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Chapter 44 : Thy Doom is Mine
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There was a stab of déjà vu when Eva opened the door to her safehouse and Albus slumped in like he was Atlas with a whole new world placed on his shoulders. She hadn’t lived under a rock. She’d heard about the ritual, knew Scorpius would die tomorrow. But she’d expected Albus to be with him all this while, or to go to his parents; hadn’t expected this, and the flash of familiarity was enough to make her step back.
But he saw that, and his expression crumpled. ‘I’m sorry. I wasn’t sure where else to go.’
He shut the door behind him, and she stood in the middle of the room and wrapped her arms around herself. ‘How’s Scorpius?’ she asked his left shoulder, because that was easier.
‘As could be expected. I imagine he’s with Rose now.’ Al’s voice was dull, hollow.
When she tried to meet his gaze, she found he couldn’t look at her, either. She swallowed hard. ‘Are you alright?’
He let out a shuddering breath. ‘No,’ Albus croaked. ‘No, I’m really not. I thought about going to Mum. Or going to James. Or going somewhere else entirely or being on my own; I thought about all of it, I thought about all of the places I wanted to be, and I realised I - I -’
She took another half-step back before she could stop herself, heart thudding in her chest, and she saw him flinch at that. The tables had turned in some twisted way; no more was it him pressing and her flinching, but her acting and he who was wounded by it.
‘I wanted to be here,’ Al continued, stronger now, more ardent and honest. ‘With you. You.’
With Eva Saida. Not with Lisa Delacroix. She took a faltering step forward, and when he extended his hands he didn’t reach for her but turned his palms upward; waited, invited.
She slid her hands into his, held on tight because it looked like he’d be washed away if she didn’t anchor him - and that was when she understood. She didn’t need to kiss him, take him to bed, please him to make him feel better. Just this could make a difference. Just this could be a start. ‘I’m… here,’ Eva said, the words feeling strange - not like they didn’t fit her mouth, but like they and their meaning were new and needed breaking in. ‘And - and it’s just you and me, and we can be us like this, can’t we?’
Reassurance probably isn’t meant to be a question.
She’d managed to steer him to the couch before he slumped down, like all his strings had been cut, and on some instinct she didn’t recognise and barely understood she sat next to him, slipped her arms around him. ‘It’s going to be okay,’ she said, because that was what people said under these circumstances.
Albus hunched in, gaze dropping to his hands. ‘It’s not. I’m not going to be.’
Well, what do I say to that. She slid in closer, one hand at his shoulder, the other rising to brush his hair out of his eyes. It still felt strange to reach for him, to be able to run her fingers across his skin whenever she wanted, and even stranger to do it now. Soothing was not something she’d ever tried to be, but all of a sudden it felt very, very important. ‘You’ll be different,’ she murmured, voice throaty and uncertain but not insincere. ‘And it’ll be hard. But you are strong, and you - and you know what it’s like to be beaten by grieving for him. You know that’s not a place you want to go again.’
To her horror, this was when he gave a low, choking sob and collapsed against her, burying his face in her shoulder. All she could do was wrap her arms around him, hold him close as his breath came in laboured gasps he tried to defeat. ‘He’s my brother,’ Albus sobbed. ‘And I’ve tried - I spent all night being strong for him, spent all night promising him I’d be okay, that I’d help everyone else be okay. But I don’t know how to do that, I don’t know how to do that for him or do that for me or how to even be without him…’
She pressed her lips to his forehead, kissed his cheek, buried her fingers in his hair and mumbled comfort in half-remembered Arabic, knowing he needed the feeling, not the words themselves. He let himself weep at that, huge, gulping sobs that wracked his body, and holding him like this, Eva thought, was worse than the look on his face when he’d learnt she’d lied, was worse in a way than thinking he’d died. Feeling him in this sort of agony and capable of only holding him and whispering incomprehensible reassurance was like a stab in the gut. Those previous wounds had been cold as ice, but this burnt like fire, and all she could do was hold him closer, tighter, for them both. Eva had learnt, by now, that he was not always strong - but she’d feared that weakness before, feared who it made him. Now she feared it simply because she didn’t know how to bring him back.
The answer, it turned out, was to keep on doing what she was doing, and then to wait. He silenced eventually, ran out of tears and ran out of sobs and curled in her embrace, a fallen giant whose tumble she could not imagine breaking - and yet, here she was. Long minutes passed before he spoke again, and when he did it was just a mumbled, ashamed, ‘Thank you.’
That only made her tighten her grip. ‘I - I’ll do whatever you need. Whatever helps.’
