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Chapter 38 : The Storm Brake on the Mountain
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The Thornweavers didn’t see her coming. They had to have investigated the collapsed stairwell and assumed, not unreasonably, that nobody was getting up that way.
So when Eva burst through the doors into the lobby of the Magical Transportation Division, the first two guards were dropped with barely the flick of a wand. That just left one, and a pair of Inferi still with some colour to their cheeks, still garbed in robes that were not that ragged, that worn. Of course Geiger had reinforced himself with those murdered in the building.
It was her against three, but two of them had to close the distance and, as it turned out, she was better with a wand than the third.
Whatever it takes. That had been her mantra for so long. Fight, survive, win, whatever the cost, and her blood thundered in her ears with every swipe of the blade, every flick of the wand. Not by conscious thought did she fight, but lower instincts that reacted before she knew it, her body a weapon even more honed than the two in her hands.
She dealt with the Thornweaver last, after the two Inferi lay twitching on the ground, felled by blows from a magic-disrupting sword. By the end, he was flat on his back on the lobby flagstones, groaning, wand just out of reach. Before he could recover, she’d pounced. Her foot slammed on his wrist with a crunch and a scream, then her knee was planted on his chest, wand pressed against his throat. ‘Don’t move.’
That was the survival instinct, the one which reminded her a dead enemy was one who wouldn’t come back, and it pulsed with every heartbeat.
‘You broke my fucking wrist -’ It was an American accent that slipped through, another reminder that the Council of Thorns weren’t just the heirs of Grindelwald’s European legacy.
She slammed him against the floor. ‘I’ll do more if you don’t cooperate. Is there anyone else on this level?’
‘No,’ he croaked. She smacked him down again, and he yelped. ‘No! Cabot’s sake, girl, I’m telling the truth! They headed back up to tell Geiger about the stairwell.’
‘How many of you are there?’
‘Eight, including me and Geiger. And now a lot less Inferi.’ The Thornweaver drew a raking breath. ‘Look, I know what you want; the Portkey, right? It’s in the next chamber over. You won’t move it, but it’s set for Nairobi, I think. Hasn’t been worth our while to switch off.’
Only six, after the two downstairs. Eva looked at the door he gestured to. Permanent Portkeys were hefty magical devices. The effort in down-powering one could likely be spent elsewhere. She pushed him down and stood. ‘Nairobi.’ Kenya was a long way away. They’d seen no impact from the Council of Thorns, they had only limited ties to the IMC. Nobody would ask too many questions, and she could bluff her way through and out before anyone knew who she really was. Then she’d be gone. Far away.
And why not? Albus is dead. You stay here, you get brought back to Britain and when your contract’s up, you’re going straight to prison. You think Harry Potter will back your corner when the son you were working with is dead? They’re going to lock you up and throw away the key if you stay. But you can run -
Her fist clenched. What about Pretorius, Lockett, Astoria Malfoy? All the others?
They’re nearby. They can figure it out. And if not, so what? You don’t owe them anything. Are they really worth going away for life?
‘Stupefy.’ Her Stun cracked into the Thornweaver, and she stalked to the chamber door, pushing it open. Inside was as she’d expected, one of those international Portkey rooms, the metal ring sat on a plinth in the centre. All she needed to do was walk over, grab it, and she’d be gone.
And where, exactly, are you going? What, exactly, are you going to do?
Not rot in prison forever? You have nothing else to prove to anyone.
Bile rose in her throat, thick and choking enough to make her step back from the door. And then he died for nothing.
Everyone dies for nothing.
Cold metal under her hand, solid, unyielding - and then it shifted with a creak, then there was darkness -
Then Pretorius’ face peering at her from the lift shaft, eyes wide, apprehensive. ‘I thought you weren’t going to make it.’
Eva extended a hand to help her through the lift doors and into the lobby. ‘For a minute there, so did I. Everyone up alright?’
‘Yes. Yes, we’re here.’ Pretorius hauled herself up, then began to help the rest of the thirty-one up into the offices of International Transportation. ‘VIPs included.’
