxury while she sat alone in the shared compartment and stewed.
Walking in on Scorpius and John had been bad enough, an image which flared in front of her whenever she blinked and brought awkward jealousy and blossoming guilt. But now there was an overnight train to Switzerland, and this had her heart thudding in her chest. Not just because of sharing a room, but when arguing, what would have once been familiar irritation ballooned into anger and regret. Bickering felt so close to flirting felt so close to tumbling into his arms, and she still felt cold where Matt had pulled away. But Scorpius was right about one thing: she had volunteered for this expedition. So she reached deep into herself, sought cold logic over her feelings, and found them worryingly in sync.
Eventually she left the compartment and headed down the train. Paris and the fat gold of a setting sun swished past the windows when she reached her destination, the warm woods of the bar lit by low-hanging lamps. A mellow, jazzy tune drifted from a polished black piano playing itself as she walked to the counter and slid onto a stool next to her target. ‘Okay,’ she said. ‘I did volunteer for this job. Insist on it, in fact. So it’s silly for me to act like a brat, like us being in the same place is impossible.’
Scorpius had rolled up his shirt sleeves to show skin tanned and worn from long, hard labour outdoors. A new scar ran along his left forearm, and she idly wondered how much the parts of him out of sight had been changed and marked, too. A glass of Firewhiskey was in one hand, and he swirled it as she talked, ice clinking before he had a sip. ‘You need an apéritif,’ was all he said.
Rose hesitated. She wasn’t in the habit of drinking alcohol to deal with problems. It sounded like an addictive solution when her problems never stopped. ‘Uh. Not ouzo.’ She didn’t need to think of Kythos right now.
‘This is a train from France to Switzerland,’ said Scorpius wryly. ‘I’d have to go out of my way to order something Greek. We can go Italian. Campari?’
She’d drunk Campari on a balcony in Monaco with Matt and Alfonse Guerrier, who’d been murdered by Raskoph. There was probably no drink she couldn’t associate with something horrific, so it was as good a suggestion as any.
‘You might have volunteered for this,’ he continued once the lowball glass of reds and oranges was in front of her, ‘but it wasn’t a binding contract. This probably wasn’t a good idea anyway -’
‘You going on your own isn’t a good idea.’
‘I’m going to one of the most secure places in the world -’
‘Niemandhorn Castle might be safe. Sure, it’s the old headquarters of the Magical Alliance from the Grindelwald Wars. Sure, Lillian Rourke’s making it the new centre of operations for the IMC, which is a bloody political move if ever I heard one. But -’
‘It’s a wizarding castle that’s never fallen, with protections that make Hogwarts look like a holiday home. It’s not like I’m hurling myself into the abyss.’
Again. Rose sipped her drink. ‘I’m not worried about Niemandhorn. I’m worried about what Niemandhorn leads to. If there’s valuable information to be found, it won’t be easy and it won’t be safe.’
‘I can take care of myself.’
Her drink came down with a clunk. ‘How about we leave safety calls to the one of us who hasn’t died?’ He looked abashed, and she didn’t know if she should feel guilty or angry, so she pressed on, breezing past her feelings. It was an unfamiliar sensation. She wasn’t used to having feelings to breeze past. ‘Besides, if there’s a puzzle here, if there are secrets here, you shouldn’t have to face them alone. Even if all I am is an extra pair of eyes to look at a problem with you. And you were never the one for figuring out puzzles.’
‘I was a master at the Ravenclaw Tower riddles.’ Scorpius stuck his nose in the air.
‘You were an obstinate bastard at the Ravenclaw Tower riddles.’
‘And that was the solution. You had to accept the premise that the question was out to get you. It wasn’t about figuring out the logic, it was about finding the trap.’
‘Not everything’s a trap.’
‘My experience,’ said Scorpius, finishing his whiskey, ‘says otherwise.’ He tilted the glass in front of him, watched the low, golden lights of the bar refract through the cuttings, and sighed. ‘I really am glad you’re okay.’
Rose blinked. ‘What?’
