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Chapter 37 : Wonders Ye Have Done
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Sunlight clawed through a gap in the curtains to land directly on Selena’s face, but when she rolled over to escape it she found herself in the empty, warm hollow in the bed left by Matt’s body.
That did a better job of waking her up, and she raised her head to peer about the gloomy bedroom. She was alone.
She had not been much in the business of paying attention to her surroundings last night, but in the glint of morning she was grateful for how fastidious Rose had been in packing. Had Selena not known what to look for, there would be no indication another woman once lived in this flat. As it was, she could only identify Rose’s departure by the absences, the space Matt would surely have taken up. It was still a little jarring, still enough to catch in her throat.
Had that been too much for him to wake up to?
She slid from the bed and, refusing to pull on her old clothes because that felt too much like leaving, helped herself to his drawers to find a shirt that could play over-sized nightdress.
He was not, as she’d feared, out of bed to brood, but out of bed to read. She found him in the living room, leaning over the papers strewn across the coffee table. From the warmth and glint of emerald from the Floo, she suspected these were a recent delivery. Geniuses, Selena remembered with a sigh, never wanted to sleep.
But she smiled as she slipped up behind him, didn’t have to force amusement into her voice when she slid her hands over his shoulders. ‘You started early.’
Tension only flickered in him for a heartbeat, then he leaned back and craned his neck to smile up at her. ‘I didn’t want to wake you.’
‘And there was urgent historying to do?’
‘Fifth century AD is a fast-changing world.’ The corner of his lip curled more. ‘Lowsley sent some preliminaries, that’s all.’
‘You don’t have to flit off on an investigative emergency?’
‘It’s nothing conclusive and it’s still very Welsh.’
She kissed the tip of his nose and stood. ‘Then I’ll put the coffee machine on.’
‘You don’t like coffee that much,’ he said, eyes following her as she padded for the kitchenette.
‘I don’t mind it, but I’ll adapt.’ She glanced over her shoulder. ‘I suspect there’s going to be a lot of coffee in my future.’
His beam in response was the stupidest and best smile she’d ever seen from him. So for an added bonus she lowered herself to rummage through his fridge and scrounge together the ingredients for omelets.
‘You’d best not get used to this,’ Selena said when she finally plonked herself next to him with plates of breakfast and steaming mugs.
The smile, if anything, broadened, and Matt leaned in for a quick kiss. ‘It’s brilliant. Thank you.’
‘You may not thank me once you’ve tasted my cooking. If you wanted cooking, you should have seduced Albus.’
He reached out to give her hand a quick squeeze, and she tried to not react when he did so with his prosthetic. It was warm, a more supple limb than the name ‘living steel’ would suggest, so her surprise came not from discomfort. But he had acted without thinking, and not checked himself. Maybe this was what growth was like. She sipped her coffee. ‘So what’s Lowsley found?’
‘Stories we’re trying to make sense of.’ Matt ran a hand through his mop of hair. ‘If it weren’t for the illuminated pages I think we’d be pawing through the Black Book for years, but it’s helped narrow it down. The pages there talk about the power conflict between King Gwerthefyr of Dyfed, who may or may not be Saint Vortimer, and the Kingdom of Cantref Gwaelod. Which is interesting.’
‘Assume,’ Selena said, ‘that my only conclusion from these names is “everything is Welsh.”’
He grinned more than the remark deserved. ‘Well, everything is. But Cantref Gwaelod is one of those Welsh myths, lost cities beneath the waves, that kind of thing.’
‘So what connects this to the Chalice?’
‘I’m getting to it.’ He sipped his coffee for, she suspected, dramatic effect, but his eyes were dancing at getting to weave this story. ‘The writing is mostly from the point of view of wizards sworn to Gwerthefyr, but there’s some rumination on the nature of Cantref Gwaelod. Apparently it had its own internal conflicts, a tension between the ruler Gwyddno Garanhir and one of the princes, Seithenyn.’
‘Tension about having a magic cup?’
‘Muggle myths blame Cantref Gwaelod’s sinking beneath the waves on Seithenyn. The story goes that he was a drunken carouser responsible for the sea-defences, and failed his duties and so the whole city sank. This story is painting a subtly different picture.’ Matt tapped Lowsley’s translations. ‘It’s implying Seithenyn and his followers were adherents and worshippers of Arawn, King of the Otherworld, at a time when Christianity was on the rise even for wizards of the time.’
