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Oblivion by Slide
Chapter 23 : A Hundred Winters
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 8


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A Hundred Winters


What had once been a bustling centre of international travel, espionage, and operations was now a gloomy and dusty warehouse, but still Matt stood in the centre of his father’s old base and saw what could be.

‘We can’t keep the Chalice here for long,’ he told Lowsley, who handled the solid wooden box containing it like a bomb that might go off. ‘But we can keep it hidden and under lock and key. ‘

This was not the staff once summoned here. But then, his father had used DMLE officers, former and present; Ministry officials, experts in various fields. He’d paid them handsomely to do dangerous and illegal work. The Doyle family was getting back into business in a far more legitimate and narrow manner, which meant Matt only needed a handful of their past employees, and now he had some of Hermione Granger’s people, to boot.

Not many. They had to worry about Lethe, about outbreaks in the Grecian area, about continuous Inferi hostile activity in South Africa, suspected to be the Council’s next target for a takeover. Hermione’s people were experts in illnesses, not necessarily the artifact which had spawned the plague. They were all elsewhere.

‘Doyle!’

Almost all elsewhere.

Matt turned at the familiar voice, eyebrows raising. ‘Professor, glad you could be here -’

‘I cannot believe you managed to strong-arm Granger into this.’ Nathalie Lockett’s lips were a thin, angry line as she stalked into the warehouse. ‘I had the Chalice research entirely under control…’

‘Respectfully, Professor, you’re a potioneer -’

‘And you’re nineteen.’

Matt paused. ‘Twenty. Just.’

‘Oh, I take it back, that makes you eminently more qualified -’

‘For the past two years, nobody - except maybe Prometheus Thane and his people - have been studying the Chalice of Emrys. The foremost expert on such an artifact was murdered by the Council. I, however, chased this object. Read every historical record we could find; worked with Reynald de Sablé, who harboured the Chalice for centuries.’ Matt stabbed a finger at Nejem and Lowsley, who were sidling towards the secure underground access point. ‘I’m one of the closest things to an expert we have left.’

Lockett opened and shut her mouth, looking like she was biting back a retort with supreme effort. Matt stayed silent, in part because he never knew how to handle Nat Lockett. He’d never had a high opinion of her as a teacher; she’d treated students as an occupational hazard, not the job. But then she’d cured Phlegethon, and kept him personally alive long enough for Selena and the others to find the Chalice of Emrys on Cat Island.

‘My understanding of the Stygian plagues leaves me perfectly prepared to study the Chalice and figure out how to disconnect it from Lethe -’

‘You’re good, Professor, I’m really not doubting that,’ said Matt. ‘And I’ve got your notes on your work so far, and it’s looking great. But there’s a worldwide danger of Lethe, to wizards and Muggles alike, and there is never enough cure to distribute fast enough. Surely, surely you’re better off freed up to either find a way to save them, or to continue your brilliant potions which keep them alive long enough for one of the cures to get to these people?’

Lockett folded her arms across her chest. ‘You’ve got my notes?’ She sounded guarded.

‘Ms Granger forwarded me everything the research time had -’

‘Then you know I disagree with Thane’s theory that the Chalice must be destroyed?’

‘I saw that.’

‘If he’s wrong,’ said Lockett, stepping forward, ‘then all we’ve done is remove a source of a cure -’

‘I’m not jumping down that road, Professor, I agree it shouldn’t be done lightly. But I don’t even know if it’s possible.’ Matt let out a long breath. ‘The priority is to sever the tie between the Chalice and Lethe. It’s powering Lethe; it’s part of why it’s so much harder to cure or delay than Eridanos. I do see no reason why destroying the Chalice won’t work.’

‘Surely it’ll be easier to just break that tie -’

‘I don’t know! It’s too soon! I will look at this. Not through Lethe - you’ve studied the connection between the virus and the Chalice enough. I’m going to go back to the Chalice’s roots. Once I understand more of the intrinsic magics which created it, I will understand how it fuels a plague.’ Matt drew a deep breath. ‘And I’ll know better how to destroy it, if it comes to that. Understand, Professor, I will take no joy in destroying something of this much cultural -’

‘I’m talking about saving lives -’

So am I.’ Matt’s jaw tightened. ‘Professor. With respect. This was Ms Granger’s call, not yours. She trusts me. I hunted this thing. I know you were there at the final leg of the search, but to Syria, to Portugal, to the Caribbean, this was my research. I know what I’m doing.’