‘This helps,’ he croaked. ‘You help.’
‘I’m more used to helping by blowing people up with my wand.’ It was an unspoken apology, tinged with conviction someone else could have done better.
Albus lifted his head only enough to kiss the corner of her jaw, and his breath was feather-light across her skin. ‘This is more important.’
When Scorpius dies, when Lethe dies and the Inferi die, and then the Council of Thorns dies, I go to prison. And then this dies, too. That made it easier, even if it was a fresh, burning wound, and she ran her fingers through his hair, marvelled at the closeness without urgency, the need without fire. ‘You can stay here,’ she murmured, ‘as long as you like.’
His response was low and awkward in kind. ‘All night?’
The burning wound became a lower, warming fire in her gut, and she kissed his forehead. His skin was soft under her lips, and she had, Eva thought, never done this with someone. Never kissed them in gentle comfort, never held them like this, and even if it came in a time of howling pain and loss, a part of her never wanted this to end. She fought back a smile. ‘As long as you need.’
Forever. Can we try forever? she wanted to say, but didn’t speak because she knew the answer. No. No, we can’t.
‘…can’t possibly comment -’
‘ - pursuing all avenues -’
‘So it’s good to see security has improved in my absence,’ Scorpius said archly as they bull-rushed their way through the journalists waiting for them outside the Portkey chamber in the French Magical Assembly.
‘Someone will have seen my name on a Portkey request, assumed we’re up to something.’ Matt let security urge the crowd back and led them on, not through the main corridors into the lobby where they’d no doubt be beset further, but through a door on the side to a spiral staircase. Most other magical government centres went underground to hide from Muggles; Paris had, instead, stolen an island and thus French wizards were dauntless in their displays of opulence, and had no qualms about building tall.
‘We don’t need to worry,’ said Albus, taking up the rear like a looming, reassuring shadow. ‘They might be right in putting two and two together, but they’re clutching at straws. They know nothing for sure.’
‘I know I don’t need to worry,’ said Scorpius. ‘Not only do I not need to deal with the aftermath, but my PR is golden from here on. Or it better be. I want a goddamn statue.’
He got a sharp look from Rose for his comment, even though she’d tried to stop herself, and he dropped his gaze. Guilt was not one of the last things he wanted to feel. Then again, he suspected mind-numbing terror had pre-booked the front row seats.
‘They might not know anything,’ said Selena, up at the front next to Matt, ‘but they’re annoying.’
‘That,’ came a new voice as they were led through a wide set of double doors into a well-furnished office, ‘is my fault. They picked up my scent. I’m very sorry, dear.’
Scorpius felt a whole new twinge as Selena broke into a wide smile. ‘Mum!’
Lillian Rourke waved away her security so she could hug her daughter, but they were both consummate professionals, and soon enough she was advancing on Scorpius, extending a hand. ‘Mister Malfoy, I don’t have the words for what you’re doing.’
‘Courageous. Heroic. Kind of sexy.’ He shook her hand, and out of the corner of his eye saw Rose having to avert her gaze. He didn’t know if he was in danger of making her laugh or cry; probably both, which was far worse.
Lillian’s smile didn’t reach her eyes, which shone with a sympathy that was altogether more annoying. ‘I thought it only appropriate I come here before the end. Someone has to thank you properly. Officially.’
For whose benefit is that? Mine? Or yours? ‘Thank you,’ he said instead, and wasn’t sure why he was telling white lies when he wasn’t going to have to live with the disapproval or the consequences. ‘You can tell the masses whatever you want; I mean, so long as it keeps people happy and up-beat -’
‘I will tell the world the truth. Everyone is going to know of this as your heroic sacrifice. Everyone is going to know the name “Malfoy” and think of a man who died to save the world.’ Lillian sighed. ‘If there is anything I can do, you only need to ask.’
‘I’d ask for a yacht, but I don’t think I’ll be around to use it next summer.’ Scorpius’ lips thinned and he sobered. ‘When my father is found - and if my mother is found to be involved - please just judge them fairly. I don’t know what that’s going to entail. I don’t know if that’ll mean firing them into the sun for what they’ve done or giving them a slap on the wrist, but you’ll have enough scapegoats. Give them what they deserve. Not enough people get that.’
‘I’ll do what I can.’ Lillian looked to the others - at Matt, who wilted a little under her gaze, and Scorpius smothered some fledgling amusement at that dose of awkward. At Rose, whose expression was settling into the blank mask he knew so well, at de Sablé, who had kept his head bowed in polite deference, and at Albus, who had since their journey began been bristling like a guard dog. ‘Mister Potter, I believe I owe you thanks for your aid with the British Ministry.’