‘Worshippers of a sort-of God of Death. A lost city of ancient myth and magic. And those stupid swirly patterns on the text.’ Selena nodded. ‘It sounds like a Lead.’
‘It does,’ Matt agreed. ‘There’s more for Lowsley to go through, and I’m getting them to go through any other records they can find on Seithenyn and Cantref Gwaelod. I know Hogwarts has a copy of the Book of Taliesin I’ve sent a request for.’
‘But it’s all still very Welsh?’
‘It is.’ He put down the parchments. ‘Which means there’s precious little I can do.’
‘You could enjoy your omelet.’ She nudged the plate closer.
He grinned and picked it up. ‘I could. Thank you.’
She was trying to summon just the right wry comment about domestication or not rushing around to save the world when there was a tap on the window, and Selena knew the sound of a beak on glass. ‘Post,’ she sighed, and got to her feet. It was a nice feeling, while Matt was working, to get the little odds and ends done around him. She knew that desire wouldn’t last, so she might as well enjoy it for now.
It was a Daily Prophet owl, the newspaper clutched between its talons, so she let it flit inside to help itself to water and food before it swept off on its rounds. Only once she’d closed the window behind it, mindful of December creeping into Cambridge, did she unroll the paper and read the headline.
And froze. ‘Holy shit,’ Selena breathed. ‘My mother’s gone and arrested the entirety of Minister Halvard’s staff on charges of treason and corruption. He’s stepped down and handed authority in Britain to her and the IMC.’
Matt shot up from his chair. ‘What?’
‘There’s apparently been a huge covert investigation into how close any of them are to the Council of Thorns, but the theory is, very, and for years.’ She looked up, eyes widening, heart thudding in her chest. ‘And your father and my boss have been released.’
Delight kaleidoscoped with apprehension across his face, a shifting mural of conflicting and bewildering emotions. But it was he who first asked the pressing question, the one which was still getting the better of her. ‘Why are you not happier about this?’
Selena swallowed. ‘Because my mother’s just proven how powerful she is. Because the government in Britain has been fucked up for a long time without us noticing.’ She looked down at the paper, and the reference to the extensive cooperation provided to the investigation by one Amadeus Candlestone. ‘Because I think I might have made this happen.’
Except she hadn’t mentioned Amadeus Candlestone to anyone.
‘If we wait here,’ Pretorius had told Eva, ‘we’re going to be fish in a barrel and we’ll die. The Inferi will be here in minutes.’
‘So don’t be here,’ Eva had replied, making for the stairs. ‘We’ll slip by them.’
‘How am I supposed to hide thirty-one people, including four prisoners?’
‘It’s easy.’ She’d stopped halfway down the corridor and pointed at the lift doors. ‘Inferi are terrible with ladders.’
They hadn’t considered the lift shaft before because getting out through the doors would be impossible if the Thornweavers were paying the slightest attention; hanging off a ladder in an open doorway was the least defensible position Eva could imagine. Even now, getting thirty-one people up an emergency ladder was a serious problem.. But it was not, she thought with relief as she let herself into the stairwell, her problem.
Her problem was how to march through an oncoming swarm of Inferi, alone save her wand and her sword. But she was alone, and she much preferred it this way. There was nobody else’s back to watch, no complicated questions to ask, and Albus was dead.
She had nothing to lose.
If you mess up, thirty-one people are going to die.
It was very hard to care about that.
She’d told Pretorius she’d deal with the stairwell and then clear Magical Transportation. Two Thornweavers had been on the floor above, potential lookouts she hadn’t given the time to raise any alarm. One had been sent flying into the other before they could yelp, and both Stunned and trussed up within seconds. But this couldn’t be all that was to come. Geiger hadn’t been lying; she was only another flight of stairs up before she heard the thudding footsteps, lighter and swifter than a person’s. The gathering storm, the wave of white death.
Wizards didn’t fight like that. They preserved life where they could, if only their own. They preferred swift strikes and careful planning, and so wizards were used to defending against that. It was one of the many tactical advantages the Council held in using Inferi. They could send these undead soldiers against the enemy in a mad wave which would surely suffer terrible losses, but so long as they won the battle that didn’t matter. And their opponents were never prepared.
Except this time.