‘You and Matt - I’m not bitter, I didn’t…’ Scorpius groaned. ‘Nobody wants to be forgotten when they’re gone, but you languishing in misery forever? I didn’t want that. I don’t want that. So - I might be horribly out of line, but I just thought I should say it. I’m glad you two found each other.’
It hadn’t been a conscious choice to not tell Scorpius about the breakup. Just with everything, she’d not got around to it. Now Rose was staring at the opportunity, it felt too on the nose an admission, too raw and too open to possibilities which were, right then, beyond contemplation. She needed to find her feet before she could find a path. So, instead, she had a swig of her drink. ‘I’m sorry I made this morning awkward. With John.’
‘Oh.’ His brow furrowed. ‘That wasn’t - he wasn’t going to stick around -’
‘It’s really none of my business -’
‘I was lonely and he was good company and - and it was a one-off thing,’ Scorpius blurted.
Good, came Rose’s treacherous thought. Instead she said, ‘You’re entitled to do whatever you like with whomever you like and you certainly don’t need to justify it to me.’
‘No, but I want to explain it. I owe you at least that much.’
He sounded guilty, like he owed her more. She remembered the game of chess in his mind, the rook he never let her take. Trying to forget, she sipped her drink. ‘I really shouldn’t be surprised you went and had a fling with a pretty boy, should I.’ She couldn’t keep the wryness out of her voice.
‘And I thought I was so discreet when I flirted with anything that stood still long enough,’ came his dry response.
‘Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t think John would be your type, but I suppose the two of you can run around being sardonic at everything.’
‘Albus was surprised.’
‘Albus is shockingly oblivious to some things.’
‘I reckon I offended him.’
‘Well, yes. It’s not like I never had this paranoid wondering that you two would run off together.’
Scorpius goggled. ‘Are you - seriously, woman, are you just trying to make my life the most complicated thing it could ever be?’
She tried, and failed, to smother a grin. ‘Oh, because that’s too much. I’m whisking to the centre of IMC politics with my resurrected ex-boyfriend to look into the secret life of his mysterious ancestor and how that maybe connects to the deranged Nazi dark wizard who wants to take over the world. But pointing out you and Albus are occasionally dangerously and, let’s face it, homo-erotically codependent is the bridge too far?’
He was staring at her, staring more than her joke demanded, and again her heart was thudding in her chest, because there was no way a normal conversation could be a normal conversation between them. Not any more.
On the edges, everything felt like they were just two people with a connection, sat in a bar having a drink and a chat and a reminisce. But on the inside she could feel all that she couldn’t say and couldn’t think, and all she didn’t want to think, like the feelings she’d admitted to Albus, like the secrets he was locking away, like the fact he’d hidden his survival from her for months on end, months in which he’d tortured and murdered at least one man because of a cause that had killed him in the first place -
‘So I got some more information on Cassian Malfoy,’ he blurted after the long silence.
She paused to watch him, then sipped her drink. ‘I did think it was odd you weren’t familiar with him.’
‘Believe it or not, I wasn’t very interested in pleasing my father by memorising the family tree. And he’s one of the more inauspicious branches. Stumps.’ He shook his head. ‘I don’t get how he’s anyone of any significance to Raskoph or the Council. He was my great-grandfather Abraxas’ younger brother. The letters and records I found at the Manor paint a picture of Cassian as a wastrel, a rake, a disappointment to his family and his father who left Hogwarts and spent three years, not the traditional one, on his world travels. When he came back, he took an underpaid job as a talent spotter for the Falmouth Falcons, spending most of his time in Europe. Living the high life off the family funds, doing whatever he liked, or so Abraxas wrote. He lost his job with the Falcons when the Grindelwald War broke out. He spent a bit of time in America, but then went on a magic safari. Africa. And didn’t come back when the war ended. He died out there; records list him as perishing in a hunting accident on the Maasai Mara. What?’
She’d failed to hide the slightest nose-wrinkle. ‘Nothing.’
‘You’ve got a thought. You did that -’ His gaze flickered across her face. ‘There was a thought.’