‘The Portkey will get you all to Nairobi. The IMC can be contacted from there, help and support given.’ Eva gave her a hand until it was Gregory Goyle she pulled out of the lift shaft, looking pale and rattled. ‘But I need you to do something with this one: I need you to hand him over to the authorities in Britain. Either to Harry Potter or Hermione Granger.’
Pretorius rolled her eyes. ‘The attack makes any intel from him useless. You can have him; take him with you when we get to Nairobi.’
Eva stepped back and let out a slow breath. ‘I’m not coming with you to Nairobi.’
She slipped her wand into her pocket, made sure the sword was nestled securely in the tiny scabbard at her hip. ‘Erik Geiger and six other Thornweavers are still up there -’
‘And the Department of Magic has fallen, Saida -’
‘It has. And Albus Potter is dead.’ Eva’s gaze flickered. ‘The least I can do is bring his body back for his family and give them some measure of justice.’
Pretorius grabbed her by the shoulder. The survivors were rallying by now, and shuffling off into the Portkey chamber. ‘That sounds needless.’
Everyone dies for nothing. ‘I’ve done my duty here. I’ve got you out. I’ve got Goyle set for Britain. Make sure he gets there, people need what he knows. But someone else can pick up that baton.’
‘I don’t -’
But someone else interrupted Pretorius, a thick-set wizard with grey streaked through his dark, coiled hair. He wore, Eva noted out of habit more than caring, far more expensive robes than anyone else. ‘Warrant Officer. We shouldn’t delay.’
Eva watched Pretorius’ lips thin. ‘Yes, Judge Roux.’
That’ll be one of those VIPs. But the man lingered as Pretorius pulled away, meeting Eva’s gaze with a focused calm that belied the crisis surrounding them. ‘What you’ve done for everyone here won’t be forgotten, Ms Saida.’
I didn’t do it for you. All she wanted, though, was to be let go, so Eva nodded briskly. ‘Just get safe, sir.’ Then she pulled away, started for the stairwell which now could take her straight to the main lobby. The Council had to have lost most of their Inferi in the collapse. They were down several Thornweavers; she didn’t know how many Albus had incapacitated or rattled before he’d been taken.
That wasn’t Pretorius or Roux, so Eva stopped and turned towards Nathalie Lockett. ‘Professor.’ It was the title everyone kept giving her. ‘I’ll ask you to help make sure Gregory Goyle ends up in the right place. He might know where Draco Malfoy is.’ The woman still didn’t know about Scorpius, of course, but someone else could deal with that.
Lockett’s expression set. ‘I will,’ she said, then let out a slow breath. ‘Give them hell.’
Relief flooded through Eva at not having to argue again, though it was relief soured by finding nothing inside her to bounce off. Not rage, not pain, not loss. Just what Albus had left in his wake by dying on her. Absolutely nothing.
‘I will,’ she said, and turned for the stairs. The thirty-one survivors trooped into the Portkey Chamber, soon to be far away from this death-zone, soon to be safe, leaving her.
Her against six Thornweavers, Erik Geiger, and his remaining Inferi. But she knew where they were, and they didn’t know she was coming. It was a fighting chance.
And that was all she’d ever needed.
‘There’s still very little coming out of South Africa,’ stammered Lowsley, stood at Matt’s door and rifling through sheafs of paper. ‘Er, I mean, the Durban attacks were pretty complete and there are some scary ideas about the death-count among the Department’s staff in general and Enforcers in particular, and the HQ in Cape Town has been completely locked down -’
‘I don’t care about the political situation in South Africa,’ Matt said, raising his head. ‘Is there any news on Albus and Saida?’
‘No news on anyone getting out. But no reports that they’ve been caught or killed. Nothing much is coming out of Johannesburg. It’s hard to say what the situation is.’
‘We’re not sending recon?’
‘To a country the Council of Thorns has overrun? Johannesburg isn’t a big deal to the IMC, Matt. I know that sounds rough -’
‘Just a bit.’ Matt put down the papers and lifted his good hand to his temples. ‘What about Helluby?’