Her insides had been carved up by Geiger’s Killing Curse, just as surely as if the spell had struck her. She could have died, had she chosen, but her work wasn’t yet done, and so she clung on. She let herself be cleaved in half, and threw the weak half, the half that wanted to curl up and weep and surrender, into the darkest, blackest pit of herself.
The other half was ice-cold rage, and she used that to coat her very bones.
A white shape rounded the corner and loped down the stairwell, but she felt no surge of fear or dread. Once, that hissing breath, those blackened eyes, the skull-like face, would have tightened her gut into a knot she’d have to fight through. Today, there was nothing.
And there was only one of them. Others would be heartbeats behind, but she had to wait for those heartbeats.
It lunged and swiped, she side-stepped, and then the sword was in her hand, slashing across the Inferius’ neck and cutting the hissing snarl short. She’d expected the weapon to be slower, more cumbersome; had assumed Matt’s ease came only from years of practice. But it was a perfectly-designed, perfectly-balanced weapon of death. Eva Saida, being another weapon of death, had to appreciate it.
The first Inferius hadn’t hit the ground before her wand lashed up the stairs, knocking a second into the small clump behind it. ‘Come on,’ she challenged, voice low, flat. ‘Gather up.’ These were dregs, still, coming in twos and threes, and she needed a dozen, a score.
Fear was a cage, and Eva had spent a long time being afraid. Afraid of consequences, afraid of death. But death had already come and she still stood.
So now she was free.
A gout of flames from her wand consumed one and set another half-alight. Its hiss turned to that inhuman wail as it staggered into another, but the closest still came. Even her swift step back saw its claws scrape her sleeve, but then her sword came up, lopping off that arm. A kick knocked it to the ground, a burst of energy from her wand knocked one on fire into another, and then she could see, through the flames and the ivory and the black ichor of their blood, that the stairwell was filling.
Eva slammed her elbow into the solar plexus of a charging Inferius. It didn’t have a diaphragm, but it was still knocked back, slashing harmlessly at air. Another was coming, and another, and another, but she sheathed her sword and grabbed onto the railing. And here we go. The tip of her wand cracked against a marking on the ground, a pattern she’d left exactly as Pretorius had instructed. It took less than a heartbeat for the magical ritual to flare to life, for energy to crackle across the steps and down, blossoming through the entire stairwell as far down as she’d been able to cover in five minutes.
It was like standing in a thunderstorm. Stone cracked and shattered around her, above her, and even as the Inferi staggered, all she could do was clutch to this railing like the literal life-line it was. Rocks fell above, below, everywhere, six floors of the stairwell shattering and breaking to pitch the steps down the newly-formed chasm that reached the very bottom of the Department of Magic.
It had to be fifty feet by now. That was enough even for the twenty Inferi.
The ground shattered and broke under her and, wand between her teeth, Eva clutched at the railing to not fall and join them. It was a near thing, feet scrabbling against the wall to find some purchase - one Inferius grabbed at her leg until she kicked out, broke its arm and forced it to let go -
And then she hung there, clinging to a railing in the broken stairwell, a lethal drop beneath her with zombies waiting at the bottom. For two floors above there was only shattered shards of masonry, a climb that was almost sheer in places before the bottom of where the stairs had not been entirely destroyed.
The ritual was built into the building already, Pretorius had said, for emergencies. Using it sooner had just sounded like a good way to get really trapped underground. And there had been, Pretorius had pointed out, serious risk to anyone trying to enact the ritual.
‘What do we do,’ the security officer had said as Eva had set off, ‘if you get yourself killed collapsing that stairwell?’
Eva had shrugged. ‘Die, I suppose,’ she said, and hadn’t thought anything of it, because if she failed she’d be too dead to care.
But now she wasn’t dead. Her arms screamed, her breath scraped in her throat, and it was with a supreme effort that she managed to grab her wand, get a levitation off which wouldn’t save her but would make hanging on easier.
‘Come on, Saida,’ she hissed to herself, crawling inch by excruciating inch up the crumbled masonry of the wall of the stairwell. ‘You’re not done yet. You’ve got one job to do yet. Only one job.’
And once she’d done it, once she’d killed Erik Geiger, she could rest.
There was an odd calm to the ice shelf, the wind and chill not tearing at her face as badly as it had on the climb, and Rose could only presume the entrance to Ultima Thule was magically protected against the elements as well as against incursions. She could stand without leaning into the wind, and snow and ice were no longer whipped into her eyes.