‘Knowing your ancestors would paint any behaviour they considered inappropriate for a scion of House Malfoy in the worst possible light… I don’t know. Quidditch fan, cared little for what his family thought.’ Rose sighed, and sipped her drink. ‘I thought he sounds a bit like you.’
‘How have you been filling your time in here?’
‘There are five hundred and fifty-three bricks in this ceiling.’ Eva sat up from her bunk to peer through the bars at Albus. ‘I wasn’t sure I’d see you here again.’
‘I wasn’t sure I’d be back.’ He’d aged more than two years since Scorpius’ death, in more than just mind and heart. His face was harder, any youthful roundness gone, more shadows cast across it by his longer hair. But it was his eyes that had changed the most and yet the least, staring at her with a coldness that could not hide the apprehension underneath. She didn’t know what it meant. ‘Don’t they give you books to read?’
‘They have. I’m not much of a reader.’ She gripped the edge of the bunk, forcing her voice to stay level.
‘I would have thought there’d be a lot of waiting around in mercenary work.’
‘There is. And prep-work for jobs, so I study. I wouldn’t have known how to beat those spirits on Cat Island otherwise.’ His expression flickered, and she looked down. She didn’t want him to think she was cashing in favours. ‘But I read magic theory when there’s a practical goal. And my life is far, far stranger than fiction.’
‘You could read something ordinary.’
‘Oh, yes. “Anita Bleasworth is twenty years old, works a job she hates, and her boyfriend just left her. But when mysterious and/or rich hunk Hypotenuse Bunk walks into her life, will she realise her true feelings before he slips through her grasp?” I think it’s a story that would really speak to me.’
He clearly didn’t want to laugh as much as he did. ‘Hypotenuse Bunk?’
‘I’ve met a Hypotenuse. Greek pureblood. Obviously hated by his parents.’
His lips thinned to a hard, awkward line. ‘You’re wondering why I’m here.’
‘I am. I accept you might not know the answer. I can’t say anything to make this easier, if that’s what you came for.’
‘It’s not.’ He didn’t tear his eyes off his hand, resting on the bars. ‘You’re familiar with the way law enforcement’s worked with civilians these past two years. Giving people of certain skills and affiliations a quasi-legal status. Protection under the law, support and resources, in return for duties performed. Both in fighting the Council and to reinforce everyday peacekeeping.’
‘It’s the deal Baz has with the Russian Federation and then the IMC as a whole. He likes to refer to himself as a civilian contractor when he’s being facetious.’
Oddly, Albus brightened, though his frown didn’t fade. ‘That’s a good way of looking at it. You were once protected by such a deal, because you worked for Baz.’
‘If you’re trying to find me a way out, I don’t understand why, but Baz will never -’
‘The Department of Magical Law Enforcement would like to offer you such a contract. You will receive amnesty for all crimes committed in the past until hostilities with the Council of Thorns end. In return, you will lend your expertise and experience to the war effort. The DMLE will take this into consideration upon your trial and sentencing.’
Eva narrowed her eyes. ‘What do they need me for?’
‘I assume you’ve heard what’s happening in Greece. If the Auror Office was stretched thin before, it’s translucent in places now. The hunt for Draco Malfoy’s fallen by the wayside, but he needs to be found. He’ll know more than anyone about Council influence in Britain, not to mention their wider plans. But he could be anywhere in the world right now.’
‘And why are you offering me this?’
Albus dragged his gaze up to meet hers. ‘Because I was going to look for Draco Malfoy anyway, only for once I get to do work like this with the authorities. And I can’t do this alone.’
‘What about the others?’
‘Scorpius has his own enquiries to chase up. Rose is with him. Matt’s not fighting fit and this isn’t where Selena’s strengths lie. If Draco Malfoy’s gone to ground under a Council nest, then I need someone professional, and while I can call in a squad of Aurors if I get a lead, getting that intel in the first place is going to be dangerous.’
Eva pursed her lips and tried to think through the hammering of her heart. Then she stood and approached the bars. She didn’t know if she should take it as a good sign when Albus flinched. ‘If I’m going to do this, then I need to know a few things.’
‘You get to be not in jail -’
‘Are you still going to think about killing me?’