‘Not me,’ said Albus, shaking his head. ‘That was all Ms Saida. I had nothing to do with it.’
‘Indeed. She and I will have much to talk about. But later -’
Lillian was cut off by a noise from the next room, a low, rattling hiss that ran up Scorpius’ spine, and before he knew it he’d spun around, wand in hand, facing the closed door. ‘What’s -’
He wasn’t the only one to react like that, but Lillian’s security blocked the way, and she lifted her hands. ‘I’m sorry. Please relax. That’s nothing to worry about.’
‘That’s an Inferius,’ said Rose.
‘It is. It’s contained.’ Lillian sighed. ‘We don’t want to alert the world to what’s happening today. We don’t want to get hopes up and we don’t want to risk Council interference. But we do want to monitor the consequences. We have those afflicted with Lethe under observation, to tell if the plague spontaneously dissipates. And we have an Inferius right here, under all sorts of charms and containments, to see if they themselves collapse with the destruction of the Chalice.’
‘Lethe will end,’ said Matt, jaw tight. ‘What’ll happen to an Inferius, I can’t possibly predict.’
‘Yeah, you will,’ said Scorpius, shifting his feet. ‘But are we done here? I kind of want to… get this over with.’ Everyone stared at him, and he shrugged. ‘No offence, but I’ve had all the fun bits of my last moments on Earth. Talking politics is pretty good at making me do nothing but think about dying. I’ve had my last breakfast. I’ve had my last cup of coffee. I’ve brushed my teeth for the last time, because dental hygiene’s important in the Otherworld. Let’s get this show on the road.’ In truth, if he stood there and nodded and smiled he was in danger of vomiting from fear. Rushing ahead and joking was, as ever, easier.
The corners of Lillian’s eyes creased, and she nodded to one of her aides. ‘We have a Portkey to get you to the Catacombs chamber directly. I had my personal security clear the place out over the last few days. They will have been discreet, and their loyalty is above question.’
Once again they shook hands, and then one of the wizards flanking her brought out an old brown bottle, which they set on the desk, swished their wand over, and stepped away from. Scorpius looked over his shoulder at the other five, lips twisting. ‘Once more into the breach, huh?’
‘Unto,’ Matt chirped, then his cheeks coloured and he stepped in to join them all as they grasped the Portkey.
The world swished and swirled before them, and Scorpius’ head snapped around at the last moment, fixed on the huge windows through which bright winter sunlight spilt into the office. It was, he realised as it winked away forever, the last time he’d see the sky, the last time he’d see the sun.
And then they stood in the square, dim, dank chamber of rock and stone where he was going to die.
They’d been here before. Two and a half years ago, they’d stood in this room and tried to figure out the hidden wall, and while others had come back to crack the secret or investigate the magic, Scorpius had only seen the place once. He’d been distracted at the time, worrying more about where he was going to take Rose for dinner and how their fledgling relationship was faring, fussing more about whether they were going to hunt Prometheus Thane right up until he killed them all.
A long time ago. A lifetime ago.
Matt’s people had brought the Chalice over already. It sat in its alcove in the wall, the place the Knights Templar had prepared for it centuries ago, and the low sconces along the wall gleamed golden firelight along its silver surface. Scorpius had to work hard to not glare at it.
You have been nothing but trouble to me.
‘Right.’ Matt clapped his hands together, voice quavering a little, and stepped forward. Between the Chalice and the huge stone sarcophagus in the centre, the one which was supposed to be the final resting place of Sir Reynald de Sablé, ritual markings had already been carved into the stone. ‘Everything’s been made ready, as per Rose’s calculations and instructions. The markings are there. The structure of the ritual is there. It’s positioned such that the Chalice is already tapped into it, and will start responding the moment there’s power in the ritual.’ He looked at Rose. ‘What do you need?’
‘I need you,’ said Rose, jaw tight. ‘And I need Sir Reynald. And Scorpius, of course. But Scorpius is the means by which I’ll be closing the breach from the side of the Otherworld. You provide power in the ritual, a living man who’s been touched by the Chalice. Sir Reynald’s here because I need something bristling full of life magic, like him, to balance out the energies in the area when the breach is shut. Or killing Scorpius could cause a necromantic backlash, and we know what those backlashes are like.’ It was, after all, what had killed Methuselah.
She pointed to the markings on the floor, where into the wide curves of the ritual were three smaller, closed circles. ‘You won’t need to do much. Stand in there and let me invoke.’
