[ Printer Friendly Version ] [ Report Abuse ]
Chapter 45 : The Dream to Come
| ||Rating: Mature||Chapter Reviews: 16|
Background: Font color:
Teddy and Victoire’s wedding was four days after the ritual, so when there was a knock on the safehouse door Eva thought she was going to be arrested again.
This was not mollified by her opening up for three burly wizards, all wearing the crest of the IMC, to barrel past her and stalk across the flat in what she recognised as room clearance tactics. Aside from a curt, ‘Don’t move,’ they didn’t address her, and so she waited, hand nowhere near her wand. One of them eventually seemed satisfied and returned to the corridor, before returning with a stout wizard she recognised, but had to squint at before she knew how.
‘Judge Roux, isn’t it?’ He was one of the civilians evacuated from South Africa, one of the VIPs Geiger had specifically wanted. But knowing who he was did not make any of this less confusing.
Roux waved a hand at the trio of enforcers. ‘Wait outside. I’ll be quite alright.’ They had to be glared at before they left, but troop out they did, leaving the door open. Roux rolled his eyes and tucked his thumbs in his rather wide belt. ‘War’s over, and they still think Thornweavers lurk behind every shadow.’
‘There are still numerous Thornweavers unaccounted for, sir.’
‘Very true. But I rather doubt you’re hiding them under your coffee table. May I sit down?’
Numb, she gestured him to the threadbare sitting area, for the first time embarrassed by her living conditions. Even if this had been provided by the British DMLE, Roux looked like a wizard accustomed to the finer things in life. ‘What can I do for you, sir?’
‘For me? Oh, I think you’ve done quite enough for me, Ms Saida, quite enough indeed.’ Roux eased himself onto an armchair that creaked under his bulk. ‘I was heartened to hear you haven’t been locked up in Azkaban like a common prisoner.’
‘That will probably happen, sir. But my contract was ratified by Director Potter, and until he or his officers are back from Greece, apparently nobody wants to step up.’ While she couldn’t begrudge her freedom, imprisonment hanging over her like a sword of Damocles had not made the last few days enjoyable.
‘A provisional government was formally reinstated in Greece yesterday afternoon. I imagine the British DMLE will be able to worry about itself soon enough.’
‘And a provisional government’s back up in South Africa.’ Eva peered at him, and wondered how to politely ask why he was here, instead of across the world and repairing the damage done to his country.
‘The Council was only there for a week, if that,’ Roux said, as if reading her mind. ‘Aside from Durban and the Department, most of South Africa was untouched. People fled their influence and their Inferi and went to ground. With a few more weeks, the situation might have ended up more like Greece, insurgents and dissidents hunted down and eradicated, but mercifully Britain managed to pull through and wipe out Lethe in time.’
‘It’s just as well destroying Lethe meant destroying all the Inferi, too, or this could have been a lot nastier.’
‘Quite.’ He looked around the spartan flat, brow furrowing. ‘Do you have coffee here? If not, we can go and have some coffee -’
‘I have coffee, sir.’ She sprang to her feet. ‘Sorry. I’m not used to guests.’
His eyes fell on one of Albus’ jumpers on the back of the sofa, huge and clearly not hers. ‘So I see.’
To avoid embarrassment, she hurried to the kitchenette and made coffee and hoped Judge Roux was going to explain his presence on her armchair sometime soon. But even when she’d set a chipped, steaming mug in front of him and mumbled an apology for a lack of milk or sugar, he just took a huge gulp and smacked his lips and said, ‘The DMLE might need you a little while longer. Thornweavers are being chased out of Brazil as we speak, but there’s still no sign of Raskoph.’
‘The Council has lost its shock troops, and we exploited their sudden loss of Inferi so quickly we’ve crippled their numbers. Raskoph is going to be a renegade wizard with a handful of followers, now, not a global threat.’ She shook her head. ‘The only thing the DMLE might need me for is the completion of my contract.’
‘To find Draco Malfoy, yes. He still hasn’t emerged?’
Gregory Goyle had yet to resurface. Considering the world had turned chaotic with the Council’s sudden defeat, she wasn’t that surprised. ‘He will, sir. And Aurors or Enforcers can probably be spared to chase him down.’
Roux sipped more coffee. ‘And then it would be prison for you.’
‘That was the agreement, sir.’