She pulled her scarf down from her mask and looked from the huge stone doors to Cassian Malfoy’s body. ‘I’m amazed there’s anything left of you after eighty years.’
‘Thank you,’ drawled Cassian Malfoy’s ghost. ‘I try to look after myself.’
If there was magic shelter, there might be some magical containment, Rose reasoned as she hunkered over the body. She was just glad this was a skeleton garbed in the remains of thick, older, hard-wearing clothes, and nothing more… fleshy. ‘If you don’t mind,’ she said, and hated that this wasn’t the oddest thing she’d ever done, ‘I’d like to bring your wand back.’
‘Oh, not at all. My pocket-watch is still in there. And some of my pointless Alliance security charms.’
Rose fished those out, the latter a collection of small runestones she slipped in a pocket to worry about later. A glance over her shoulder showed Cassian was watching Scorpius, though, ghostly eyes dragging across him.
‘So how are we related, dear boy?’
Scorpius pulled his scarf down from his chin. ‘Your brother was my great-grandfather. That makes you my great-great-uncle, I think.’
‘Great-great, hm.’ Cassian gave a gentle snort. ‘So Abraxas had a family and was alright in the end.’
‘I don’t know. I never met him. Died of dragonpox fifty years ago.’
‘And he had children, I take it. In the end.’
‘One son. Lucius. Married a Black. But he went to Azkaban after the Second War -’
‘The Second War?’
Rose sighed and lifted her gaze to the giant doorways. Getting through this would take long enough, she thought, without a history lesson. But this was the most civil conversation she’d ever witnessed Scorpius having with another Malfoy.
‘Britain had its own Grindelwald in the seventies then again in the nineties. Pureblood supremacy, dark magic, all the good stuff. My grandfather backed him. Twice.’ Scorpius’ voice came out like it was sharpened, the edge very narrow but very precise.
Cassian’s ghost seemed to fade a little, as did his voice. ‘…and your father?’
‘Was a child, and still made worse choices than other children. Now he’s a man, and he helped Raskoph in this new war of his.’
There was a pause - then Rose staggered back as Cassian Malfoy’s ghost shot across the cliff shelf to burst out in front of them, a billowing chill of white. ‘And why are you here?’ he demanded.
He’d thought he could trust family, Rose realised, expression twisting, but it was Scorpius who spoke first, Scorpius who advanced on Cassian. ‘You reached out to me!’
‘I’m a ghost trapped between worlds, my options are limited. I knew you were family, I had some awareness through those who died of the state of the world right now, I knew Raskoph was responsible for a lot of death again. I sensed you were returning. I thought if anything I knew could be of use against him, I had to try.’ The ghost looked between them, wild-eyed. ‘But if my family has for generations committed to causes like his, if your father and his father -’
‘I am not my father!’ Scorpius’ shout could have brought down the mountains. ‘I died because I stood up against Raskoph, I’m here because yes, you’re right, someone in the Malfoy family has to try to stop all of this! Instead of helping it!’ Rose slunk to his side, reached out to rest a hand on his arm, and he slumped. His eyes didn’t leave Cassian’s, and when he spoke again his voice was a low rasp. ‘Before I found out who you really were, I thought I was the only one.’
Cassian stared between them, then his gaze flickered and landed on Scorpius. ‘Is the Manor still there?’
‘It’s - of course it’s there, bloody place -’
‘It’s a fine house,’ said Cassian softly, ‘and it’s been home to generations of Malfoy achievements and ideals -’
Scorpius snorted. ‘And what’re those worth, generations after generations of arsehole supremacists -’
‘I wasn’t,’ said Cassian, still gentle. ‘How many more were there we don’t know about? We can’t be all that bad, dear boy, if the line’s provided the world the likes of you and I.’
Scorpius fell silent at that, brow furrowed, and Rose knew the best thing to do would be to change the subject. At least until he’d had time to chew over this.
‘So,’ she said. ‘The doors.’
‘Raskoph needed a keystone to get in.’ Scorpius grimaced. ‘I hate to say it, but we could just… turn around. If he’s not got in for the last eighty years, he’s not going to get in now.’
‘That leaves us exactly where we started. And hardly illuminated. It doesn’t give us a way to destroy Lethe, it doesn’t even tell us anything else, it doesn’t -’ She tried to stop herself, then there was a surge in her chest and she stopped caring as she straightened. ‘It doesn’t give us a way to keep you.’