He heard Lowsley rummage through notes and suck his teeth. ‘No news is good news? The Thornweavers responsible haven’t been apprehended but the Inferi are contained and the townsfolk getting medical help. There have been no remains found identified as Rose’s or Malfoy’s. They were spotted in town during the attack, but nobody knows what happened to them.’
A fist clenched around Matt’s ribs. ‘The Thornweavers could have made off with them?’
‘I don’t know, Matt.’
He’s just a researcher. One who has better things to do right now than brief you. ‘Alright. Send my thanks to Ms Granger for the missive.’
‘I’ll thank her office. She’s in Helluby.’
Of course she is. She can afford to do that. But Lowsley left and Matt slumped in his chair, closing his eyes against the throbbing threatening to split his skull. It had started the moment he’d finished returning his office to a usable state and he’d sent the first research team off, Selena gone as his eyes and ears -
And you can’t go with them.
Brow furrowing, he reached for his parchment and the latest source, translated passages from the Fifth Branch of the Mabinogi, ancient tales of wizarding Wales. The translation lost some of the nuance, but he could pin down the areas of particular interest so they could be scoured later, make notes. His quill, twitching in mid-air of its own accord, began to run low on ink, so he reached for the pot -
And his clunky prosthetic knocked it over, spilling all over the translations.
‘Son of a -’
He rose, grabbing his wand to clean up the mess, but it was still creeping across the desk, across his notes. Removing the spilt ink without removing the writing he wanted to stay on the paper took a very precise wand-twitch, and his first attempt with his left hand did nothing.
‘Stupid - clunky -’ There was a knock at the door. ‘What?’
And Matt looked up to see his father. Prison had made him paler, thinner. His hair dangled into his eyes like his son’s, but now was joined by fresh streaks of grey, gaunter cheeks making his gaze darker. That didn’t matter. Matt still hurled himself across the office, wrapping his arms around Gabriel like he’d done when his father returned home from work when he was little. ‘Dad, you’re - I heard, is Mum -’
‘She’s back, she picked me up from Canary Wharf this morning.’
‘You’re alright? You’re -’
‘Fed, showered, napped. Not that prison is that tiring. More dull. I haven’t spent that much time in a confined space with Toby since Hogwarts and he’s had twenty five years to pick up new boring facts.’ Gabriel smirked, because he almost never smiled and apparently being freed from prison gave him no reason to change this, but it was the gentler, kinder smirk reserved for family and friends. ‘I hear you’ve been busy.’
Matt pulled back, and his metal hand felt lighter as he lowered his arms. ‘Yeah. Trying to be. Chasing some leads on the creation of the Chalice; I’ve got a team in the field right now. Or, in the water.’ He frowned.
They took seats, Matt shunting his notes to one side. ‘I’m chasing legends of sunken cities from Welsh mythology. I know it sounds crazy, but the Chalice was just a legend before we found it. There’s one story about a place, Cantref Gwaelod, which was meant to be sunken off Cardigan Bay.’
The corners of Gabriel’s eyes creased. ‘I bet witches and wizards have chased all that.’
‘They have.’ Matt sighed. ‘But we have some magical signatures to narrow down, and we’re hoping that will show something. However far out it gets.’
Gabriel nodded, leaning back in the chair like it was effort to even sit up straight. Matt didn’t look directly at him; possibly the only thing scarier than seeing his own arm end in a stump was seeing his father, forever unflappable, implacable, reduced like this. So it was his father who had to fill the silence, and he did so with that same smirk. ‘I’m sure I told you to keep your nose out of trouble.’
‘I was just following in your footsteps.’
‘That’s not true. If you followed in my footsteps you’d have got yourself arrested. But you went and worked with the system and it happened to pay off.’
Matt gave a one-shouldered shrug. ‘If the Ministry really did have Council goons so high up, I can see why you didn’t trust them. Is that why you think Halvard’s people were so keen to get you contained?’