Lockett stared at him for a moment, then turned away, running a hand through her short, greying dark hair. ‘You bloody kids…’

‘The others respect you a great deal. You saved my life twice. I will of course listen to your counsel. I’m not eager to destroy the Chalice; Thane might be wrong. But he was under Veritaserum and understood the Chalice enough to summon it from the Otherworld. I have to give this theory proper consideration.’

‘Hmph.’ She looked no less discontented. ‘You’ll keep me appraised of your progress?’

‘As a professional courtesy. I answer to Hermione Granger.’

‘That’ll have to do.’ Lockett looked across the warehouse, expression flat. ‘At least you’re doing this with the Ministry.’

‘At least the Ministry are listening to me.’

‘It’s a novelty.’ She shrugged, and turned away. ‘I’ll let you get to work.’

Matt rolled his eyes as she left. His father would throw a fit that Lockett, not assigned to this team, could wrangle its location out of the Task Force, but she had the rank and respect that he himself wasn’t surprised. He turned as Lowsley padded up next to him, bare-handed; the Chalice had been stowed, for now.

‘Shall I have our ongoing research notes forwarded to the Professor?’

‘Like hell,’ said Matt. ‘I answer to Hermione Granger and Lockett’s going to South Africa. I’ll tell her whatever she damn well needs to hear to leave me alone.’ He pointed at Lowsley’s chest. ‘We’ve got everything we need to get started, but there’s one more thing you have to do: wherever in the bloody world he is, bring me de Sablé. He and I have a lot to talk about.’


* *


‘It’s useful to rescue the daughter of the Chairman of the IMC,’ Scorpius mused as he led them past the security checkpoint and into the deeper chambers of Niemandhorn Castle. Most people couldn’t get down here, not under the current arrangements, but they’d shown up, identified themselves, and been waved through. ‘Not to mention international fame. What’s even down here?’

‘This castle is centuries old,’ said Rose, following down well-lit marble halls that wound right into the mountain. ‘And it’s always been a centre for European magical affairs. Often as a point of neutrality, or unity. I believe the first construction here happened under the Carolingian kings -’

‘Please, no,’ Scorpius growled. ‘I’m struggling with history eighty years old, let’s not go eight hundred.’

‘Actually more like twelve hundred.’

Exactly.’ He kept advancing, because that way he didn’t have to look at her, and still he felt guilty for cutting her off. It was a lie that he didn’t want to hear; he’d never brimmed over with enthusiasm for the ancient tales their work often brought them into contact with, but he didn’t think he could stand to hear her gushing such. It was too endearing.

They proceeded the rest of the way in silence, until Scorpius came to a halt outside a heavy, dark wooden door next to a plaque which simply read Alliance Archives. ‘So that looks promising.’

Inside was a huge chamber, dimly lit by flickering sconces that could only cast so much light down here, even on the bright white stone of Niemandhorn. Stacks of shelves stretched deep, going so far that he couldn’t see where they ended, thick with boxes and crates and leather-bound volumes. Dust filled his nostrils, like history itself had a smell, and while Scorpius had never cared much for that, today he could taste the apprehension which came with it.

Maybe this was how it always felt to Rose and Matt. ‘Excuse me?’

Several desks were pushed up at this end of the chamber, and a head popped up from behind it - a young, dark-haired man with wonky glasses and a perpetually hangdog expression. ‘Huh? Oh - visitors and tourists aren’t allowed down here…’

Scorpius lifted his hands. ‘We’ve got permission from Chairman Rourke to be here.’

The attendant pushed his glasses up his nose. ‘That’s great, but Chairman Rourke doesn’t have any authority over Alliance records.’

‘She has authority over security -’

‘We just want to ask some questions,’ said Rose, stepping up with an encouraging smile. ‘It could be important. It’s to do with Colonel Raskoph.’

The young man got to his feet, and Scorpius spotted the security pass hanging around his neck, the name ‘Lorenz Mueller’ visible. ‘Everyone wants to know about Colonel Raskoph. We have released all the records we have on Colonel Raskoph…’

‘It’s not just about him,’ said Scorpius. ‘Look, this might be a bit of an odd query, but I really want to know about someone who - well, I tried looking him up in England, but I hit Alliance security obstacles and was told to ask here. I don’t know if he was an enemy of yours… Cassian Malfoy.’