‘I’ve seen your records. Warrants out for your arrest even before the emergence of the Council of Thorns. Murder, espionage, theft, massive damage to government and public properties - some very nasty accusations in there.’
Eva looked down at her hands. ‘“Accusations” makes it sound like they’re in doubt, sir.’
‘So they’re true?’
A muscle in the corner of her jaw twitched. From outside the bright winter sun shone through the window, throwing up dust mites in the air of her grimy flat. ‘If I had any legal representative they’d probably groan in despair at this, but, yes, sir.’
‘There’s nothing binding about this. We’re just having a conversation.’ Roux settled back in his chair. ‘But I admit I’m surprised to hear that. I’d thought there had to be some mistake.’
‘Why?’ She couldn’t keep a wry note out of her voice. ‘Because I helped you?’
His brow knotted. ‘At enormous and unnecessary risk to yourself. Ms Saida, there are Enforcers and Aurors who would not have attempted what you did. Much less succeeded. Every person who was saved from South Africa’s Department of Magic owes you their life. Every single one. So I am here to ask you a simple question: why did you do it?’
He seemed unaffected by such bluntness. ‘You were a Thornweaver, and before that you were a mercenary and contract killer. Why, when presented with an opportunity to escape a deadly situation, did you instead save thirty lives at great personal risk?’ Roux lifted a hand. ‘And before you invoke your working relationship with Albus Potter, he was believed dead at the time. He was also the only person who would likely vouch for you at a sentencing hearing; without his good word, returning to Britain would have almost guaranteed your lifelong incarceration.’
‘I did go after Erik Geiger on something of a suicide run,’ Eva pointed out.
‘That does not answer my original question. Tell me, Ms Saida.’ He leaned forwards, clasping his hands together. ‘Why does a Thornweaver risk their neck to save thirty innocent people?’
It was a simple question simply put, and yet Eva stared into Judge Roux’s dark eyes and found no answer reflected in them. Because Albus asked me to, was her first thought, but even that didn’t feel right. Eventually, all she could say was, lamely, ‘Because I could.’
‘Capability is not the same as a moral imperative.’
‘It is when you’ve killed as many people as I have,’ she said without thinking - then tensed, and immediately dropped her gaze.
Roux was silent for a moment, and when he spoke his voice was low, thoughtful. ‘To make amends, then.’
‘Yes - no. I know it doesn’t make up for it. Saving one life doesn’t even out taking another.’ She found herself wringing her hands together, and didn’t look up.
‘No, it doesn’t.’
‘I tried to change, sir. I left the Council and I tried to fight them. I can’t really explain what I was thinking in South Africa, though; I just acted. I had to, I - why does someone like me get to waltz out of that situation without even trying to save people who don’t deserve what Geiger would have done?’ Eva didn’t think of herself as someone bad with words. She used them all the time to lie and manipulate. But finding the right words for honesty was a whole different game.
‘That wouldn’t be right, no,’ said Roux.
‘I don’t expect it to make much sense, sir.’ She forced herself to meet his gaze again. ‘It doesn’t make much sense to me.’ But this man was putting her off-balance like nobody but Albus could, so she cleared her throat, straightened up. ‘Why are you asking, sir?’
‘I wanted to know. I wanted to understand. You saved my life, and the lives of many of my people.’ He reached inside his robes and pulled out a scroll, sealed by wax. ‘The IMC will be in session all next week at Niemandhorn, the most important representatives of the world discussing the most important issues of the world. The Council is beaten, routed, being hunted down everywhere as we speak, but peace can be as complicated as war. We have to think about recovery, resources, government, bureaucracy. Justice. The only merit in fighting great evil is that it is often uncomplicated in matters of justice. Dark wizards hurt and kill people, and so they are punished. But there are always outliers. Such as what to do with a former dark wizard who turned on their masters and saved lives at great personal risk.’
Eva stared at him, unable to fathom where this conversation was going.
Roux placed the scroll on the table. ‘This is a summons to Niemandhorn next week. A session of the IMC’s Judicial Assembly will be held to determine if you are to be pardoned.’
‘P-pardoned?’ Eva had never stammered before in her life.
‘I will be giving my personal recommendation that the Assembly do so. And seeking accounts from Mister Potter - ah, both of them - and other colleagues and survivors of the Department to lend credence to your case. It also doesn’t hurt that you handed vital information to Chairman Rourke which led to the uprooting of corruption in the very heart of the British Ministry.’ Roux smiled, white teeth blinding against dark skin. ‘In my expert opinion, knowing everyone on the Assembly, knowing this pardon has Chairman Rourke’s backing, the hearing is going to be a formality. You’re going to be pardoned, Ms Saida.’