‘Lillian Rourke let him contain me, but it’s possible. I was a wild card and I was sniffing around them, while everyone else was focused on the bigger picture. I think they used the Rotterdam incident and Potter’s anger as an excuse to keep me locked up and throw away the key.’
‘And Toby, if the Clarion was poking into the smuggling which turned out to be Draco Malfoy. I think unravelling that, and all the Ministry connections which let it happen and protected Malfoy, is what brought this house of cards down.’
‘You think?’ Gabriel raised an eyebrow. ‘See, I thought I had you to thank.’
‘I wish you did.’ Matt’s lips twisted. ‘But it wasn’t me, Dad.’ Selena had explained, if only briefly, how she and Eva had leaned on Amadeus Candlestone and unravelled hints of corruption around the Minister. But she’d also claimed she’d done nothing with the information, and he had no reason to disbelieve her. Did Saida do this? Find a weakness in the Ministry of Magic and pass it up to the IMC? He didn’t want to spend too long wondering about Eva Saida’s actions or motivations. He’d tie himself in knots. ‘Still,’ he said. ‘Lillian Rourke now runs the country.’
‘Lillian Rourke runs the bloody world.’ Gabriel frowned. ‘I don’t like that.’
Matt fought the urge to call him paranoid. Weeks in prison made it understandable. ‘The Council isn’t stopping. They have an army they can afford to hurl into battles where they take horrendous losses, because so long as they win they can replenish their forces. The Statute of Secrecy is straining at the seams, only not broken because they don’t want it broken yet either. South America, Greece, South Africa - our only victory has been the USA. We really can’t afford to have corruption in our own ranks.’
‘Maybe not,’ came a voice from the door, and there stood Selena, damp and bedraggled and most put-out. ‘But now my mother is going to be insufferable.’ Then she spotted Gabriel and visibly swallowed. ‘Uh, hullo, Mister Doyle.’
Gabriel got to his feet, eyeballing her. ‘Miss Rourke. I’m sure you have important things to report.’
‘Actually I have naff and all to report,’ Selena sighed, slipping past him to dump papers on Matt’s desk. ‘There’s nothing there. We looked. A lot. It’s cold and it’s raining and we had to put ritual markings on buoys across the bay and they didn’t pick up the slightest magical signature.’
Matt groaned, resting his head in his hand. ‘Even if it’s out there, it wouldn’t be that easy to find, would it? It’s been lost for fifteen hundred years at least…’
‘Cardigan Bay’s too shallow. But not so shallow that Nejem didn’t almost drown. I had to rescue him. It was very pathetic.’
Gabriel looked between them. ‘You have work to do, I see. I’ll let you get back to it.’ His son got a warm embrace, Selena a nod that was either suspicious or awkward, and then he left. With him went the one success and good news of the day, and Matt slumped onto his chair.
‘So we think we know the name of where the Chalice might have been made,’ he groaned. ‘But we don’t know where that is.’
Selena slunk around behind the chair, hands sliding over his shoulders. ‘We’re trying to find a place wizards have hunted for centuries. Even if it’s been myth, I bet once it sank, people tried looking.’
‘Maybe.’ Matt closed his eyes at her warm touch. ‘I was counting on the idea that wizardkind has done very little with the ocean. Coasts are fine, but deeper waters have been something we want to cross, not explore. It’s Muggles who ventured under the sea -’
They both froze as the conclusion hit them at the same time - then Selena was rushing to the door even as Matt spoke. ‘Get Lowsley,’ he said. ‘Tell him to drag up Muggle records from the west coast of shipping disasters, shipping routes, anything and anywhere the Muggles either have problems sailing over or just don’t go to -’
‘I’m on it,’ she said, and flashed him a pleased smile before she disappeared out the door, the smile that lurched in his gut just as much as the snatch of a lead did, and his head spun because he could do this. And she was with him all the way.
‘Castagnary, you little shit,’ was all Rose could say as realisation thudded through her bones. ‘I should have known you’d slither out from under some rock.’