Mueller sighed. ‘I’m an archivist, and the Alliance Archives is not in the habit of giving out -’

‘That’ll do, Lorenz.’

All three spun at the voice from the stacks to see a looming shadow. But it diminished as the figure drew closer, monstrous tricks of flickering firelight fading to show nothing more than an elderly witch, straight-backed and clear-eyed despite her advanced years. The dust and shadows of the archives hung around her like a shroud, but when her gaze landed on Scorpius, he had to take a step back as they pierced straight through him.

‘My name is Adeline Bachelet. I am the Keeper of these archives, and while my young associate is correct in that we do not simply hand out our old records, this knowledge is kept for a purpose.’

Scorpius felt his throat tighten as she advanced towards him, and straightened. ‘I hope we come with a good purpose. I really don’t know for sure. I want to check up on someone - look, I should start from the beginning, my name’s Scorpius -’

‘Malfoy. Isn’t it?’ She was in front of him now, and a wrinkled hand came up to his chin. He fought the instinct to pull back, and she turned his face this way and that, bright gaze still piercing. ‘What are you? His brother’s grandson?’

‘Great-grandson,’ Scorpius creaked. ‘You knew him? I’m right, aren’t I, he did have something to do with the Alliance…’

A creased old face folded even more with pain. ‘Cassian. Yes. He was one of us.’

Scorpius felt a wave of relief as Rose piped up. ‘We have reason to believe finding more about Cassian might find us more about Joachim Raskoph.’

‘Ah.’ Bachelet pulled back, gaze pinching. ‘So suddenly the Malfoy family cares.’

Scorpius blinked. ‘What do you mean?’

She walked to a desk and pulled up the chair behind it. ‘Cassian died eighty years ago. Would you believe that you’re the first Malfoy to come here and ask questions?’

‘Our family records say he died in a hunting accident -’

‘A lie circulated by Abraxas.’

Rose frowned. ‘Cassian’s records in Britain were sealed -’

‘That is the default for all agents of the Magical Alliance. Except I know Cassian’s brother knew the truth, and he never sought to unseal those records. While there are specifics and operations which remained sensitive for long years, the simple fact that Cassian Malfoy was one of our agents did not need to remain a secret. But Abraxas let the world think his brother lived and died a rakish, irresponsible fop.’

Scorpius thinned his lips and shoved his hands into his pockets. ‘I guess fighting Grindelwald’s ideology wasn’t a very popular move for a Malfoy back then.’

‘And times have changed?’ The old lady tilted her nose in the air.

Mueller stepped towards her, taut. ‘Madame Bachelet, we can kick them out -’

‘Oh, no. I’ve waited a long time to hear these justifications.’

Scorpius glanced at Rose, who shrugged haplessly, and turned on Bachelet. ‘I’m not going to defend Malfoy family bullshit to you, Madame Bachelet. I’ve been at the receiving end of too much of it. But I need to know the truth about Cassian Malfoy, and I need to know how and where he actually died.’

Bachelet’s eyes narrowed. ‘Why does it matter where he died?’

‘Do you know?’ said Rose softly. ‘He died after the war, and if he was an Alliance agent I bet it wasn’t a hunting accident.’

‘He -’

‘I understand,’ said Scorpius, seeing her shoulders tense, ‘that I have been lied to about there being even one decent guy in my family tree. I know the Malfoys never stuck their necks out in the fight against Grindelwald; I know Abraxas was even investigated to see if he was bloody funding the Thule Society. I don’t know if it was the truth or just vicious rumour, but it wouldn’t bloody surprise me. But this isn’t about that. I’m not going to try to justify what my great-grandfather did. I reckon I can’t. But if Cassian knew anything about Raskoph, knew things we don’t, then I need to know the truth.’

Bachelet watched them with a tense, guarded air. ‘I say again - why do you care where he died?’

Scorpius bit his lip. ‘I’m not -’

‘Scorp, I think you should tell her.’ Rose’s voice was low.

The elderly witch looked between them. ‘Tell me what?’