She shot out of her chair like it had burnt her. ‘You can’t do that.’
‘Not me personally.’ His smile turned kindly. ‘But the Assembly will do it -’
‘I’m - you’ve read my file.’ Words that had come with such difficulty before now spilt out, like flood-gates of guilt had opened inside her. ‘You know how many people I’ve killed and for how little reason; the kinds of monsters I’ve worked for and helped, the things I’ve done because I was paid to and because it was efficient and because I wanted to -’
‘Yes.’ Roux stood and straightened his robes. ‘Working for Prometheus Thane alone provides a serious rap sheet.’
‘You can’t just undo that! Some old wizards sat in a room together, nowhere near any of my victims or their families can’t sit in a room together and say, “what she did doesn’t matter”!’ There was an entirely new feeling rising in her chest, making her light-headed, filling her lungs as if she were drowning, and she wondered if this was hysteria.
‘We’re not saying it doesn’t matter, Ms Saida,’ said Roux, plodding around the furniture towards her. ‘We’re saying that the good you have done matters -’
‘But it doesn’t matter more!’ That was definitely hysteria, observed a lone, cold, detached part of her mind. That detached part was not, however, even remotely in charge as she curled her hands into fists and carried on with as much panic as facing a Dementor would deserve. ‘Nobody I’ve hurt is better off because I helped someone else! Nothing I’ve done is undone! I’ve hurt people and I’ve killed people and I have unleashed suffering, and just because I’ve stopped doing that doesn’t mean I should avoid punishment!’
She was shaking, now, shaking harder than she had when confronted with Albus and her misdeeds, and before she knew it Judge Roux wasn’t looking at her with kindly reassurance, but pulling her into his arms for a warm, enveloping embrace. Only then did she realise that she was crying, only then did she realise she was struggling to stand of her own accord, and the detached part of her looked on with horror as she went to pieces with the comfort of a complete stranger who seemed almost as bewildered as her by the display.
His hug was kind, fatherly, and he pulled back only when she’d stopped shaking. She almost burst into tears again when he offered her a handkerchief. He spoke in a low, soothing voice as she mopped her eyes and considered hurling herself out of a window. ‘I have been a judge for a long time. I would venture myself to be one of the world’s leading experts on matters judicial. And if there is one thing I have learnt, it is that while the law is strict and firm, little is carved in stone. Of course there is absolute right and absolute wrong, but people almost always fall somewhere in between.
‘People are defined by their actions. And so I could define you by the hurt you have inflicted on the world. But I must then also define you by the lives you saved last week. Were you anyone else, Ms Saida, we would be pinning medals on you. This pardon would not be absolution for what you have done. It would not be forgiveness, nor would we pretend your past has not happened. It would be recognising that you have changed, and that this change has earned you something we grant everyone in this world: a chance.’
Eva found herself twisting the handkerchief in her hands, and she stared at it, stared at the monogram in the corner. ‘I don’t deserve this.’
‘While I am personally grateful to you, Ms Saida, and while I have no moral issue with this pardon, I must also be honest: politics are at play here. We must hunt down the remaining Thornweavers; this job will only be easier if some have doubts and turn themselves in, or better yet, betray their fellows. A demonstration of the mercy of the International Magical Convocation makes this more likely. And that, in itself, may save lives.’ He looked at her, and covered his hand in hers in a move she thought was a request for his handkerchief until he squeezed gently. ‘Perhaps it is not wholly right for you to walk free when this war is over. But I know it is not right for you to be imprisoned, either. And I have no issue, Ms Saida - no issue at all - with choosing mercy when there is doubt.’
Roux stepped back and straightened his robes, kindly smile intact. ‘Regardless, I have imposed long enough. I wanted to break the news myself, and issue my personal thanks for what you did in South Africa. For me, for my staff, for all those people. These summons do not guarantee your freedom between now and the hearing; your liberty will be at the indulgence of Director Potter. But I shall see you in a week’s time, and I am confident that the next time we shake hands, it shall be to congratulate you on your new life.’
She probably said something. Probably fumbled her way through courtesies and politeness until he was out the door, and then she was alone in the safehouse and everything was as it had been before the world was turned on its head.
