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Chapter 34 : Dash Against Mine Enemies
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Several things were becoming clear to Eva. The first was that Pretorius, a mere Warrant Officer, was the highest ranked member of law enforcement they had. Everyone else had either been dispatched to Durban or rounded up by Geiger’s Thornweavers in the upper levels. The second was that plenty of minor staffers had been huddled in the bottom floors of the Department bunker, and they were starting to fill up the conference rooms at such a rate that Eva guessed they had two civilians for every trained combatant.
The third was that Erik Geiger was eminently more prepared for this situation than they were.
‘The longer we wait,’ said Eva to Pretorius across the planning table, ‘the deeper his people and the Inferi go.’
‘And if we move without anywhere to go, we’re marching civilians out of a defensible location and into the open.’
They met one another’s gaze, knowing the other was right, neither with a solution. Eva let out a slow breath. ‘Albus will get it done,’ she said, because faith was the only choice she had left. ‘He’ll punch us a way out or bring us a Portkey.’
‘He’d better, or we’re dead.’
‘Then plan for success.’ Eva drummed her fingers on the table. ‘Where’re all your prisoners? The people who were in cells when this went down?’
‘In with the other civilians. Wandless and with bound hands.’ Pretorius shook her head. ‘Most of them aren’t anything to do with the Council; those are in the central prison complex. I’m not leaving them trapped to die.’
Eva wanted to point out these people could be liabilities, dangers to the people they really needed to save. Instead, she said, ‘Does that include Gregory Goyle?’
‘From Johannesburg this afternoon? Yes.’
‘Good. I’m going to want a word with him when this is over.’
Pretorius rolled her eyes. ‘If we get out of this, you can have him for all I care.’
‘Members of the Magical Crime Bureau,’ came Erik Geiger’s voice over the internal speaker system. ‘It has come to my attention that you are not cooperating with the very reasonable deal I’ve offered you.’
Eva looked up. ‘I never liked him, you know.’
‘Never trust a man who loves the sound of his own voice this much.’
‘You still have fifteen minutes to comply, but that’s a lot of people holed up on your floor you’ll need to move across the building. I suggest you get going. Then again, if you want to negotiate for more time, I see you’ve got some guests. Put Albus Potter on the comms, and we’ll talk.’
‘How did he know?’ Eva scowled.
‘You two came through the front door. I’d be astonished if he didn’t have people watching.’ Pretorius waved a hand at one of her enforcers, who scuttled off down a corridor. ‘But if he’s using the lobby’s communication magics, we can talk, and we can buy some time.’
Pretorius’ subordinate returned a minute later with a carved wooden box, which he opened up to show a shimmering, silvery crystal. Eva had seen such magics used before, though as these crystals could only communicate within an extensive and complicated ritual, they had limited use. But it wasn’t that difficult for the South African Department of Magic to set these up to work across the headquarters.
‘One problem,’ she said. ‘We don’t have Al to do the talking.’
Pretorius pushed the box over to her. ‘You’re his associate. What do we have to lose?’
Everything. Eva picked up the crystal. ‘Geiger. It’s been a while.’
It took long, thudding heartbeats before Geiger answered, and his voice drifted through the crystal, not through the overhead speakers. ‘Eva Saida, the traitor. I didn’t think you’d have the guts to speak up, not after you hid from me in Rotterdam.’
‘I thought I’d find you topside on the Naglfar. I would have been happy for a chance to catch up.’ This was a lie. Erik Geiger’s skill with a wand made her think twice about a direct confrontation. She hadn’t survived as long as she had by being cocky.
‘A missed opportunity. Does Potter make you do his talking for you, now?’
‘He’s playing hero, collecting stray pups from the lower levels. He’s a friendlier face than me. People follow him, and he doesn’t like sitting idle.’ The lie came as easy as breathing, because it kept them all breathing.
‘His reputation precedes him. As does yours. Are you rethinking your allegiances yet?’
‘I’m sorry, Geiger. You’re an even less friendly face than me.’