Scorpius took a step back. ‘I didn’t come here for that. I came here to - to know what had happened to Cassian! To try to find some remains of my family, something I could be proud of, and - and I didn’t know what I’d find! But we can’t get in there, and even if we could, why the hell would we want a Stygian Plague in its purest form?’
‘To understand it better? To find flaws in Lethe which we can exploit to undo it? And there might be something else in there…’ She rounded on Cassian’s ghost. ‘Do you know what else is in there?’
Cassian looked between the two. ‘I have no intention of asking you to breach the boundary. I’ve told you the truth because you’ve sought it -’
‘Do you know?’ She recognised Malfoy avoidance when she saw it.
‘I do.’ The ghost straightened. ‘There is a reason this place was built here specifically, of all the frozen wastelands in the world. Something was found here, something those who built Ultima Thule wanted to claim and contain. Between life and death -’
‘We don’t need another Veil,’ said Scorpius.
‘It’s not a Veil, my dear boy. It is the boundary between worlds. The spring of the river that flows from here to the Otherworld. Known by many names: the Sanzu, Rasa -’
‘Styx.’ Rose’s heart lunged into her throat. ‘This is why the plagues are named like that - it’s not just a name, it’s using the magics of the actual river -’
‘It would, if Raskoph found it. He hunted it, though, across the world. Along the way he found lesser magics derived from it; samples of its water, objects infused with its power, and from that he tried to create the plague. I saw his fledgling efforts in Russia, but without the actual Styx it’s taken him almost a hundred years to make a true weapon of it.’
‘The Styx - if it goes between the worlds, if it’s anything like the mythology, it won’t just be of death; it’ll be of life, too…’
Cassian shrugged. ‘I would presume.’
She rounded on him. ‘Do you know how to get us in there?’
Scorpius stepped forwards, lifting his hands. ‘Hang on - do we need to get in there? Surely it’s safer to leave it locked away?’
‘I know how to open these doors,’ said Cassian. ‘And I know how to open them such that they can be closed again. Though the inner chambers may be a little harder to breach.’
Rose reached into her pack and pulled out the small satchel she’d found by the wrecked freighter, the explosive runes. ‘I can deal with smaller doors.’
Scorpius grabbed her arm. ‘Why? Why are we risking this? Even if the waters are of life, too, we’ve got cures -’
She looked up at him, heartbeat now a thudding drum in her chest. ‘I don’t want it to cure Lethe. But if it’s life, Scorpius, maybe I can take some waters, use them a new anchor for you. If it holds any of the same properties as the Chalice, and this would be even better, then maybe I can tether you to it. And when the Chalice leaves the world, it remains. You remain.’
He stopped as if the frozen north had finally claimed him, eyes that particular shade of grey she hated. But when he spoke, his voice was a low, desperate croak - hesitant, disbelieving. ‘You… you think you can do that?’
Rose swallowed hard. ‘I can’t make any promises,’ she whispered. ‘But this has been my best theory. I just needed something powerful enough to anchor you. This could be it.’
To watch his face in that moment was to watch galaxies explode into being and die in a single heartbeat. Hope was something she had nestled so close to her heart, embers she had blown on so gently and held so tightly, that even though it fired through her every fibre it was too deep to stare at directly. But watching Scorpius Malfoy’s eyes now was to see hope’s birth.
‘There’ll be things to figure out,’ she whispered, and rested her hand atop his, still on her arm. ‘But we get a sample and seal this place away again. Then I’ll find a way, I’ll tether you to it or infuse you with it or something, there’ll be something. And then we can destroy the Chalice safely when Matt finds a way, Scorpius, and Lethe can be destroyed and you don’t have to die.’ She’d thought she was speaking softly because she didn’t want to startle him, but she understood when she uttered the words aloud. The thought was so precious, so fragile, that anything more than a whisper felt like it might shatter the very truth of it.
He stared at her as if she were the rising sun in this land of endless night, and let his hand drop with just the slightest nod. Trying to not smile, because that felt too brazen, she turned towards the ghost. ‘Cassian, how do we open -’
Then Scorpius’ hand was on her arm again, pulling her back, and before she knew anything else he kissed her. If galaxies had born and died in his eyes, universes shattered into creation at his lips on hers, at his arms around her. Even through the thick layers of arctic clothes she clung to him, clung to him like the frozen wind would tear her away forever if she didn’t hold on.