The scroll sat on the coffee table in the bright winter sun, and she stared at it for a good ten minutes before she burst over and, with shaking hands, broke the seal, unrolled the parchment.
There it was. In black and white. A summons to a pardon hearing in Niemandhorn. A formality, Roux had called it. All but confirmed.
Her eyes fell on the wall clock. Half past one. The wedding wasn’t until two. If she was fast, she could slink in and out, find Albus, tell him…
Tell him what?
I have a life. I have a future.
‘It’s cold,’ Lily grumbled. ‘Why’re they holding a winter wedding outdoors? Do they hate us?’
James threw his arm around his little sister’s shoulders. ‘They don’t hate us, Lils. Just you. Just you.’
She glared up at him. ‘I am so glad Hogwarts let me off the grounds for the weekend, just so I could be around you.’
Nobody had trooped down the long, winding path through the trees to the glade where the ceremony would be held soon. At a fork in the river, in the shadow of a great oak, would the couple and their loved ones come together to witness the union. Any frost on the ground had melted under the bright winter sun, though the air still breathed with a brisk chill that was enough to bring discomfort to those waiting. They had the shelter of the tents where the wedding breakfast and reception would be held after, but warming charms had not yet been cast, the mulled wine and hot drinks were not yet ready, and so all but the most essential participants clumped in the cold and waited.
Albus looked at his brother and sister, though his sour expression was dented by James punching his arm. ‘You alright?’
‘Yeah. Yeah.’ Al looked away, across the gathered crowd of friends and families. The Weasleys were an impressive brood even before one added Teddy and Victoire’s social circles. ‘I was wondering where Rose is.’
‘No sign of Hugo and Hermione, either. They’ll be here.’ Lily smiled awkwardly.
‘Yeah,’ said James, ‘and if not - I mean, she’s had a tough week. She’ll be okay. She’s tough.’
Albus looked at James and wondered how much attention he’d been paying to the last two years. All he could summon was a grunt of assent.
‘So,’ Lily interrupted, always the most socially smart of the trio. ‘How come neither of you brought a plus one?’
Socially smart, but using her powers for evil. Mercifully it was James who fielded this one, waving a dismissive hand. ‘Teddy told me that I couldn’t have a blank plus one. If there was someone I wanted to bring, I had to give him about two months’ notice. And Al was playing Dark Wizard Hunter too long to have romance.’
Thanks. I think. ‘We should ask you the same thing, anyway, Lily.’
Lily stuck her nose in the air. ‘I have far too much work on my plate to worry about love.’
James lifted a hand to his mouth and stage whispered to Albus, ‘She got dumped.’
‘Cam did not dump me; we had a mutual -’
Albus knew he should have been paying more attention. Between Selena’s abduction and the ensuing chaos, today was the first time he’d seen his sister in two and a half years, and to his immense relief, Lily had just hugged him and been happy to see him without disapproval or judgement. But being here, with them and the rest of his extended family so close, all bustling around and catching up in that awkward social lull before the ceremony, was a reminder of how long he’d been away. They talked of experiences he hadn’t been a part of, work and friends and incidents that were nothing to him. It was like they spoke a different dialect. There was never any doubt that his family loved and cared for him. But now, more than ever, he was reminded that he struggled to count most of them as friends.
And the only one of them he did count as a friend was not here, and would have walked around with death on her soul even if she were. But he’d promised it would be different this time, and no matter what, that was a good promise, one he had to keep…
Only when he realised Lily was saying his name did he blink back into reality. ‘Huh?’
‘Someone’s trying to get your attention -’ Lily peered past him. ‘Is that your criminal buddy?’
James followed Lily’s gaze and immediately bristled. ‘What’s she doing -’
Albus silently cursed how, for once, James was the more astute of his siblings, and spun around. Indeed, there was a shape at the edge of the clearing where guests had been Apparating and Portkeying in, and, still in her usual, hard-wearing, practical clothes, even at this distance he could tell it was Eva. He frowned. ‘I’ll deal with it, she wouldn’t be here if it weren’t urgent.’
‘Hey, if we don’t get a plus one, you don’t,’ said Lily, trying hard to joke.
‘She’s not supposed to be here,’ James hissed, much less happy.
‘She won’t be crashing the wedding, calm the hell down,’ Albus snapped, and stalked across the crunching grass towards her.