Scorpius looked over at her. ‘I didn’t realise this became your show.’
She didn’t quite meet his gaze. ‘I learnt a lot from Methuselah.’
Do did I. Like how to die gloriously in the middle of a ritual.
Selena eyeballed the markings. ‘Is this safe? I mean, for Matt and de Sablé.’ She threw him an apologetic glance.
‘Don’t worry, I’m so beyond petty offences right now. It’s kind of liberating.’ Scorpius shoved his hands in his pockets and looked around the room. He felt light-headed, felt his breathing come faster. It was like he was sprinting at a brick wall and couldn’t stop, but if he looked ahead he knew he’d brace himself and that would hurt more, so all he could do was pretend it wasn’t happening. It wasn’t like he could stop it.
‘It’ll be fine,’ said Rose. ‘The ritual doesn’t affect them, it only affects the Chalice. Just destroying the Chalice is what - yeah.’ She shook her head. ‘I know what I’m doing. I don’t need any more prep-work.’
Then Scorpius realised all eyes were on him, and he took a step back, heart pounding one beat in his chest so hard it was like a punch. It was, he supposed, doing its job while it still could. ‘Oh, shit,’ he said, and realised this probably wasn’t the inspiring finale they had expected. He looked at them all, and his shoulders slumped. ‘This is it. It’s almost full circle. We didn’t start here, the five of us, but it wasn’t that long after the start, was it?’
They didn’t answer that, couldn’t answer that, but de Sablé took a few discreet steps back to leave him with his friends. Scorpius looked to Selena first, padded over, and she threw herself into his arms in a fierce hug.
‘Keep them honest,’ he murmured, throat tightening already. He swallowed that down, because there was too much to do for him to start falling apart already. ‘Keep them self-aware. Like I ever needed to tell you what to do.’
She pulled back, his ally in facing harsh truths and his partner in cynicism, but to his relief her eyes were clear. If anyone had mastered the art of controlling their crying, it was Selena Rourke. ‘I wouldn’t have listened anyway.’
He smiled even though it hurt, and turned next to Matt, who stood with squared shoulders and an apprehensive gaze. Scorpius stepped over and extended a hand before he thought about it, winced apologetically - then Matt’s prosthetic right hand was shaking his, and the grip was firm, not crushing.
Scorpius clasped his hand with both and leaned in, dropping his voice. ‘This is my choice, not your doing. But in making this possible, in figuring this out, you’ve proved again what should have been said before: you’re a goddamn hero, Matthias Doyle.’
‘Yeah, well.’ Matt gave an awkward, one-shouldered shrug as Scorpius pulled back. ‘Trust you to overshadow me with your dramatics.’
Scorpius’ grin at that was less painful, because of course it was easier to act like this was all banter, not a proper farewell. But then he turned to face Albus, and everything inside him started to collapse.
Albus wrapped him in a bear hug, and he could almost feel the threads of tension holding him together, like iron rods without which he, too, would be shattering. ‘We’ve said it all, mate,’ Al whispered. ‘But I promise I’ll find your father. I promise I’ll get answers, even if you don’t hear them. I promise I’ll make sure he’s treated fairly.’ His voice dropped another notch, so low Scorpius could barely hear him. ‘And I’ll take care of them. I promise that, too.’
The world swum before Scorpius’ vision when he pulled back. Albus stepped away and then it was Rose in front of him, her eyes shining, hands twisting together like she had some atrocity to confess to.
‘I’m sorry,’ she said in a low, croaking voice. ‘I’m sorry, I’m so sorry -’
It was easier to not fall apart when he needed to keep her together. Scorpius stepped in, seized her hands, bowed his head. ‘You didn’t do this,’ he whispered. ‘This was the Council’s work and my choice, Rose - not you, never you -’
‘You don’t understand -’
He did understand. He knew she’d carry this with her forever, how she’d perfected the ritual that would kill him. But he also understood why it had to be her, why she had to have some control over the fate she was helpless to avoid, and so all he could do was silence her protests.
He kissed her, and she flowed into his arms like they were water, like the river rushing into the sea, separate and yet one whole. His fingers buried in her hair, her hands curled in his jacket, a low whimper escaped the back of her throat and everything slowed, everything stopped, like perfection was a moment, and a moment he could live in forever - because he wasn’t going to get another.
But it ended too soon, because it ended before the seas dried up and the stars fell.
Her eyes were clear when she broke the embrace, voice low but steady, urgent. ‘I love you.’
If I have to go again, I want to go as a man embracing the sacrifice, not a man clutching the woman he loves saying, ‘Please, no, I don’t want to go!’