A wry chuckle. ‘You’re hurting my feelings, Saida. I thought we could talk as equals. I know you’re a professional. You’re going to deal with me, because there’s no way you’re going to die down here for these people.’
Eva’s gaze tore from the crystal, dragged across the room of law enforcers, the few lingering civilians. Soldiers and innocents alike, and not a single one of them meant anything to her. You need to protect these people. She lifted a placating hand to Pretorius as she answered, ‘It’s not my preferred way to go.’
‘That’s it. Leave the heroics for others. You want out of here, and while I’m sure someone would be happy if I dragged you in by the throat - Raskoph doesn’t forgive easily - you’re not top of my priority list. You’ve got a judge and a division head down there, leading figures of the South African government. You’ve got Nathalie Lockett and Astoria Malfoy. You’ve got the remains of the Crime Bureau. You send all of them up to us, and you, Potter, the rest of the civilians - you get to walk.’
Eva’s jaw tightened, and she looked away from Pretorius. ‘And what happens to everyone I send up there?’
‘They submit to the Council of Thorns or we will grant them their noble, defiant death.’
She inhaled sharply through her nose. ‘You know that sounds like a good deal to me,’ said Eva, ‘but I’m just the dumb muscle, and I’ve got a real hard-liner down here. I’m sure she’d happily die for her people, but she doesn’t much like the idea of negotiating with you either. You’re going to have to give me some time.’
‘I gave you half an hour.’
‘That was fifteen minutes ago, and you’ve only just come to me with this. Previously it was vague offers of mercy, nothing concrete. I don’t want to die for these people, but you’ve got to give me a chance to bring them around.’ It didn’t matter how mercenary she sounded, even if these were sentiments she’d uttered so many times before that they found some honest, bright, clear chord of assent within her. The people of South Africa did mean nothing to her.
You have to protect these people. It was the last thing he’d asked of her.
Geiger took a long time to answer, and when he did, his voice was begrudging. ‘Alright, Saida. You’ve got an extra fifteen minutes. That’s a half-hour from now. Bring your boyfriend up from below, get him to talk sense to your hard-liners, and then you give me your answer. Everyone can march up and live, or you can stay down and die. I’m not unreasonable.’
No, thought Eva as she set down the communication crystal, it winking into silence the moment she broke contact. You’re just a fanatic.
‘He’s lying,’ she said to Pretorius at once. ‘It doesn’t matter if you or the VIPs submit, they’ll kill you as a show of force to scare everyone else in the country into submitting.’ There were about ten members of the Crime Bureau, and roughly twenty civilians including the four named VIPs. ‘So that’s almost half dying to get the other half out.’
‘I’m not ordering my men to their deaths,’ said Pretorius, ‘and I’m meant to protect those VIPs, not sell them out or let them sacrifice themselves.’
‘I don’t think I can get more time than I’ve had.’ Eva shook her head, and planted her hands on the table to steady herself. ‘Geiger’s not an idiot. He knows he’ll take losses, even with the Inferi, if he storms down here, which is why he’s negotiating. Maybe the upper levels chewed him up worse than he’d expected, maybe we got lucky there. But he’s not going to give us all the time in the world.’
‘Then we’d better hope,’ said Pretorius, looking to the wide doors into the belly of the building, ‘that Potter can pull this off.’
Eva frowned at the table, then pushed herself straight. ‘I don’t think he wants all of those VIPs dead, you know.’
‘You said he was going to kill them all -’
‘Probably most of them. The Council’s done that in other countries with leading figures. But if he really wanted, he could send a wave of Inferi down and kill us all and show the bodies to the world.’ Eva turned to the conference room, biting her lip. ‘Geiger’s not an idiot. He’ll know we want time. But why negotiate if he just wants corpses?’
‘Director Lombard runs Magical Games. She’s a known, popular face, but doesn’t exactly make or break policy affecting the Council. Judge Roux - I bet Geiger would love to string up Judge Roux from the rafters, he’s one of the biggest anti-Council hard-liners. Also pretty anti-IMC.’
‘No valuable intel to be gained from them if they already have South Africa. Maybe he’d like to kill Judge Roux publicly.’