Arms folded across her chest, at a distance she’d looked defensive, disapproving. Only when he got close did he see the set to her shoulders, the tilt of her chin, and realised this wasn’t defiance, this was anxiety. If his gut were any more capable of twisting in knots after the last week, it would have folded up inside itself. ‘Hey - what’s up?’
Eva looked past him and bit her lip. ‘I didn’t want to tear you away from your family, I get that today’s important -’
‘The ceremony’s not for a bit yet, it’s okay.’
‘No, this is an interruption, it can wait…’
Albus lifted his hands. ‘You came out here in the first place. You obviously didn’t think it could wait, and I’ve got time. What’s wrong?’
‘I had a visitor.’ She drew a deep breath and, as if this took a supreme effort, looked him in the eye. ‘And a message. I’m being summoned to a hearing in Niemandhorn next week, during the IMC Summit.’
His brow furrowed. ‘For what? Evidence?’
‘Not exactly.’ Her expression flickered, and for a moment he thought she was going to back down again. ‘It’s to decide if I should be pardoned.’
Eva took a step back, as if his shock were a blow. ‘It’s being supported by Judge Roux, who we got out of South Africa, and Lillian Rourke apparently agrees and I - I thought you’d want to know…’
‘I - yes -’ Words flew from him as if the wind had picked up, and for a moment all Al could do was stand in the bright winter sun and goggle. ‘How likely is this to go ahead?’
‘Apparently it’s much of a formality.’ Her gaze dropped to fix on his shoulder. ‘So I thought you should be warned, seeing as this changes everything.’
They hadn’t talked about it. They had barely talked about being in a relationship, even if he’d spent almost every night since the ritual at her flat. They hadn’t spoken about how she would be brought back to prison when his father returned, or at least when they found Draco Malfoy, or what this would mean for them. The unspoken agreement had been to make use of the time they had, and their heads had both been spun around enough by the end of the war for this snatched time together to be needed.
And now the time limit was being taken away, and instead of drifting through what he had, Albus felt like he was free-falling.
‘I don’t…’ He worked his jaw for a moment, not sure what he did or didn’t.
‘You have a wedding to get to.’ Eva gestured over his shoulder and took a step back. ‘I thought you’d want to know, though. So. Take your time, and know I don’t expect anything of you -’
‘Expect? Eva, that’s not fair, we can talk about this.’
Then the air next to them cracked, and five more figures burst into being in the clearing’s Apparition zone.
Hermione Granger rounded on them with an imperious eye the moment she had her balance. ‘You shouldn’t be lingering here; people could get Splinched - Albus!’
She was, Albus thought distantly, inordinately pleased to see him considering the past few days. But he realised why a heartbeat later, as he took in the arrival of not just Hugo, not just a pale, dour-faced Rose, but his uncle Ron with his arms around both of his children, and -
Harry closed the distance to yank him into a bear-hug, and he staggered with shock more than impact, as he was by now bigger and broader than his own father. ‘Al. You’re okay - and I heard, I’m so proud…’
‘I thought you were in Greece…’
‘Got back an hour ago.’ Ron beamed. ‘With the Inferi gone, we only had mopping up to do. Handed the lot of it over to the Greeks yesterday; they can sort out their own country. So, no small thanks to you guys for that.’
Albus pulled back to see Ron squeeze Rose’s shoulder; her smile didn’t reach her eyes. Dimly he realised Eva had disappeared from the proceedings, probably literally. That had to be something he worried about later. His family was together, Rose was here, and he’d promised…
‘Mum’s fussing over the final preparations for food.’ He jerked a thumb at the tent. ‘By which I mean she’s teaming up with Grandma and terrifying the staff. And James and Lily…’
‘Are right here!’ Lily hurled herself into her father’s arms, and Albus stepped back from the frantic reunions, heart thudding in his chest in a way which, for the first time in a while, was not unpleasant.
Somehow, in the commotion, he found himself next to Ron, who clapped him on the shoulder. ‘How’re you doing?’ Despite his obvious delight at being home, concern rang through his voice, shone in his eyes.
Albus just shrugged. ‘It’s over.’
‘It is. You did great work.’
‘I didn’t do anything to end Lethe…’
Ron didn’t drop his hand. ‘But it’s been a bloody hard week. Few months. Years. Rose is…’ His voice trailed off, and the corners of his eyes crinkled as he fished for the word.