‘Okay. This is going to sound mad.’ Scorpius lifted a finger. ‘I have reason to believe Cassian Malfoy’s a ghost. Of the “trapped in this world, tormented by unfinished business” type. I believe that this ghost might be able to give me important information about Raskoph.’

Bachelet drew a short, sharp breath. ‘Why do you think that?’

‘You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. But I -’

‘You clearly cared about Cassian,’ Rose chirped up, stepping forward. ‘So isn’t taking the chance we’re right more important than vengeance against his family, when the family who wronged Cassian are long dead?’

‘If there’s something to look into about Cassian’s death, then I will do it myself. I see no reason to share his secrets with the great-grandson of the man who denied him -’

‘I understand hating the Malfoys,’ Rose snapped. ‘I understand what it’s like to watch them fail to see the worth in a cause, in morals, and to fail to see the worth in a person, in one of their own. But if Cassian was a man who said to hell with his family, if he decided to do what was right anyway, then this man, then Scorpius, is absolutely the keeper of that Malfoy legacy. We want to look into Raskoph because we have fought him, over and over, and we want him stopped.’ Her shoulders slumped, expression sinking. ‘And isn’t it about time Cassian was remembered by his family in the right way?’

Bachelet was silent through this, piercing gaze flickering between Rose and Scorpius, and even when Rose was done she didn’t say anything for long, aching moments. Then she glanced at Mueller. ‘Lorenz, could you bring us coffee?’

The attendant gave a quick nod and scurried to the door, and only after he was gone did Bachelet press on, eyes resting now on Scorpius. ‘You do look a lot like him,’ she murmured, and then looked away. ‘You should understand how our operations worked. The Magical Alliance came into being at around the same time as the Thule Society, but it was not the great organisation history remembers; not then. It was not always popular to oppose Grindelwald, especially on the continent. We were well-meaning witches and wizards trying to cut off their shadow war at the pass. From as early as 1923, we fought Thule wizards across the world, opposing Grindelwald’s rise to power.

‘British wizards were particularly unusual. Britain remained isolated from European matters until the Muggle outbreak of war. But Cassian worked on the continent for his Quidditch team. He saw much of the Thule Society’s actions in Berlin, in Warsaw. For whatever reason, he did not think like his family, and he was approached by the Alliance to work as an agent, operating freely in those cities under the guise of his formal work. He accepted and sent us information, kept close tabs on Thule operations.’

Bachelet got to her feet and reached for her wand, swishing it down the stacks without a word. Nothing seemed to happen, and she kept talking. ‘The Quidditch league was suspended in 1936, as tensions rose, and Cassian stepped fully into the Alliance. Across Europe, the US, the whole world, we fought against Thule Society agents seeking more power, more influence. We tried to cut them off at their roots.’

Scorpius swallowed hard. ‘You two worked together?’

She nodded. ‘I knew Raskoph, but it was Cassian who fought him the most. They had become enemies in Berlin in the Thirties. As hostilities opened, that only became worse. The Magical Alliance grew, we became the formal wizarding opposition to Grindelwald. Fought them in a war as vicious and bloody as the Muggle conflict, and Raskoph was only one of many. The two hated each other, though. So much that when the war ended, and Raskoph was unaccounted for, Cassian could not accept that he had died.’

‘I thought Raskoph went to South America?’ said Rose.

‘Not at first. He only surfaced there in the Fifties. Before Berlin fell, Raskoph went to ground, and Cassian was convinced he needed hunting. That he was still seeking great power, that even if Grindelwald had been defeated by Albus Dumbledore, Raskoph was still a threat. Most of the Alliance was disbanding. Going home. Cassian did not get the support from our superiors he wanted, and he continued his hunt himself.’ Bachelet stared into the stacks. ‘He did not come home.’

‘Where did he look?’ Scorpius pressed. ‘What did he think Raskoph was doing?’

‘Raskoph, like many of the Thule Society, was obsessed with ancient power in the world. The first time they fought was in Tibet; Raskoph had accompanied the Muggle Ahnenerbe Institute out there. In particular, Raskoph was fascinated by the idea of long-lost wizarding cultures. He was convinced there had been stand-alone magical societies thousands of years ago who had lost much of their power come integration with Muggles. Purer people, purer magic. But he searched all over the world.’

‘And -’

Rose cut Scorpius off, voice softer. ‘Cassian didn’t tell you where he went?’