‘Maybe it’s one of the other two.’ Pretorius followed Eva’s gaze to the huddled civilians on the other side of the glass conference room walls, and where Nat Lockett and Astoria Malfoy sat against the walls. ‘Lockett’s a leading specialist on Lethe.’
‘The Council made Lethe; I don’t think they want to know more about it. The IMC’s countermeasures aren’t a mystery.’
‘Unless they know something two ground-pounders like us don’t.’ Pretorius shrugged.
‘Or it’s not Lockett they want.’
Pretorius looked to Astoria Malfoy - white-knuckled, pale skin even paler against her dark hair, eyes sunken. ‘What would the Council want with a relief work leader, other than making an example?’
Eva’s jaw tightened. There was nothing in Astoria’s posture that suggested anything but apprehension. Then again, if she were a liar, she’d been lying very well for a very long time. ‘I don’t know,’ she admitted. ‘And maybe we’re better off trusting Albus and not finding out.’
The hotel recommended by Jorgen, their purveyor of Ice Elks, was warm and it was comfortable, but spending long hours in eternal night did not help sleep. Scorpius lay in a cosy bed and stared at a ceiling and felt like dawn was just around the corner. When he did drift off, it was into an uneasy half-rest, because his body was still not convinced he had the time to sleep properly. Memories and thoughts and imaginings swum in and out of focus, vivid and bizarre and warped, and so when he was woken up by a sound he wasn’t sure, for a long moment, if it was just in his head.
But it went on and on; groaning, shrieking metal and shattering stone, bursting from the shore just north of Helluby. As it echoed off he could hear the voices of his neighbours, of all of the town, breaking into shouts of confusion and panic, and with a groan, Scorpius realised whatever this was, was real.
He rolled out of bed, the room small but comfortably furnished, and stumbled for the window. Just pulling the curtains back brought a shock of cold air, even through the thick windows. As he squinted into the constant night, his body insisted that either he deserved another six hours of sleep or he’d slept six hours too long, and so he had to blink back mugginess to make out details through the gloom. The positioning of Tapeesa’s and his room meant he couldn’t see much through the window, though there was a hulking shadow along the northern coast he would have thought were craggy rocks. But they hadn’t been there the night - day? - before, and the specks of light of inquisitive townsfolk on the approach couldn’t yet tell him anything new.
He only had one leg through his trousers before the door burst open and Rose stalked in, fully bundled up. ‘A ship’s crashed along the shore,’ she declared. ‘That’s not supposed to happen.’
Scorpius stumbled and fell over. ‘Gah - how d’you know, I can’t see anything?’
When he stuck his head up from behind the bed, she was arching an eyebrow at him. Apparently the easiest ‘normal’ reaction to summon at him was her old, familiar superiority. ‘I asked, Scorpius.’
‘And you’re already dressed -’ He clawed upright, and decided it was fair play to take his time finding a shirt if she was going to burst into his bedroom. ‘Did you even sleep?’
Her lips quirked, and he wondered if she was sharing his sense of deja vu. ‘I did. Not well. I was having coffee downstairs and reading, yes. But you’re clearly busy here. It is morning, so how about I go take a look at the ship and you go see if Jorgen has the Elks ready for us? Then we’ll come back here for breakfast.’
‘Why are you investigating?’
‘Because ships aren’t meant to crash just south of the only wizarding settlement on the north coast of Baffin Island.’
‘I don’t think ships are supposed to crash anywhere.’
She gave him a withering look and left, and Scorpius wondered how much old times had really changed. Except for the death and all. But it did mean he could get dressed in a modicum of peace, peering periodically out of the window to monitor the tiny dots of light swarming towards the looming shadow on the coast.
‘Of course she’s going to investigate,’ he muttered. ‘Why not check out the creepy crashed ship?’