‘I know. We’re in this together, don’t worry, I’m not…’ I’m not abandoning her again. But then there was a commotion from the path that led to the glade, a pair of Teddy’s ushers in handsome grey dress-robes clapping their hands together and beginning to herd the gathered over. Albus turned, lips twisting. ‘I guess it’s time to worry about the happy couple.’
The return of Ron and Harry was more than the final piece coming together of the first big Weasley family gathering in years - though that was still enough for the procession to become a swirling mob of reunions and hugs and congratulations. It was confirmation of what could have never been hoped for in the planning of this delayed wedding: that the war was over, that hope could spring anew. Today was not some pocket of snatched time, a small light in the darkness, but a beacon on the road ahead, aspiration of things to come. New world, new lives.
It also meant there was enough chaos for Albus to slide back through the procession and fall into step next to Rose. Somehow, she’d picked up a new dress for the occasion; he suspected the hand of Selena. Of course she would think clothes shopping was therapy. But it was better than nothing.
‘I’m going to ask how you’re doing,’ he said in a low voice, ‘and you’re going to say you’re fine, and I’ll pretend to believe you, and we’ll have done all the obligatory pleasantries.’
She did smile up at him, eyes even darker against her pale skin, hair somehow brighter, like a winter’s pyre. ‘Thanks,’ she murmured, and took his arm. ‘I’m glad you’re here.’
‘I promised, didn’t I?’ But he didn’t want to linger on that point. ‘You look like you’re still blaming yourself.’
‘I’m blaming myself,’ she said, voice tightening, ‘because it’s my fault.’
‘How could you possibly -’
‘I should have checked my work better; gone over my research, found -’
‘Okay.’ He squeezed her hand on his arm, soothing. ‘I wasn’t involved in that side of things. I’ll take your word for it. But I’m here now, and I’m here for you, you get me? Sod everyone else. You need me, any time, day or night, I’m here.’
Rose’s gaze flickered down. ‘Thanks, Al. I mean it.’
Guilt at how he’d failed her last time rose in his throat, and he swallowed it down, hard. The only thing to do now was to change the subject, and he elbowed her gently. ‘I see you and Selena wasted no time celebrating peace.’
‘We still had those Madam Malkin’s vouchers.’
‘So, have you spoken to him? I haven’t…’
Her lips thinned. ‘Not yet. Apparently he’s got a lot of reading to do. Thinking to do.’
‘Yeah.’ Albus sighed. ‘That sounds about right.’
But they were at the glade by now, which was probably a mercy, and ushers directed them to their seats. With Teddy considered family already, there was less of the traditional separating of the sides, though Albus’ parents and siblings moved to the front to join Teddy’s grandmother. Albus looked at them, but tightened his hold on Rose when she went to slip away, and with an exchange of wry glances, they found somewhere unobtrusive in the middle to sit.
Teddy stood at the front, resplendent in his own robes that looked more silver than grey, purple hair for once dulled the match the attire. He gave Albus a wink when he spotted him, but Albus could see how he shifted his weight from foot to foot, as if he were a rocket ship about to explode into the atmosphere if he had to wait any longer.
Victoire, was, of course, late. Teddy’s best man looked like he was chanting a calming mantra into the groom’s ear as they waited, and Albus caught even Rose smiling into her hand at the state he was in. But it all faded when finally she drifted into sight, walking the path through the glade on Bill’s arm. A silent sigh ran through the congregation, a relief and a release at not just the end of this wait, but all this wedding marked the end of; the end of fear, the end of pain, the end of war.
And even after the death that had marked their recent days, Albus had to join them in their relief, and felt Rose alongside him do the same.
‘Career?’ Albus tried to swallow the mouthful of trifle he’d just taken as quickly as possible, all under the keen, disapproving gaze of Eloise, one of his Aunt Fleur’s oldest friends. ‘I hadn’t, uh, I hadn’t thought about it.’
‘He did just help save the world,’ Lily said gamely, trying to come to his rescue. James had already abandoned their table as the wedding reception wound down, sweeping across the tent in the direction of Victoire’s friends - or, the pretty girls amongst them. Soon, the tables would be pushed to one side for the drinking and dancing, but in the meantime the table Al had hoped would be a sanctum against the judgement of the world, with his siblings and his closest cousins, had become a trap.