‘Miss Weasley. A pleasure, as always.’ The Council of Thorns’ leading archaeologist gave a little bow. He was not the most impressive figure before them - that was the tall, broad Thornweavers in their robes and masks, while he looked much as she had ever seen him. Ready for practical works, not ready for death and murder. She’d liked to think Castagnary was just a misguided academic, one working for the highest bidder. Not an adherent of Raskoph’s ideology. But now she suspected she was going to regret Matt hadn’t killed him in Thebes.
‘Wait, this is that dweeb you were beating across Egypt?’ Scorpius’ voice went up that indignant pitch reserved for when he was really rattled.
‘Excuse me -’
‘That’s him,’ said Rose, jaw tight.
Scorpius stabbed his wand at Castagnary, and Rose’s heart almost stopped as the Thornweavers tensed at the movements. ‘I know you.’
Castagnary sighed. ‘Yes. Who do you think found an appropriate site of necromantic power for your recovery, Mister Malfoy? I am the Council’s leading researcher.’
Rose looked over. ‘He was in Tibet?’ Then she turned back to Castagnary. ‘You helped bring him back?’ All that time in Egypt and the truth was just at my fingertips if only I’d -
- what, casually demanded of him if your ex-boyfriend wasn’t really dead?
‘Yes - look, Mademoiselle, could you move away from the door? I don’t want to kill you.’
‘As opposed to all of those people in Helluby -’
Castagnary’s jaw tightened. ‘That was not my decision. Following you when you got away is my mission, and I will handle it my way.’
‘So long as it’s how your masters like.’
‘And so long as you don’t upset my companions, so please, Miss Weasley, Mister Malfoy, step away from the door!’
One of his compatriots said something Rose didn’t understand, in Swedish or some other Scandinavian language. But the tone was plain enough, and Castagnary’s shake of the head. Shall we kill them? No, not yet.
But light only came from wand-tips, and the exchange diverted their attention. What remained was focused on Scorpius, because of course he was the priority target, so it was with a gleam of satisfied indignation that Rose exploited being overlooked. Just a little. Just enough to slide the satchel of rune-charges into the shadowed corner of the doorway, out of sight.
The groups rotated in near-unison, the Thornweavers approaching the door, Rose and Scorpius slinking away. Wands remained drawn on all sides, but nobody was under any illusions who held the upper hand. And as she looked around, there was no sign of the ghost of Cassian Malfoy.
‘Why did you wipe out Helluby, then?’ said Scorpius, voice tight, and she recognised that tone, that stance. He talked because he was scared and because he was angry and this was the only way he could begin to master control even if he couldn’t master the emotions.
‘Colonel Raskoph,’ said Castagnary, pointedly trying to distance himself from the wholesale slaughter, ‘chose to do that when he heard you were in the town. To show the world what happens when they shelter and help his enemies.’
‘Shelter -’ Scorpius’ lip curled as the Thornweavers reached the door. ‘They didn’t know! We were just random passers-by, clients at a hotel, customers at a restaurant! They weren’t making a political statement!’
‘But your presence destroyed them anyway. That still sends a message, teaches a lesson. One you can learn.’ But Castagnary didn’t look very convinced, and Rose’s stomach twirled tighter. Whatever he wanted, Raskoph was unlikely to let them live. The knowledge seemed to shame Castagnary, for he turned away, began waving his wand over the sealed doorways.
‘Do you even know what you’re looking for in there?’ she blurted.
He only glanced over his shoulder. ‘Dear Miss Weasley, only the Colonel himself knows more about these secrets of the world than I. Far underground springs the river that is the boundary between worlds. Rasa, the Sanzu, the Vaitarna… the Styx.’
‘It’s death,’ spat Scorpius, fists clenched by his side. ‘You open that up, you march in there, and you are going to get so many people killed - but you don’t bloody care, do you, that’s your job! Your purpose!’
‘The world’s governments,’ barked Castagnary, ‘will kneel and surrender when they realise Colonel Raskoph has a weapon like this at his disposal.’