Bachelet’s expression tensed. ‘The last time I saw Cassian Malfoy, we argued. The war was over. Men like Raskoph would surface. This wasn’t about fighting a threat, I thought. This was about a vendetta that would get him killed.’ She smiled humourlessly. ‘I suppose I was right.’

But there was a rushing noise, and Scorpius turned to see a wooden box hurtling down from the stacks straight at Bachelet. The elderly witch didn’t move, not even with it coming right for her head, and it stopped only inches away, hovering in thin air. She swished her wand and moved it to the desk.

‘What’s this?’ Scorpius asked softly.

‘His records.’ Bachelet’s wand hovered over the box, hesitating before she swished and unsealed it. ‘I can’t tell you where to find him. But after he died, there were no leads on Raskoph. Everything was put in storage, like all the rest of the Alliance’s secrets. Here, so they wouldn’t fall into the wrong hands.’

‘Like the Council of Thorns?’

‘They’ve tried to come down here, though not in a while. We know about all sorts that they would no doubt adore to unleash on an unsuspecting world.’ There was a flourish to the old woman’s wand before she slipped it away into her robes. ‘They were unsuccessful.’

She had to be over a hundred years old, Scorpius thought, but he wouldn’t be eager to cross wands with her. ‘Listen,’ he said quietly, padding over. ‘I started this trail on Cassian because I thought it might tell me something about my father, and then something about Raskoph. But if he’s out there, if his ghost is trapped here, the ghost of one Malfoy ancestor I would have actually liked to meet some day… I intend to find him.’

Bachelet stared at him, bright eyes again cutting like she was seeing not just through him, but through time. ‘There is one thing in there you may find useful, though I never could.’ She reached into the box and pulled out a leather-bound book. ‘It’s his journal. But I never knew his cipher. Nobody did but him.’

Reverently, Scorpius reached for the journal. ‘I’m assuming you tried to break it.’

‘It took twenty years before I gave up.’

‘Oh.’ He looked at it. ‘So, easy job.’

Rose joined them, looking into the box and the files within. ‘Are these his full operation histories?’

Bachelet nodded. ‘I will confirm your records with the IMC before they are released into your care. But it should paint the picture you need of Cassian. And of his vendetta against Raskoph.’

‘I wonder if that’s what he bloody meant,’ Scorpius muttered, rifling through what indeed was turning out to be page after page of gibberish. ‘Raskoph, I mean, he was saying something in Ager Sanguinis about it being so apt it was me… I knew Thane had something in for me, but maybe this was why Raskoph picked me, maybe this was some last vengeance…’

‘Then maybe,’ Rose said gently, ‘we should bring some Malfoy family vengeance down on him.’

Bachelet drew a sharp breath. ‘If you find Cassian - if you find a lead, and if there is anything of him, if he is trapped… you will help him, I know. But if you could tell him -’

She stopped herself, and Scorpius froze, anxiety trapping his throat, but it was Rose who answered, corners of her eyes creasing, voice low and gentle. ‘We’ll tell him. I understand.’

Oh.’ Awkward realisation sparked in his mind. ‘Uh. Yeah. Of course.’

Bachelet watched them for a moment, then turned away, shuffling towards the desk. ‘Let’s get you some security clearance,’ she said, voice much clearer. ‘And then you can get out of my archives.’


* *


‘So this is becoming a room of crazy,’ said Selena, stood in the door to the guest bedroom in her house. ‘I’ve almost missed it.’

‘The warehouse is almost up to spec; these are just copies,’ said Matt, magically affixing more notes to the giant corkboard he’d propped up along the wall. ‘Soon enough I can get a bunk set up there -’

‘And, what, sleep in there? You’re not at full health, Matt. You need to be somewhere warm and dry -’

‘I’m not a packet of crisps! But I need to work.’

Her lips thinned. ‘I know you don’t want to think about Rose -’

‘It is not that.’

‘Okay. I know you want to get your father and godfather out of jail.’

Matt had his back to her, and took a little longer than strictly necessary with the next scrap of paper. ‘That’s a motivation. Look, I didn’t quit this job even after Ager Sanguinis; I’m not going to quit this now.’

‘Except you’re getting that glint in your eyes of the crazy man who’s not going to stop.’

He glanced back. ‘You don’t need to be dragged into this.’