A consultation of his watch, which always sat in his hand with a guilty weight, confirmed it was early morning, local time. Most of those going to investigate the ship would have been roused by its wrecking upon the shore, and he only got sleepy glances when he emerged from his room and descended through the small hotel and its three floors. For every inhabitant of Helluby going to look at the ship, three stayed in bed. The arctic air was enough to snatch away his first breath out the door, but it also jolted him awake. The dark wooden walkways, gritted to prevent slipping on ice, thudded under his boots, and he had to squint through the gloom of street-lights, most windows of the small houses remaining dim.
‘Who the hell lives here this time of year?’ mumbled Scorpius, and ignored the errant thought that the last place he’d called home was a school as he tromped down the roadway. Even Muggles lived this far north, he reasoned, but they didn’t have enchantments to keep warm, magical fabrics that were lightweight and yet could banish the cold. Somehow they endured, though he didn’t envy them.
The light was on in Jorgen’s shop as he got there, and the little bell rang when he ducked through the door. ‘Morning? You open yet?’
Jorgen emerged from a back room, broad face lined with thoughtfulness. ‘You are here early.’
‘The wreck woke us. We still want breakfast, but then we’ll want to hit the road. Ice. If the elks are ready?’
Jorgen looked to the door. ‘It is a ship wrecking on the shore, then?’ His frown deepened.
‘Yeah.’ Scorpius ran a hand through his hair. ‘Rose went to take a look, along with half the town. I guess that’s what passes for excitement here.’ He tried to smile, tried to make it a gentle joke.
Jorgen did not smile. ‘Perhaps you should take a look with her.’
‘I got my marching orders.’ Scorpius landed his hands on the counter, huffing. ‘So, the sled. It’s ready?’
‘If you go and get your breakfast, go meet her.’
‘And then it’ll be ready?’ Working with Prometheus Thane had done many things to Scorpius, but one of the few lessons for which he was grateful was the honing of his survival instincts. They were not perfect, which was why he’d thought John Colton had entirely more sinister motives when he’d run into him in the Nothing in Moderation bar. But they were keeping him alive against all odds, and now they screamed at him when he met Jorgen’s worried, blue-eyed gaze. He froze. ‘What the hell is going on?’
Jorgen drew a slow, raking breath. His was a tension that Scorpius couldn’t quite place; it wasn’t that of a man poised to strike, waiting for the right opening. But he was waiting, and he was poised, and Scorpius almost went for his wand.
Then there was a scream that rolled across Helluby from the north, and Scorpius’ wand instead was levelled at the door. He darted over, yanked it open, burst into the night air, and his breath was stolen anew as he stood on the road and stared.
The huge, hulking shape of the cargo ship was still like a reef along the shore, the tiny dots of wand-lights not enough to give him a clear view. But those wand-lights were moving, no longer on a steady approach for the ship, but scattering, flailing, panicked. They were joined by new, pale dots that sprung from the shadows of the ship, and though they were such a long way away, from the screaming and from his gut, Scorpius knew what they were.
‘No, no, no…’ That was Jorgen stumbling into the darkness beside him, the big man’s chest heaving, expression aghast as he saw the sights and heard the screaming. He mumbled something in Norwegian, then turned on Scorpius, brow furrowing with desperation. ‘I only told them of you - I didn’t know!’
A cold fist clenched in Scorpius’ chest, and he met the bigger man’s gaze, unflinching. ‘Told who?’
‘I didn’t expect this -’
Jorgen had a full head of height on him, and yet the next thing Scorpius knew, he’d slammed the bigger man against the wall to his shop, fists clenched in his jacket, the two of them nose to nose. Scorpius’ voice came rumbling from his chest, tempered by the ice inside of him, an ice he knew had been brought from the Otherworld itself and had stayed trapped within since. ‘Told. Who?’
‘Are you kidding me?’ Selena put her hands on her hips and glared at the world’s stringiest Thornweaver. ‘You don’t make a move against me for weeks in my own home, but you track me down to the most boring library ever?’
‘I’ve caught you away from all security. I say it’s working well.’ Stringy waggled his wand at the still shape of Matt. ‘Now, you want to put your wand down and come with me, or shall I make him squirm some more?’