Please, no, I don’t want to go, I don’t want to go, I don’t want to -
How could a dead man have a scrap of strength left in him? But Scorpius found it all the same, plundered it from every memory of her smile, every memory of laughing with Albus, every memory of being terrified and yet carrying on regardless. He had to, just for seconds more, just for them; they couldn’t remember him breaking and begging and weeping at the end.
He couldn’t lie to her, but he could tell her a different sort of truth, a better truth, a simpler one. ‘I love you,’ he said, meeting her gaze, and knew he couldn’t regret those being the last words to pass his lips.
She pulled back at that, let her wand slip into her hand, and then she was all business, all assertion. ‘Right. Places. Al, Selena, if you’d - if you’d step back, this is going to take the four of us.’ There was only the slightest quaver in her voice, and his heart swelled at the sight of her. Certain, powerful, dauntless even in the face of a horror he knew would break him were the roles reversed.
I don’t want to go.
He walked to the ritual markings alongside Matt and de Sablé - de Sablé, who simply paused to shake his hand and said nothing more, which suited Scorpius fine. Rose pointed to different circles and they stood where instructed, and then he was there, hands empty, looking at the other five in the room as if he were a man facing a firing squad he’d willingly surrendered to. Selena and Al had backed off towards the door. Al put his arm around her, and Scorpius could remember him holding her like that after Phlegethon, when she’d wept over Methuselah’s body. He wondered if Rose would break down like that over his body this time. Then he wondered if he’d even have a body.
Rose knelt to put the tip of her wand to the markings, and they sparked to life, lighting up with golden energy that crackled across every engraving. Scorpius looked down at them to see a medley he couldn’t begin to make sense of; alchemical symbols, Latin words, a prevalence of what he thought was Ogham and something he was sure Rose had once referred to as Enochian. With the light came a wave of force, one he could feel rising around him, keeping him in the circle, probably unable to break it even if he wanted to.
No. He wanted to. He just wouldn’t.
He thought it would be easier to watch Rose - Rose as she paced about the circle, chanting incantations in a clear voice, the magical light shining through her hair and gleaming behind her, coating her in a glorious halo. Even though he couldn’t think of a better way to see her for the last time, it was too bright, too piercing, and he had to look away. A wind tugged at his hair, even though they were deep underground, a wind carrying those whispers on it he knew so well, knew perhaps better than he knew himself.
I guess it’s time to find out if I’m a genius after all.
The sconces flickered, the corners of the room away from the gleaming ritual falling to shadow. He looked at the Chalice, silver rippling under the shining arcane energies. It was nothing to him, he thought; just a bauble he’d curse, and yet it was everything. The reason he’d died, the reason he came back, the reason he’d be gone again. Tethered to him, so they said, but he’d never felt that, just been told it. He’d never felt different since coming back. Not really.
I don’t want to go.
The wind picked up, and he looked at Matt on his right, his fists clenched by his side, the shining light making his prosthetic glow like he was clutching the sun.
After all. I’m the best at this.
Where the light of the ritual didn’t reach, the shadows looked darker, more monstrous, and he couldn’t make out the shapes of Albus or Selena any more. He looked to de Sablé, on his left, stood with eyes closed, lips moving in what was doubtless a prayer, and couldn’t fight back the stab of jealousy. The Chalice had given de Sablé everything it was taking away from him.
I don’t want to go.
Rose finished her circuit of the ritual, her chanting continuing in that same low, steady voice, and despite himself, Scorpius looked to her - hair wilder, eyes gleaming, bathed in the magical energy and light, painted gold and perfection.
Call them off! Or I’ll drop this and you’ll never fucking get it back -
She stopped incanting, wand held high, and it felt like he was being pinched inside, tightened and then drawn out. Was he being dragged through already, inch by inch stretched before he would be catapulted back? Back to oblivion, back to that nothing and that everything, and it wasn’t that bad, really, except for those he’d leave behind -
I don’t want to go.
Their eyes met, just for a heartbeat - for one last, thudding heartbeat that was like a roll of thunder, or perhaps that was the sound of a bridge collapsing, of a breach sealing, and this, thought Scorpius Malfoy, was how it would end. Looking into the eyes of the woman he loved before she signed his death warrant.
I don’t want to go.
Except at the last second, before she brought her wand crashing down on the ritual markings, she looked away, gaze snapping to his left.
The ritual burst into bright, blinding light.
I don’t want to go.
A/N: ‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more’ - Scorpius is misquoting Shakespeare’s Henry V and being corrected by Matt.