She glared. ‘Don’t. Don’t give me that “I’ll do what needs to be done” crap and then tell me I can walk away. As if my commitment has ever been less than yours.’

‘I didn’t say that!’ He turned, stump and wand raised, a map of the Caribbean hovering between them. ‘I just don’t want you to feel like you don’t have a choice.’

‘How come you can have a lack of choice, except with you it’s gritty obligation dragging you back into the furnace again. But when I don’t have a choice it’s because I’m a weak-willed girl who’s holding your coat and self-respect for you?’

Matt’s eyes widened. ‘I didn’t say that. I didn’t even think that. I don’t want you with me because you’re - how did you put it? - a cheerleader to the smart guy.’

‘Alright, then.’ Selena folded her arms across her chest. ‘Why do you want me here?’

‘…what?’

‘You heard.’

‘Are you just asking me to list your qualities?’

‘Consider it rent.’ He was working his jaw wordlessly, and she tilted her nose in the air. ‘Come on, smart guy.’

‘I’m smart, I’m not smooth.’

‘I’ll say.’

‘You’re -’ He waved his wand haplessly, and sent the map flying into her face. ‘Oh, God.’

Slowly, she pulled the sticky paper down, fighting to keep her expression impassive. ‘Really smooth.’

Matt tossed his wand to one side, ran his hand through his frustratingly messy hair, and said, very fast, ‘I could talk about how you keep me grounded and clear-sighted because you don’t get caught up in bullshit, but, really, that’s painting you as a cheerleader again. When I say you support people, that sounds so fucking demeaning, when it’s actually integral. But with more time you might have seen Lethe coming, which nobody else even came close to spotting. And, I mean, you’re hilarious, but you also understand people and politics which, let’s face it, none of us are really any good at -’

‘Okay, stop, stop.’ Selena lifted her hands. ‘I was teasing you and now you’re hyperventilating.’

He was so crestfallen his hair flopped. ‘I don’t want you to ever think I need you around to buoy me up. Sure, you help me see the wood for trees and you keep me focused, and you listen when I’m working through a problem, and that is all essential, but you… I mean, I thought the world had fucking stopped when Rose told me the Council took you. We’d rowed and I’d let you slip away, and the thought that this was it…?’ His voice trailed off, and suddenly the papers he’d plastered across the room were more looming because the walls were closer, the sounds of London outside the windows were muted, and her world narrowed to just his crestfallen, ardent expression.

Selena drew a sharp breath. I entirely brought this upon myself. ‘I was teasing,’ she began, but her voice sounded small and weak, and before she could clear her throat, the door was flung open.

‘Sorry,’ gasped Miranda, looking more breathless than apologetic about her interruption. ‘But we’ve got a Kenneth Alert downstairs.’

Matt’s jaw had snapped shut and he looked like he’d bitten his tongue. ‘A what?’

‘Oh,’ said Selena in a low, detached voice. ‘My father.’

‘He’s in the sitting room because I couldn’t fob him off, and do you want me to make him tea or arsenic?’ Miranda sounded perfectly serious.

‘It’s fine. I imagine he’s upset I haven’t spoken to him since my abduction.’

Matt cleared his throat. ‘I didn’t know you don’t get on.’

‘We don’t not get on. We don’t anything, because he’s nothing.’ She tossed her hair over her shoulder and turned to the door. ‘Put the kettle on, Miranda, darling, and Matt? Don’t worry, and get back to work.’

She suspected he’d do no such thing, but so long as he stayed in his room, she didn’t care. Her father was one part of her life where Miranda knew more than anyone else, and anyone else could remain in ignorance.

Kenneth had settled in the living room, because boundaries were something that happened to other people unless they’d been made literally impassible, and hopped to his feet like an excited Labrador when she stepped in. Miranda tried to drift, invisible, to the kitchen. ‘Selena! Dear -’

She shut the door behind her and forced her expression to a studied one. ‘Hello, Kenneth.’

Kenneth Allerdice had once been young, fit, burly. Time had softened him, turning his muscle to a slight paunch, his golden locks to a receding hairline, his winning smile to desperation. It was that smile he turned on her now, oblivious or uncaring of her reaction. ‘Come on, you can’t “Dad” me now, after all this?’

‘I’ve not called you “Dad” since I was eight; emotional trauma’s no reason to start. What do you want?’