‘You’re seriously threatening the Stunned, one-handed wizard. Tell me, does the Council of Thorns hand out medals for class and, if so, are you trying to collect enough to build your own spine?’ She did, however, let her wand drop to the floor.
‘Oh, boo hoo. The girl I’ve got at wand-point thinks I’m a coward. I’m a successful coward, aren’t I?’
‘I imagine with the girl at wand-point is the only way you ever are successful.’ But even as she spoke, her voice a disinterested drawl, her gaze ran over Matt, over Stringy, over the walls and shelves, because she knew there was nobody coming to the rescue. Sniping at her new captor was the only way she could think of stalling for time while she hoped for inspiration or a miracle.
‘That’s enough. Grab the book, and come with me.’
‘You want the book?’ Selena looked at the Black Book of Carmarthen, still resting on the stand. ‘It’s a very boring book.’
‘If it’s of interest to you, it’ll be of interest to my bosses. Go on.’
The book hung heavy in her hands when she closed it and picked it up, like it was reluctant to leave the plinth. ‘What’re you going to do with him?’ She tried to not look directly at Matt, still splayed out on the floor. It wouldn’t help.
‘Nothing, if you cooperate.’
Selena met Stringy’s eyes. ‘You’re lying.’
‘I don’t need another prisoner.’
‘And you don’t need another witness.’ Fury flashed in her gut, but she stamped down on it. All anger would do was precipitate violence, and she needed Stringy calm. Unsuspecting. So it was with a supreme effort that she contorted her expression not into anger, but fear. ‘Please - look, I’ll cooperate, just please don’t -’
He twitched his wand to one side. ‘Then come over here, and I’ll think about it.’
Selena wrapped one arm around the Black Book of Carmarthen, and rested her free hand on the plinth as if she needed its support. ‘Okay. Okay.’ Then she coiled for action. ‘The Writings of Edwin Bamfle, Magical Thatcher.’
Stringy squinted. ‘What -?’
Then he was hit in the back of the head by the huge tome as it flew from the shelf behind him towards the plinth. With a yelp he staggered, but Selena was already moving, dropping the Black Book and lunging for her dropped wand. She hit the ground hard, rolled, rose onto one knee -
- and got the Stun off a split second before Stringy did. He collapsed with barely a gurgle. She hit him with a second Stun just to be sure, kicked his wand away, summoned magical bindings to truss him up from head to toe, and only when she stood over his immobilised form did she realise she was shaking.
The shake extended to her voice when she spun and waved her wand at Matt. ‘Ennervate!’
He burst into a flood of curses, clawing to his feet and limping over. ‘Hell - are you okay, are you -’
‘I’m fine, I’m fine.’ But she did nothing to fight his arm around her shoulder, warm and grounding, even if it was easier to force a smile than succumb to the quavering inside. ‘Thank God for Edwin Bamfle.’
‘I should have known they would come for you again,’ Matt growled. ‘You’re still just as much of a target - I should have been more careful, I should have been more vigilant -’
‘Or, you know, I could have been more careful, too.’ She put a hand on his arm, squeezed gently despite finding him solid as apprehensive iron. ‘But I’m okay. You’re okay. We should call this in, get him picked up - they can question him, we’ll get a lot out of it, no doubt - and then take the Black Book to base.’
And he nodded, even though his gaze was guarded, guilty, and she knew there was nothing she could say right now to stop him from taking this as a personal failure.
That was alright for the moment. She was happy to take the beating of a Thornweaver who’d tried to abduct her as a personal success.
His father’s Invisibility Cloak hid him from sight, but not from sound. Albus thought he’d learnt that lesson well over the years, but the first time he ran into an Inferius on the stairwell was a cruel reminder.
They were sharp-witted, the Lethe Inferi. Converted so swiftly from the living to the walking dead, they kept much of their faculties, and while their bodies warped they did not rot. Down the darkened hallways they prowled, elongated arms and claw-like nails raking along the paved floor, and that they walked so silently and drew no breath meant they could hear very, very well indeed.