She had last kissed him in a cell in Ager Sanguinis, and that had burnt on her lips with its hunger and its terror. She had first kissed him just outside the Forbidden Forest at Hogwarts, and it had sunk into her bones with its anticipation and excitement. This was something else, a new first and a new last, and his embrace hummed through her veins and fizzed through her thoughts until there was nothing else, until she was nothing else.
Then his lips tore from hers, but he still didn’t let go, and his smile was the sun over ice. ‘You are brilliant…’
She knew he’d only reached for her because hope had broken terror, and she knew what a fragile thing she held in her hands, what a desperate thing. ‘I can do this, Scorp. I can fix this, fight for you, keep you; I will do this -’ But before she could reach for him again, punctuate her conviction with a kiss to smother all fear, an intangible throat cleared itself behind her.
‘Did you, ahem, want me to explain how to open that door?’
Rose had dreamt of this kiss, before and after Scorpius’ return. In none of those dreams had she been stood in the frozen end of the world, trying to cheat death. And under absolutely no circumstances was the moment interrupted. So it took her a moment to process Cassian Malfoy’s words, and then Scorpius was smiling that lopsided, sheepish smile as if they really were teenagers interrupted by some relative, and all she wanted to do was stand before Ultima Thule and laugh.
She didn’t, but she did pull back, heart thudding at the feeling of a blush rising to her cheeks, something so petty and small and real it took her a moment to recognise it. And when she spoke, it was through a smile as stupid as it was broad. ‘Um, go on, Mister Malfoy.’
Cassian Malfoy’s ghost gave a theatrical sigh that was much like Scorpius’. ‘Some of us have an afterlife to pass on to. Eventually. Though that’ll probably only happen when Raskoph is dead, and the old bastard is over a hundred and still showing no sign of -’
Scorpius’ lips curled. ‘Cassian.’
Another sigh. ‘The keystone he dug up in Egypt was probably from here. I don’t know how it got to Egypt. But I do know that it was tampered with over the thousands of years between its creation, and Raskoph finding it. Tampered with by the Jewish slaves, I’d wager, considering it had Hebrew writing on it. Raskoph, being Raskoph, assumed that the writing was irrelevant, because how would Hebrew writing relate to a lock that was sealed before the language even existed?’ Cassian rolled his ghostly eyes. ‘It’s not as if the wizards would pass such a thing down through generations, and then mark it so that someone remembered what mattered. The keystone would have worked for Raskoph; if he’d set it in the door and imbued it with magic, it would have opened. But if you have the right words and magic it’ll open, too. And those words were recorded on the keystone. If Raskoph hadn’t underestimated those he wanted to eradicate, he might have realised this.’
Rose’s expression turned more serious as she listened. ‘What were the words?’
‘The real pass-phrase. Because the real way to get in isn’t a rock, it’s magic, and it’s the oldest magic of all. The first spell.’
An excitement almost as good as kissing Scorpius surged in her gut. ‘The first spell?’
Cassian’s lips curled, much like Scorpius’ might when he had a particularly good secret. ‘You’re going to find this very underwhelming, I’m afraid.’
‘I’m sure I won’t -’
‘The first words. The first spell. The first magic. It’s the same for so many cultures across the world; some things are true no matter where you’re from. Not everywhere, so who knows what the real truth is… but it was as true for the people who built Ultima Thule as it was for the Jews who inscribed the pass-phrase on the keystone: Yehi-or.’
Rose frowned. ‘What?’
‘Before there was anything, there was darkness. So what was the first spell?’ Cassian’s smile turned sober. ‘Let there be light.’
Scorpius snorted. ‘Are you telling me we can get into Ultima Thule with a Lumos?’
Even for a ghost, Cassian looked a bit put-out by this reaction. ‘With your wand in the exact right lock, yes. Remember, this place was made by people who hated those who couldn’t use magic. What better way to lock their secrets away than to require magic to get in? The keystone came later.’
Rose squeezed Scorpius’ hand and approached the giant stone doors. ‘Let’s get this done, then,’ she said, pulling her wand.
‘There’s a nook right there,’ Cassian instructed, though she had to scrape away the ice to find it. ‘You just press your wand into the gap and then you have it. I believe.’
‘You believe?’ Scorpius said.
‘I didn’t, believe it or not, actually try this. So you only have my best guess.’