The smile took a chip. ‘My only child’s been abducted by terrorists and subjected to who-knows-what of torment while your mother stood by the wayside and did nothing, caring far more about her precious career than her daughter’s wellbeing. You think it’s unreasonable for me to stop by?’

Her lips thinned. ‘I got back a week ago. You were hardly chomping at the bit out of concern.’

‘Lillian refused to update me -’

‘And you clearly know where I live and the press made no secret of my rescue, so I don’t see what the delay was.’

Kenneth gawped. ‘How come your mother gets the free pass while I -’

‘I’m not discussing Mum with you. We tried that, it didn’t end well, and you should be grateful because you’re not going to come better off out of that conflict. At least Mum had a world to save.’

‘I’m sorry I’m not a crazy soldier or a powerful politician; I’m sorry I couldn’t do anything to save you, and so that makes me worse than the person who could but didn’t out of, what, duty -’

So I guess I am discussing Mum with you. She wasn’t surprised. This always happened. ‘I’m going to ask again, Kenneth - what do you want?’ She saw the kitchen door creak open an inch, saw Miranda peer through the gap, and then the door shut again. That was going to require an apology later. At least she didn’t mind apologising to Miranda. ‘Is it money?’

His jaw dropped. ‘I have never asked you for money -’

‘Only because I’ve not had any. You asked Mum for money plenty of times.’

‘I thought we could go for a walk. Talk about stuff. We’ve missed so much, Selena -’

‘Why not talk here?’ Her back straightened. ‘Or are we more likely to be spotted by the press outside, so they can snap some pictures of you and you’re back in the public eye? Are they sick of you dishing the dirt on Mum, have they realised that you’re a sad and pathetic man trying to bring her down just to get attention, so now you want to exploit me? Drum up some attention for your latest business gambit or -’

You are my daughter and you almost died!’ Kenneth thundered at last. ‘Maybe I haven’t been a perfect father, but what kind of monster do you think I am to not care about that?’

He was bigger than her, broader than her, and once Selena might have shrunk back from the anger. Not that she’d ever feared him truly, and these days she’d faced worse. ‘You disappeared after the Phlegethon Crisis once your fifteen minutes of fame were over. You didn’t even show up after Ager Sanguinis -’

‘Your mother kept me away.’

‘And I can’t imagine why!’

He jabbed a finger at her. ‘She’s flitted off to Switzerland, fussing about the world and her standing, and yet I get all the criticism -’

‘It’s not complicated, Kenneth, so I’ll keep it short,’ she interrupted. ‘Mum might have a whole load of responsibilities which sometimes stop me from being her priority, but I accept that. It’s the price of her work, it’s the price of her duty, and honestly, the idea that she’d neglect the wellbeing of hundreds of people just to kiss my boo-boos is terrifying.’

‘Yes, your “boo-boos”; she would have you think about traumatic attacks in such a dismissive way, she would have you downplaying everything you suffered, because then she can justify leaving you alone, can’t she? She is just as bad as me; the only difference is your mother’s manipulated you into accepting this.’

Selena’s chest tightened. ‘When Methuselah died, it was Mum who came to me. You used me, my pain, my grief for cheap attention -’

‘And she used it to seize political power.’

‘If you have to justify everything you’ve done by arguing Mum’s just as bad, that’s bullshit, Kenneth!’

‘I’m not! I’m trying to point out that you let her get away with things you hold over my head for years!’

‘Except she’s actually there when I need her,’ said Selena in a low voice that came from somewhere deep inside, tight and angry. ‘And when she’s not there it’s because she’s trying to help people. You were never there when I might have needed you, and only show up to benefit yourself. I think it’s time you left.’

‘You’re clearly not alright! And she’s got you convinced she should be elsewhere, because it’s convenient for her to be elsewhere! You want to pretend she cares about you more than I do; that she cares about you beyond a political kick -’

‘Okay!’ The hallway door swung open and there stood Matt, jaw tight, shoulders squared. ‘She told you to leave.’

Kenneth rounded on him, expression pinched, indignant. ‘Who the hell are you?’

‘The guy who’s telling you to go.’ Even if his right arm was in a sling, even if his wand was tucked away, Matt still strode over to Kenneth and grabbed him by the arm. ‘Now.’