Albus went from jogging up the stairs and thinking himself alone to freezing when he realised footsteps were padding like a cushioned drum-roll down towards him. A glance upwards showed a flash of ivory-white flesh, of one of those blackened sockets and rows of sharpened teeth leering down at him, and he knew he’d not been quiet enough.
Magic was not always as silent as he’d have liked, so there was only one thing for it. He lunged upward, grabbed the bottom of the flight of stairs above him, and tucked his legs up. The Cloak would hide him from sight, so long as he could stay silent, hold his breath, not get noticed.
The Inferius trotted down the stairwell towards him, and Albus’ jaw tightened as he wondered if they could smell.
No. That’s ridiculous. They’re dead -
- they can hear, can’t they?
He’d made the play. All he could do now was wait, and hope he could manage a silent take-down if it all went wrong. It wasn’t that he had any qualms about destroying an Inferius, but he had no idea what the Council of Thorns was doing to monitor their necromantic shock-troopers. It was easier to be hidden than to be on the run.
Footsteps padded under him, and despite his better judgement, Albus drew himself up higher and craned his head back so he could look down. From this angle, all he could see was a white shape on the stairs below, hear the scrape of nails on stone, hear -
Sniff. Sniff, sniff. It didn’t need to breathe. It could smell.
The entire purpose of this cloak is to shroud me from death. That’s rather literal right now. Albus held his breath.
And then the Inferius set off further down the steps with its jerky lope. Perhaps it had lost interest and decided something else was more important. Perhaps it thought what it had heard was further down.
He waited until silence reigned before dropping, cat-like, to the floor, and when he proceeded it was with much more care.
The South African Department of Magic’s international transport division was two more floors up, and he wished there were ways up other than a narrow, confined stairwell. But he made it to the door without further incident, sliding into the corridor. He doubted Geiger would not have sent Thornweavers to secure this level.
Around the corner was the division’s lobby, stark and abandoned. The Department had been quiet even before the break-in, activity internationally and in Durban drawing staff away. But he could hear voices wafting from one of the side-rooms, and so he flattened himself against a wall, sliding closer.
Filing room. Three voices, a glance around the corner confirming the masks of Thornweavers. Perhaps they had some of the Portkeys here, perhaps they didn’t, but Albus didn’t fancy rooting around the floor with these three unaccounted for.
He took a few long moments before he made his move. Studied the three figures, bent over records and oblivious to his presence, studied the shape of the room, the contours of the wall.
When he rounded the corner and flung his first spell, it was not directly at any of the wizards. Invisible energy rippled through the air before it thudded off the far wall - and deflected, bouncing as he’d planned and bursting into blazing light to thud into one of the three Thornweavers, who dropped like a stone. It took time to prepare a Stun to rebound on its first impact, but when his best ally was surprise, adding to the confusion was worth the wait.
The two Thornweavers spun, not towards the door but towards the apparent source of the spell the opposite way, and so within seconds and the briefest of wand-waves, Albus had them incapacitated on the ground. The Cloak’s great weakness was its limiting of his movements, so he brushed it over a shoulder as he advanced, double-checking they were out cold, taking the extra moment to bind them firmly.
The fight had lasted less than five seconds.
He didn’t take long studying the notes on the table. Division records, nothing more, and nothing of the Thornweavers’ own plans. Whatever he’d want would probably be in the Portkey chambers rather than the administration offices. But then his gaze fell on to the fallen trio, and the rings that gleamed on their fingers.
He’d seen those before, back in Saint Annard. Thane had used one to turn the Inferi to his will, and while Albus had no idea how to do such a thing, denying the Thornweavers such power sounded like a good plan. He slipped them from their fingers, pocketed them, then drew the Cloak back around himself and returned to the lobby.
And froze as he heard a voice echoing from the corridor leading deeper through the level.
‘Corentin? Bertonelli?’ He couldn’t see the Thornweaver yet, but they sounded guarded. Perhaps they’d expected to hear from their allies sooner. Perhaps they’d heard his fight. And then, quieter but still clear, ‘Go on, you creepy things. Take a look and kill anything you find.’