His eyes widened. ‘Of course not -’
‘Don’t “of course” me, like you’d never think about it. You threatened it in Rotterdam, you thought about it on the Naglfar. I saw it in your eyes.’
He looked away. ‘I was angry then.’
‘And now Scorpius is alive, you’re suddenly, what, all better? Two years of loneliness and pain don’t disappear overnight. You might feel better. But that’s a million miles away from everything being okay.’
There was a furious flash in deep green when his gaze snapped back to her. It hurt to be right, often. ‘Like I said, you get to not rot in jail, you get to fight, to make yourself useful, to even earn your way out of prison -’
‘And all that proves is how justice is a system to be played. Nobody I’ve murdered is less dead because I’m less bad now.’ She jerked her chin up an inch. ‘I won’t do this if I’m watching my back all the time. That will get us both killed. Even when I was a mercenary, I only took jobs with people I trusted to look out for me. The last thing I need is for you to remember you promised to kill me.’
‘I wouldn’t be here,’ said Albus in a low, firm voice, ‘if I still wanted to kill you. And you don’t need to remind me that the last two years happened. When the hell did you become this zen adviser?’
‘Changing yourself,’ said Eva simply, ‘takes being honest with yourself. If you think everything’s okay now, you’re lying to yourself.’
‘I didn’t say everything was okay! But Draco Malfoy needs finding; Matt needs him found, Scorpius needs him found -’
‘And so you’ll do it for Scorpius, everything for Scorpius. He’s back, so you don’t hate the world any more, so you don’t hate me any more, so you’ll even work with me, because Scorpius needs you to. Do you even know why Scorpius, for whom you’d do anything, let you think he was still dead for eight months? Worked with the man who turned me into a weapon, who plagued Hogwarts and let people die, who murdered dozens of people to chase the Chalice, who almost killed you in Portugal? And before you try to turn this on me, I can promise you that Prometheus Thane does not regret the things he’s done.’
Albus’ jaw was tight. ‘I don’t think what Scorpius is or isn’t saying has anything to do with you and me -’
‘What do you do when your trust’s broken again -’
‘It won’t be!’ Hands slammed on the bars, the rattle deafening with his shout. ‘Not with him, never with him, and don’t you dare make out like he’s like you -’
‘There it is,’ she snapped, forcing herself to keep his gaze. ‘Don’t pretend you’re not angry with me, Al. What is it; you accept I helped you, that I didn’t betray you? You accept that I’ve been trying to change, so you think you shouldn’t feel personally hurt? I lied to you. I even, for a little time, manipulated you. I might not be the devil you told yourself I was, but I hurt you.’
‘I thought you said you wouldn’t work with me if you thought I’d turn on you -’
‘I worked with Elijah Downing for several years, and he and I despised one another. But I still trusted him to have my back when we did a job. He even trusted me the same way, right up until I stabbed him. If you’re still hissing and spitting and growling at me, if you’re that blinded by pain, I won’t work with you. But I don’t need you pretending everything’s alright, only to snap like this when pushed.’
Anger fled from his shoulders, his expression sagging like it was dragged down by his burdens. ‘You could be out of here already.’
Eva swallowed. ‘Before I came to your flat in Moscow,’ she said, voice low, ‘I told myself that if I was going to do this, I was going to do it right.’
His gaze flicked up to meet hers. ‘You are maddening.’
‘If it’s any consolation, my life made perfect sense to me until I met you.’
He drummed his fingers on the bars and drew an apprehensive breath. ‘You think Scorpius is lying?’
It was like he’d break if he more than whispered the doubt, and her heart was tight in her chest as she watched him. Before she knew it, her hand came up, brushing against his. ‘I don’t know,’ she said honestly. ‘I think there’s more than you know. Maybe he thinks he’s speaking the truth, and Prometheus really has got under his skin. He does that.’
Albus’ expression twisted. ‘I wish I were with him. But he needs his father found, and he gave me this responsibility. Asked me to do it, because he trusts me. I have to do this for him; I have to.’ He swallowed hard. ‘Will you help me?’