Selena’s breath caught. ‘Matt -’

‘We can do this the easy way, Kenneth, or the hard way, and I’m sure I can have your companies investigated and audited by the DMLE’s Legal Affairs…’

The threat struck home, or Matt was stronger than he looked, or Kenneth just plain knew when to quit. He grumbled, he yanked his arm free of Matt’s grip, but he was still ushered, bullied, shoved out into the street, and the door behind him slammed shut. When Matt stomped back into the living room, his face was a mask of anger. ‘The audacious bastard -’

‘I didn’t ask you to do that,’ said Selena, voice low and cold. Her heart thudded in her ears, but her stomach was a block of ice, and still her father’s words echoed through her. ‘I had that under control.’

‘He was ignoring you and talking shit about -’

‘I can handle myself, Matt!’

His eyes widened, indignant now. ‘I didn’t want to just stand there and listen -’

‘You didn’t have to listen -’

‘Shouting carries through floors!’

‘Then get earplugs!’ Selena snapped. ‘Or just ignore it, because that was none of your business, and I don’t need you riding in like the knight in shining armour to fight my battles for me uninvited, as if that makes everything okay!’

The door to the kitchen had creaked open once more as Miranda tested the waters. In the thudding silence that followed, she heard it creak shut again.

Matt’s chest was heaving. ‘What do you mean, as if that makes -’

‘You’re all the fucking same, aren’t you?’ Her head was spinning, Kenneth’s accusations in her mouth and tasting of bitter truths. ‘Ignore me when I’m inconvenient, let me downplay my problems, swan in like saviours when it suits you! Show off with the big problems but never, ever go out of your way for me in the quiet times and always, always leave me! Kenneth! Mum! Albus fucking abandoned us, Rose’s pain is always worse! You!’ That was to Matt, but then she jabbed a finger at the kitchen door. ‘And you, Miranda, I know you’re listening!’

The kitchen door swung open slowly, Miranda’s expression collapsed. ‘…I was more a captive audience than an eavesdropper -’

‘Methuselah died, my boyfriend died, and you let me piss around in tea shops pretending it was nothing - did you really think that was fucking nothing, Miranda?’ Emotion burst up in her chest and she felt the tears spilling, those frustrating tears which would make people, especially men, try to shut down when she didn’t need comforting. She needed anger, and she needed to be heard. ‘Did you really think I was a monster who screwed around with a guy and then didn’t care when he sacrificed himself for us?’

Miranda looked beyond shocked to have wounds almost three years old torn into. ‘I… thought you didn’t want to think about it, so I let you -’

Bullshit! You didn’t want to deal with my awkward grief, so you let me keep on lying to myself!’ She rounded on Matt next, and jabbed him in the chest. ‘And you. The world can look like it’s ending when I’m in risk of dying, but when precious Rose needs you, you’ll let me “slip away”?’

His expression twisted. ‘You ran from me, Selena! I made my fuck ups, but this was both -’

‘I ran from you because you were going to ditch me as an inconvenience for Rose, because that is what people fucking do to me!’

He reeled from that, and Miranda did too, both of them wide-eyed, appalled, and even Selena didn’t know if she was bursting with truths long locked up or just the sort of pain and bitterness her father always stirred in her. She didn’t wholly care. ‘And then you find your balls and leave Rose, and, what, waltz in, hoping I’d forgive you -’

‘No! I - I did come to you hoping, I just mean -’

‘And if she decides she doesn’t want Scorpius, she wants you, you’ll disappear -’

‘I will not,’ snapped Matt, squaring his shoulders, ‘because she and I will never be anything -’

‘So, now, you’re here. With me. Spending time with me. Because you’ve had your revelation and realised everything you did was wrong.’ Her lip curled. ‘Maybe I don’t regret my actions that badly.’

His jaw dropped. ‘Selena -’

‘I think it’s time you went the fuck home, or to your precious warehouse of your precious - your precious crusade!’ Selena snarled. ‘I’m going out. You better be gone by the time I’m back.’

Miranda tried to slip closer. ‘Hey -’

‘And don’t you even start,’ she snapped, then turned on her heel, stalked to the door. Her wand shook in her grip as she left, bursting without a coat into the freezing November air of London, but she had a way to go until she could find the alleyway she could safely Disapparate from, and that gave her enough time to get it under control.

Control. Control. Always control.



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