While her heart thudded in her throat, Scorpius actually laughed. ‘If this doesn’t work, it’s going to be just fucking typical, isn’t it.’
She didn’t answer, because she didn’t dare. Just pressed her wand-tip to the nook in the carved stone, tightened her grip, and whispered it. The first spell she’d ever whispered, in a Charms classroom at Hogwarts, from her First Book of Spells, sat next to Hestia Kirke because Albus had abandoned her for the Malfoy boy, two rows back -
Let There Be Light.
Stone strained against ice thousands of years old and shattered it as the doors scraped their way open. The ground rumbled, the cliff-face rumbled, the very air itself reverberated with the might and magic of the entrance to Ultima Thule shuddering into being.
Scorpius was on one side of her, Cassian’s ghost on the other, and it was Cassian who spoke through the hushed apprehension of the sliding doors. ‘I’ve waited through life and death for this,’ he murmured. ‘I have some idea where you want what you seek, but I’m not sure, I’m really not sure what’s going to be on the other side of this.’
It was just as well light still spilt from the tip of her wand as she kept it raised, because the only thing that greeted her as the doors to Ultima Thule opened was a long, dark, stone corridor.
Cassian Malfoy’s ghost slumped. ‘That was anti-climactic.’
‘Relax,’ said Scorpius, who still wore a stupid grin on his face. ‘There’ll be more. You get to explore.’
‘I do.’ The ghost frowned. ‘I had thought maybe there would be more here, but perhaps all they did do is - is lock things away.’
‘You know,’ said Rose, ‘I will be happy to open this place up - for the right people - once the war is over. We can have exciting academic exploration later.’
Scorpius looked at her. ‘I never thought I’d hear you say anything like that.’
She flashed him a smile. ‘I have a reason to focus.’
‘Follow me,’ sighed the ghost of Cassian Malfoy. ‘From records in Amsvartnir, Svetloyar, Tibet, I have some concept of this place. Astonishingly, chambers securing a spring of an otherworldly river will be far, far towards the bottom.’
‘Maybe we shouldn’t open this place up once the war is over,’ said Scorpius as they followed. ‘Maybe we should Obliviate ourselves.’
‘I sought this place to stop it from falling into the wrong hands,’ Cassian agreed. ‘But your decisions here will be your own.’
‘One step at a time,’ said Rose, except their next steps down the long, dark passageway led eventually to another set of solid stone doors.
‘If those scribblings in Russia were right, these should open up to the main chambers,’ said Cassian.
‘And how,’ said Scorpius, ‘do we open them?’
‘That,’ said Cassian, ‘is a good question.’
Rose advanced on the doors. These were only about eight feet high, and while they were solid stone they were nothing compared to the mighty gates they had passed by already. She wafted her wand over them. ‘Oh. These should be opening automatically - it’s a simple enchantment ritual to have them respond if they sense a wand.’
‘Then… why aren’t they opening?’ said Scorpius.
‘Because this is a much less powerful piece of magic, and it’s died after several thousand years.’
‘That’s ridiculous. We bypass the big, important security door, and then we’re thwarted by a mechanical failure? Can you fix it?’
‘Probably,’ said Rose, but she hefted the satchel of explosive runes again. ‘But if this is just a door, this will be a lot quicker.’
Cassian peered at the satchel. ‘Were you seeking to kill yourselves and bring this entire mountainside crashing down to destroy everything and everyone inside? Because that’s what you’ll do with that many runes.’
Rose rolled her eyes and plucked out a single rune, tossing the bag on the ground. ‘I was going to use one,’ she said. ‘That’ll be enough to get through, and it shouldn’t disrupt any magic on the other side. Not if anything beyond this door is properly contained. It could take hours to piece a ritual together.’
‘Swift. Efficient.’ Scorpius clapped his hands together and rocked on the balls of his feet. ‘I like it.’
Then a spell smacked into his back and knocked him into the corridor wall, and a fresh, familiar voice boomed from the passageway behind them.
‘I concur,’ said Adhemar Castagnary, and then there were four bright wand-tips, four tall, robed figures in masks. In so far as Rose could recognise a silhouette, she knew when she’d seen this last: As a shape on a shattered, deliberately wrecked freighter, surrounded by Inferi doing their bidding.
Thornweavers from Helluby. They’d been followed.
And they’d just opened Ultima Thule for them.