A part of her wondered if her cell would be safer. But Eva had lived her life for ruthless efficiency and she’d lived it for bitter regret; never had she lived it for safety. She wasn’t going to start now. ‘I’ll take the deal. I’ll toe the party line. And I’ll help you.’
He stared at her hand resting atop his, and when he pulled back it was a slow withdrawal, not a jerky escape. ‘Okay. I’ll go tell them, I just - I had to be the one to ask you.’
She nodded and he left, and then she was alone once again in the dripping cell in the belly of the DMLE Headquarters. She paced it once more, as she’d done a hundred times before; sat on the bench and counted the bricks overhead again for old time’s sake, and she was halfway through before there were fresh footsteps from the corridor.
Eva Saida had never properly met Harry Potter. He’d been front-and-centre when they’d returned to Britain from Saint Annard, but he’d barely looked at her. Orders had been given and the Enforcers had taken her away to this cell, and they had never so much as exchanged words. But he was a hero of near-legend and he was Albus’ father and he was the reason she hadn’t been shipped off for a Dementor’s Kiss in France, and she wasn’t sure which of these made her more apprehensive to look at him.
‘Ms Saida.’ He extended a roll of parchment and a quill through the bars. ‘You’ll want to read this and sign it.’
She took both, unrolling the paper and seeing the same standard agreement Baz had dealt with. She read it anyway, just to be sure. It was easier than looking at him. ‘This all seems in order,’ she said at last, and left her mark.
‘Note the paragraph which states that if you do not hand yourself into custody at the official end of hostilities or termination of this contract, upon your apprehension you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Regardless of any services rendered.’
Who in the world ever ran away thinking they’d get caught? But this wasn’t the time to be sardonic. She rolled the parchment again and returned it. ‘I’ve worked under these terms for Balthazar Vadimas the past two years. I have no problem with the same deal.’
Harry Potter’s expression was tense, set, and colder even than his son’s in the grips of his greatest anger. ‘You and I both know this is not the same deal.’
‘I handed myself in. I know what I’m getting into.’
‘You’re being trusted because Albus trusts you, in this at least. I accept and recognise you’ve helped my family…’ Harry’s voice trailed off, and his jaw clenched. ‘I will not see them hurt again. Do you understand?’
‘If you’re talking about my personal choices regarding your son, or even your niece, I have no intention of lying. If you’re talking about the dangers of the world, I will fight alongside your son and I will protect him to the best of my ability, but you know as well as I do that nothing guarantees safety. Not staying at home in a metal box, and certainly not hunting down Thornweavers.’
His eyes narrowed, those green eyes so piercingly like his son’s. ‘I don’t need a lecture on risks -’
‘No, sir, I know you don’t. And you know that personal safety at all costs comes at the expense of the safety of others.’ It had always, Eva reflected, been easier to kill a possible threat. Then they definitely couldn’t hurt you. ‘But if it’s any consolation, I would die to keep your son safe.’
Harry hesitated. ‘Why?’
‘I’m not sure you need me to go into great detail, sir.’ Somehow, this was easier; somehow, she could keep this like a debriefing from a tense employer. Brisk, professional. ‘But in ten years, your son will ideally be living a normal, happy, healthy life. The same can’t be said for me.’
Harry Potter stared at her for a moment. Then he sighed, and flicked his wand at the cell lock. ‘You’ll make regular reports to Auror-Captain Weasley,’ he said, and the tension of the moment broke. Now this really was just work. ‘Albus can make those reports, but if for some reason he doesn’t, that will fall to you. We will keep you both updated with any news we find about Draco Malfoy’s circumstances and whereabouts. If you’re in need of backup, we’ll provide what help we can. If you find the man, you have the authority to apprehend him, but you have to bring him in to the nearest appropriate authorities as soon as possible.’
Eva nodded, following Harry out of the winding maze of the DMLE HQ’s cell block. ‘I assume “appropriate” authorities means we can hang onto him if we suspect the locals to be corrupt?’
‘If you need to keep him trussed up in a bloody trunk all the way between Australia and this office, then you do that.’