Two Inferi burst into the lobby heartbeats later, and Albus flattened himself against the wall, shrouded still by the Cloak. They prowled around the open space, but it didn’t take them long before their attention was drawn towards the open door, and onward they stalked.
Albus’ heart lunged into his throat. The three Thornweavers inside were out cold, bound and unarmed, and the voice’s orders had been clear. Kill anything you find. The speaker probably didn’t mean for that to include other Thornweavers, but Al had three control rings that now felt like they burnt in his pocket.
They’re going to get ripped apart. His grip tightened on his wand. People need you to stay alive and don’t these bastards deserve what’s coming?
The first Inferius to the door peered inside, then colourless lips drew back across sharpened teeth and it hissed.
Albus wasn’t sure if he’d chosen to move. But moving he was, wand snapping outward with a slashing curse that whipped across the Inferius’ back. It gave one of those screams, the screams that were inhuman enough to be disquieting but human enough to be chilling, and reeled around.
It was a lot harder to take down an Inferius in one blast.
The second one lunged for him, its senses good enough to know where a spell had come from, and Albus hurled himself back. His wand lashed out with a blast to knock the pouncing Inferius to its knees; his hand yanked the Cloak away, because now he needed to move.
And now he had two Inferi to duel. The one he’d first slashed was loping around, trying to flank him, and so he advanced on the one he’d dropped. A flash of his wand brought the paving stone under its chin jerking upwards, and the head snapped back with the crack of a spine. It tumbled, head dangling at an odd angle, limbs twitching.
But Albus didn’t have time to finish it off before the other lunged from behind him, claws slashing. He barely got a Shield up in time, the claws scraping on a magical barrier. His wand holding the protections firm, he slammed his left fist into the creature’s face, knocking it back.
His knuckles came away bloody. That’d be an infection if I weren’t immune. These things are hell on wheels to fight.
And yet he couldn’t feel disgust, horrendous as his opponents were. He’d just hurled himself into danger to save his enemies from a grisly death, and even though a part of him raged and swore and called him a fool, his blood sang in his veins, his head spun, and every movement came easier, more natural than it had in two and a half years.
You’re a damned idiot and you’re alive again.
He ducked a swipe from the one he’d punched, lashed out a booted foot at the one on the floor that now crawled towards him. A step forward slammed his shoulder into the standing one’s gut, and he flipped it over his shoulder onto the lobby floor.
With barely a thought, his wand was under its chin, and its vicious hiss was cut short when his spell blew its head clean off. He didn’t even have to look to dart away from another slash from the other one, then spun, a slashing spell on the tip of his mind that would cut the head off and end this -
And the Stun from the Thornweaver who’d let them off the leash in the first place hit him in the back. The world spun, his wand flew from his hand as his limbs locked, and with a crash he couldn’t cushion, Albus landed face-first on the paved lobby floor.
Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the still-moving Inferius trying to claw towards him, until a booted foot landed on its arm.
‘Enough,’ growled the Thornweaver. ‘Stay. Good work.’ He spoke to the monstrosity like it was a particularly crazed pet, as if he was supposed to say the words but could summon no true feeling behind them.
Albus saw his wand kicked further from his grasp, then groaned through clenched teeth as his hands were jerked behind his back. Cords tightened at his wrist, scraping against skin, and his jaw tightened. ‘Nrg -’
‘Stay quiet even when the Stun wears off,’ the Thornweaver told him, ‘and I won’t have to gag you. I imagine you got a lot of talking to do in the near future. Geiger’s going to want a word.’
Geiger. Erik Geiger. He’d just got himself captured by Raskoph’s right hand man, and all because he’d stuck his neck out to save Thornweavers from their own, twisted creations.
It would have been on you, if you’d taken their rings and then let them get torn up and eaten while they couldn’t defend themselves.
Some people would have called that justice.
Despite himself - despite the situation, despite the fact that he was even less sure he’d see the day out, despite the certainty that his circumstances were about to get a whole lot worse, and despite that his jaw was locked enough to muffle any sound, Albus Potter didn’t protest as he was dragged across the paved floor, because he was too busy laughing.