‘Yeah, the world’s been really good at submitting to his whims -’
‘Castagnary,’ said Rose, speaking over Scorpius. ‘You’re not a killer, you’re not a monster, you’re an academic. You’re a researcher. We’ve worked for different people but we’ve had the same goals for so long: exploration, knowledge. If you do this, if you go through those doors and hand the waters of the Styx over to the Council, it is going to cost so many lives -’
‘Costing lives!’ Castagnary gave a short, humourless laugh, and she watched him turn away from his work on the door, give his three Thornweaver companions anxious glances. She’d seen him handle dumb muscle before in Egypt, but this was different.
He’s not in control here, she realised, and her heart sank. Convincing Adhemar Castagnary would be worthless or impossible, because he couldn’t order these three adherents of Joachim Raskoph to change course.
‘You would talk to me about costing lives!’ he continued, and she could hear the hysterical edge to his voice as he glared at Scorpius. ‘The Council of Thorns saved you, Mister Malfoy. I saved you, I found that Veil, I made sure that Thane and his wretched work could come to fruition, I stood and watched when you came back through. They all fussed over you so much, Thane for his success, Raskoph for getting Lethe from you, your mother or whoever she was just for you, and you brought death with you.’
Scorpius stopped short. ‘My mother?’
But Castagnary wasn’t done. ‘And the Council was different back then! Yes, we killed people, but Krauser or Horn or Voigt wouldn’t have ordered attacks like the Lethe Incursion. They understood fear, not slaughter. Less was more for those men, but not a - not Raskoph!’ She could hear the condemnation in his tone, hear him biting back harsher words as his Thornweaver compatriots looked at him. ‘But you had to kill those three, didn’t you. You and Thane and his traitors. You thought you were weakening the Council on your little crusade? All you did was destroy Raskoph’s rivals. Destroyed the in-fighting, removed the moderate voices. You made him stronger.’ He straightened and cleared his voice, but there was little conviction in his next words, only an acrid sickness. ‘Made us stronger.’
Rose let out a low, shaky breath. ‘You could have quit,’ she said quietly. ‘If it was different to what you -’
‘It was everything I wanted,’ said Castagnary, and even though his lies were transparent, she knew it was what he had to say with three of Raskoph’s men at his back. ‘Now, throw down your wands. Perhaps the Colonel will have some use for you.’
‘You don’t need to do this.’ Panic bubbled up in her throat, and she had to swallow hard so it didn’t choke her, even though she knew she didn’t have words to stop it. ‘You’ve got Lethe, you don’t have to -’
‘I will not let you make this worse,’ Scorpius thundered over her, eyes blazing, wand not dropping an inch. ‘Lethe is in the world because of me; I will not lead you to something even more -’
‘You already have,’ said Castagnary, curt and sympathetic at once. ‘It’s over. Now make it easier on yourselves.’
His compatriots squared their shoulders and shifted into combat stances, and Rose felt the frozen chill of this place sear through her layers, through her fear, and sink straight to her bones. Scorpius stood poised, ready to fight, ready to die, and she knew she was out of options. Act, and lose everything. Die, and lose everything.
She drew a raking breath and breathed, just enough for Scorpius to hear, ‘Time for a Harrier’s Block. I have the Quaffle.’
His expression twitched, no doubt struggling in the race from fury to Quidditch, but he gave the slightest nod of the head, the slightest shift of his stance, and so she had to trust him and act.
Trust him and doom him.
A Harrier’s Block was a term for Chasers, named for a favoured move by the team itself some sixty years earlier. It was simple enough; two Chasers pulled a full defensive move while the third took the real action, usually to either score with the Quaffle or seize it. So she hoped her meaning was clear enough down here, hoped he’d know what she needed of him.
When her wand flicked out, two of the Thornweavers cast at once. Magic flew through the air, thick and fierce, and even though he’d been ready, Scorpius’ Shield spell wasn’t enough to keep them both safe. One spell hit her in the gut hard enough to double her over, but it didn’t shatter every bone in her body as she suspected had been the intent. Scorpius, next to her, took a blow to the hip that brought with it a spurt of blood, and he fell.