They climbed the stairs in silence, and it was only when she heard the humming of an office, the sound of people and life and normalcy, that something stuck in her throat. ‘Sir -’ He stopped on the steps and looked back at her, brow furrowing. ‘I should thank you. I’m aware France wanted me extradited for trial, and I’m aware how that trial would end.’
His expression remained impassive. ‘It’s not British policy to allow prisoner extradition if a conviction will result in the Kiss. We’ve had to play politics during the years of the IMC, but you weren’t worth anyone rocking the boat for.’ Then he hesitated, and frowned at a spot over her head. ‘You rescued my son and niece in Ager Sanguinis. You helped them in Rotterdam and France. I know this is a big, complicated world, but I have no problem showing this kind of mercy. And the last thing I need is another reason for Albus to hate me.’ A muscle in the corner of his jaw flickered, and now he met her gaze, still cold. ‘If you betray his trust again, you won’t need a Dementor’s Kiss.’
Eva was entirely accustomed to being threatened. But even the threats of Albus at his most furious, or Joachim Raskoph at his most psychotic, had not thudded into her as hard as Harry Potter’s. She swallowed hard. ‘I understand, sir.’
This wasn’t dignified by an answer, and Harry led her up through the corridors of the DMLE, then out into the open office of the Auror Division. She could see Albus sat by a desk in the corner, manned by a red-haired man she recognised as Rose’s father, and it was to there that Harry led her, straight-backed, ignoring the eyes of all present that fell upon them.
Albus shot to his feet the moment they got there. ‘So, paperwork’s… done?’
‘It’s done.’ Harry tossed the parchment to Ron Weasley. ‘You have your consultants.’
Ron gave her a dubious look. ‘Welcome aboard. For the record, I hate working with civilians.’
‘It’s not my habit to work with the law, either,’ Eva drawled before she could stop herself.
To her surprise and relief, Ron’s lips twisted with a lopsided smile. ‘Then let’s hope we flourish out of our element, hm?’
Eva looked to Albus. ‘What comes now?’
He let out a slow breath. ‘We’ll get you settled, and then go over the case files, all the records we have, and figure out where we start in all of this.’
‘Great. Settled where?’
Albus blinked, and Ron and Harry exchanged glances behind him. ‘What?’
Eva raised an eyebrow. ‘Unless my assets in Russia have been unfrozen, I don’t have a knut to my name. I have no place of residence in Britain; I’ve barely been here.’
Ron let out a slow breath. ‘Hoo, boy. Good start.’
‘I… didn’t think of that,’ Albus admitted. ‘Dad, can we see about her assets -’
‘I’ll have to make some calls to the Federation. Who won’t be thrilled about us giving Saida this deal, so they’ll drag their feet.’ Harry grimaced. ‘We can arrange some Division funds, seeing as you’ll need it for the operations anyway.’
‘That’s never a quick job,’ Ron pointed out. ‘You’d think it would be, with the Office Head, but bureaucrats are evil bastards who make Thornweavers look fluffy. No offence intended.’
‘Technically, they didn’t call us “Thornweavers” when I was one of them. So, no offence taken.’
Albus sighed. ‘I’ll put you up in a room in the Leaky Cauldron, or something; Hannah can sort that out…’
‘Except the Leaky Cauldron has no security set up,’ said Ron. ‘No wards, nothing. But there is one house that’s safe as… er, houses, and if it’s just one night, it is an easier option. It’s just also like something out of a horror story.’
Eva saw Albus and Harry exchange looks, and closed her eyes. Somehow this had managed to get worse.
‘What’s all this?’
Matt jolted at the voice, so lost in his reverie of times gone by and the siren call of ancient parchments that he wasn’t ready for an interruption. His metal hand jerked and almost upended his teacup. ‘Shit -’
‘I’m sorry.’ Selena shut the door to the spare room behind her. ‘Didn’t mean to startle you.’
‘No, I was - I should have been paying more attention. What time is it?’ He slumped back in the chair.
‘It’s about eleven. I was going to go to bed, I just saw the light under your door. I’ve barely seen you all day.’ She padded over and rested her hands on the edge of the table. ‘Are these the Guanahani maps?’
‘Yes. I’ve been going over everything we found on the hunt.’
He let out a slow breath. ‘I went to see my father today. In jail.’
An inch of tension creaked from his back as he felt her hand at his shoulder. ‘How’d it go?’
‘Short. We only had five minutes. The Minister’s office is intent on nailing him to the wall, just so Minister Halvard can appear relevant while your mother’s kicking international arse…’ He scrubbed his face with his good hand. ‘He fussed. I updated him. And he told me that I was, under no circumstances, to do anything.’
‘Anything.’ Matt stared at the paper. ‘I don’t know if he’s paranoid I’ll be targeted to get to him. I don’t know if someone’s put pressure on him. But his instructions were clear. Don’t get involved. Let the IMC handle the Council.’
She frowned, gaze going to the papers strewn across the desk. ‘So of course you’re going over all of our old Chalice records.’
‘I… never looked at them before,’ he admitted. ‘We lost the Chalice. Scorpius died, and looking at it… hurt. The world was a whole lot darker without him. You should have seen us when we were together to go after you - I mean, Rose and Al and me. We needed one of the two of you, to point out just how incredibly stupid we were being. Sure, he’d do it with a joke at my expense, but…’ He shook his head. ‘Looking at all this was depressing. And made me feel guilty. I got a second chance. He didn’t. Except now he -’
‘You’re rambling,’ Selena said gently. ‘And I don’t believe you’re just looking at this for nostalgia.’
He looked down again. ‘Everyone else is racing after danger. My father’s been jailed for his work. I can’t stand by and do nothing. I just can’t.’
The corners of her eyes creased. ‘I don’t want to see you throwing yourself into something to avoid thinking about Rose.’
‘Trust me, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about Rose this past week.’ Matt ducked his head. ‘I’ve been thinking so much that I’m sick of thinking, and thinking isn’t going to change a thing any more. So if I don’t do something else, I’m just wallowing. Wallowing in losing her, wallowing in what a fool I was to ever have her, wallowing in my father’s fate, wallowing in this.’ He jerked his prosthetic.
‘It is not useless for you to take time to recover.’
‘But my mind works, Selena. Most of the world’s experts on the Chalice are dead. Nobody but Prometheus Thane bothered studying it after it was lost. Professor Lockett’s a potioneer. I might be the last expert in the world, after Reynald de Sablé, and I cannot, I cannot do nothing!’ He brought his hand down on the table, only it was the metal one and it did knock over his teacup this time.
He swore, but Selena grabbed it without ceremony, pity, or reproach, and when she met his gaze, her expression was calm. ‘You’re right,’ she said. ‘You are one of the best-qualified people to work on the Chalice. So why, instead of rushing off independently like Scorpius and Rose, instead of going solo in secret like your father, don’t we go to the Ministry tomorrow and tell them you’re the best man for this project?’
‘We?’ His brow furrowed. ‘I’m not asking you to jump on board this with me.’
She hesitated, but then there was conviction in her eyes. ‘We can argue this tomorrow; it’s too late for this kind of debate. I’m going to bed. Don’t you stay up too late; you need your rest, and I will nag you if I must.’
He couldn’t suppress a small, pleased smile at her threat. Her hand brushed his shoulder, and then she was gone, leaving him with his paperwork, the throbbing in his wrist, and fading warmth. With a grimace, he disconnected the prosthetic, and set it down as a glorified paperweight. But now he could return to the world of Caribbean maps and lost ancient artifacts and not having to worry about anything more complicated than Selena’s evasion and trying to get over Rose. At least some things didn’t change.
He was still reading when he heard the scream an hour later.
Years of practice with the sword meant he was comfortable with his wand in his left hand. Matt flew into the corridor, weapon brandished, eyes darting about. Already there was the nervous creak of an opening door from Miranda’s room, and he lifted his stump at her. ‘Stay there!’
The scream had come from the other way, from Selena’s room. Matt didn’t need to kick the door open, but he couldn’t use the handle without dropping his wand, and if there was a threat -
He burst in to find no night-time attacker, no danger. Just Selena sat bolt upright, eyes wide, chest heaving with ragged breathing, bedsheets twisted around her, and he realised what had happened.