But her spell had gone off, and the last Thornweaver was ready, casting their own Shield, ready to block her puny opening attack.
A puny opening attack that rocketed past him, because she hadn’t been aiming for the Thornweavers. She’d been aiming for the satchel still nestled in the corner, filled with runestones. The Thornweavers’ own runestones, the ones she’d taken from the freighter they’d crashed, and if Rose hadn’t felt sick she would have been filled with a surge of righteous satisfaction at destroying them with their own weapons.
Except then the satchel exploded, and everything slowed.
A wave of fire blossomed like a flower outward and upward, fierce enough and powerful enough to punch a hole through hundreds of tonnes of steel. Certainly enough to thwart Castagnary and his Thornweavers. Likely enough to challenge these icy passageways, even through the defences of Ultima Thule. The flames consumed Castagnary first, then billowed outward, knocked the other three flying before swarming out, claiming them in a heartbeat. Rose dove for Scorpius, covered him with her body and, even as her lungs burnt for air they couldn’t yet claim, screwed her eyes shut and focused more fiercely on a spell than she ever had before.
Her Shields were brilliant. Even Albus said so. She’d stopped a whole building from falling and crushing a dozen Muggles back in Portugal, but the sheer force rocketing towards them was even greater, and so she was going to have to make this even worse if they were to have a hope of surviving. The trick, her teachers had told her, old Professor Tully had told her, to a successful Shield wasn’t to absorb all the force. Far, far easier to deflect it.
So when the all-consuming blast reached them, it didn’t crash into the Shield she threw over herself and the agonised Scorpius, but deflected. Flowed. Down.
Down, into the belly of the frozen mountain. Doubling the impact, doubling the blast, into masonry and stone and a hall of wonders designed to keep attackers out - not survive a strike from so deep within, for they were already past the outer defences.
Even as the flames and force died, Rose could feel the ground rumbling. See the walls of the cave shudder, the ceiling shake. The doors that had blocked their way deeper were gone, now, shattered rock, and for a heartbeat she could see the passageways into Ultima Thule, could see gleaming gold and shimmering magic.
Then a chunk of stone as big as her collapsed not three feet from her ankles. She scrabbled to her feet. ‘We’ve got to go.’
Scorpius clutched his hip, gasping. ‘You - you blew it up -’
‘It was that or they kill us and take the whole place, Scorp, we’ve got to -’
He needed her help to stand, needed her help to run, and now the roles were reversed from the flight from Helluby as they staggered back up the icy corridor that shuddered and shattered all around them. She was more worn than she’d been then, and yet magic answered her now because it had to, because it wasn’t just her she had to save but him, and her limbs screamed when the spells flowed through them for more strength, more resilience. She would pay for it later, but there had to be a later.
‘I can’t run, Rose,’ Scorpius gasped as she dragged him, managing a jog under his weight only with magic aiding her. Behind them, masonry cracked and fell, and she knew if she hadn’t strengthened herself, they would have been that far back, would have been crushed. ‘You’ve got to go.’
‘We’ve got a new rule,’ she said through gritted teeth. ‘No more of this “I’ll come back every time”. From now on, where you go, I go.’ Even if I’ve just doomed you. ‘Now shut up!’
They staggered and stumbled, the whole world shaking around them. Sheets of ice and stone fell from the walls and ceiling, and she had to jerk her wand upwards to deflect one chunk of falling rock. It was worse than on Cat Island, longer and darker and colder, and even when they erupted out of the passageway and onto the open shelf, it didn’t stop.
‘Did you just blow this mountain up?’ Scorpius screeched over the sound of thunder that wouldn’t stop.
‘Little bit!’ Rose dragged him across the snow, past the crumpled earthly remains of Cassian Malfoy, towards the narrow path they’d crawled up to make it this far -
Then the ground gave way from under them. Ice and stone shattering at their feet, sending them careening off the edge in a tumble of frozen rock and snow, over and under and spinning, flying, falling.
And the last thing Rose knew before the ground far below rushed up to meet them was the understanding she had just destroyed every last one of Scorpius Malfoy’s chances at life.