He lowered his wand. ‘Oh.’
‘…did you just break the door?’ That was Miranda, padding onto the landing, braver now she’d realised they weren’t being invaded. But as she reached him she gave him a questioning look, a silent, ‘Are you handling this or am I?’ and for the first time, Matt felt sorry for Miranda Travers, who’d woken up from Phlegethon to find she would never, ever be able to understand one of her best friends again.
‘I’ll fix it,’ he muttered, and gestured her away as he padded into the bedroom. Repair work was not front of his thoughts. Selena was.
She was still blinking, still getting her breathing under control. ‘Matt, I - it’s okay, I was just -’
‘Dreaming. I know.’ He slid his wand into his pocket and nudged the door closed, then went to the bedside and turned on the lamp. ‘Just a little something, just enough to make us all think you were being murdered.’
She covered her face with her hands. ‘Sorry, I didn’t -’
‘That was a joke.’ He hunkered down next to the bed, resting his good hand on the sheets. ‘Are you okay? Can I get you anything?’
‘No, no. I’m better now. I’m awake. It’s all gone.’ She was still a tight bundle, knees drawn up under her chin, and he could see the gleam of sweat. ‘You don’t need to come in and fuss -’
‘I’m invoking veto on being told to go away,’ he said, and tried to sound wry, gentle, despite the concern humming through his veins. ‘You look like the last thing you need is to be alone.’
Selena looked at him at last, and only now did he see the hollow shadow in her eyes, the haunted glint. ‘Oh, you dear, stupid man,’ she breathed. ‘Didn’t you realise? I’m always alone.’
She said it so casually, and yet it was almost enough to knock him over. He perched on the side of the bed, closer but not yet reaching for her. ‘You’re - you’re not -’
‘No, I’m - I’m just tired, Matt…’
He wasn’t convinced, but to tell her she wasn’t alone when he’d let her slip away, when they’d barely talked for months on end, felt empty. Even promises sounded empty, because they’d made them before, and even if they’d both failed them, they’d still been broken. So all he could manage to say, voice low and hoarse, was a gentle, ‘What did you dream?’
She looked away, hair falling across her face, shimmering in the low light. ‘I wasn’t surprised when it turned out they had the Chalice in Saint Annard. It does things to the area, doesn’t it. I was locked up in the dark for several days. I thought it was all in my head. Maybe it was.’ Selena’s breath quavered. ‘It wasn’t a dream, Matt. Dreams aren’t real. Shadows and death and ghosts? We all know, now, that’s real…’
She shuddered, and without thinking he’d slid across the bed to wrap his good arm around her shoulder, pull her to him, and the burst of relief when she didn’t pull back was almost palpable. With another shaking breath she curled in next to him, head on his chest, fingers tangling in his shirt. ‘You’re a stupid, stupid, dear man.’
‘I really am.’
‘But you came for me.’ The words were almost lost as they were mumbled into his side.
‘I had to.’
‘But the big gestures are easy, or, I mean, easy if you don’t count losing a hand…’ Her voice was tumbling over itself, dry as Selena’s arch humour always was, grieving and anguished like he’d only seen her in the darkest moments. ‘…and then we’re back in the small moments and those are the ones which break -’
‘They break, they do,’ he murmured into her hair, eyes slamming shut. ‘And I’m weak, and you’re weak, but we’re both here now, tonight, and tonight, you’re not alone.’
He wanted to tell her she’d never be alone, that he’d never go, but he knew how hollow the promises were, and so all he could do to ease her pain was reaffirm the present. The here and now.
And here and now, he wasn’t going to let her go.
A/N: You may have heard of the Gare d'Orsay as the Musée d'Orsay. It was a Parisian train station before it was a museum but fell out of use partly due to the platforms being too short. It sounded like the sort of place wizards would sneak in their own magical platform, as it was built a little later than other Parisian stations and so I figured they would by then realise 'trains are handy' and stick their oars in with the construction of a new station than shove one into the Gare de Lyons or the like.
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