‘Yes, but you have to be thinking of the future, my dear,’ crooned Eloise, all bleached blonde hair and bright pink fingernails. They didn’t know her very well, but she had - according to Ginny’s grumbles - been a good friend to Fleur and a huge influence on Victoire growing up, and so considered herself part of the family. Even the family who would much rather avoid their self-appointed aunt. ‘You cannot be living off that, can you? Just look at Rose! She has saved the world, too, and still she has the good job at Gringott’s.’
Rose gave Albus a desperate look. He met her gaze, impassive. We’re in this together. So she took a huge gulp of fortifying, free wine. ‘Actually, I’ve resigned my job at Gringott’s.’
Eloise rocked back, clutching her chest. Lily almost choked on her champagne. Albus went to give her a reproachful look, then remembered his sister was of-age. ‘Non! You have not told Bill, I hope, he will be despondent…’
‘It’s his daughter’s wedding day; I think my resignation from the Curse Breakers isn’t going to make the slightest ripple…’
‘Hey, Albus has finished his trifle!’ Hugo lunged to his feet. ‘We should move the tables. Then the dancing can start. And the bar can open.’
Albus glanced at Rose, forlorn, as they stood. ‘When did they grow up?’
‘Please.’ She rolled her eyes. ‘I heard all about those parties in the Slytherin Common Room in Fifth Year. You are in no position to judge.’
‘Those were not my fault,’ Albus claimed, then remembered whose fault they were, and shut up.
But Hugo’s gambit worked, as it dismissed Eloise and began the transformation of the tent from dining chamber for speeches and good food to wide space for dancing and, if Hugo had anything to say about it, drinking. Albus threw himself into helping, because that was better than thinking about his latest faux pas, and soon enough the best man was ushering everyone back with vim and vigour. Then the band came tumbling out, and Teddy led a laughing Victoire, her dress now much less of a trip-hazard, out onto the floor for the first dance.
‘You’re really leaving Gringotts?’ Albus leaned down to Rose, voice hushed as the happy couple twirled together.
‘It wasn’t my dream. Maybe once, I mean, but it wasn’t for me at the time, and it’s certainly not for me now. And before you ask, no, I don’t know what I’m doing next.’ She glanced up at him, and her nose wrinkled. ‘Was that Eva I saw when we arrived?’
‘Yes.’ He waited for his feelings to give him a reaction, now he’d had hours to cook on them, and to his extreme dissatisfaction he found nothing. ‘The IMC is considering pardoning her.’
It was Rose’s turn to almost choke on her wine. ‘A pardon?’
‘For South Africa and her time working for Baz, I presume.’
‘Well, it’s…’ She pondered this for a moment, then drained her glass. ‘Good for her.’
‘Al, I am so not in a position to judge - I mean, she’s done good. Enough people get denied happiness. I’m not going to begrudge her that, not after what she’s done for me.’ She looked up at him. ‘Or begrudge you happiness. If that’s how that’s going to go.’
‘I don’t know,’ said Albus honestly. ‘We have something, but - is a relationship even possible? We’ve fought a war together, but it’s not like we’ve gone on dates, enjoyed the same books, watched Quidditch together, been just - you know - people together.’
‘That’s true. But have you even had the chance to try? To find out?’
‘Honestly, Rose, can you imagine her sat down at a Sunday roast at the Burrow?’
Rose looked like she was trying to. Then she looked at her empty wine glass. ‘I don’t know if I need help to conjure that image or scrub it from my brain, but already I’m seeing the whole house on fire.’
‘Exactly.’ Around them, the first dance had opened up for more couples to spill out: the best man with not one, but two bridesmaids, James with Fleur’s niece, Fred and his girlfriend. Albus turned to his cousin and plucked her glass from her hand. ‘Come on. We’re dancing.’
‘We promised we’d enjoy this!’ He grabbed both hands and tugged her out and, laughing like he hadn’t seen her laugh in a while, she stumbled out with him.
They didn’t know how to dance, not really, but it was a party and a family wedding and they needed, both of them, to banish the shadows of their thoughts. The music and the beat and the revelry was enough to do that, and so when the last notes drifted away, the band taking a breather before the next song, they stumbled to the side of the dance floor in enough laughing good humour to not notice much of the world around them. Or the figure stepping up beside them, resplendent in shining emerald dress robes, mop of blond hair for once tidy and presentable as he extended a hand towards Rose.
‘You know,’ said Scorpius Malfoy, ‘I was really hoping I could cut in for the next dance.’
A/N: And no, this isn’t a dream sequence/vision/flashback/fake whatever.
Obviously actual facts come out in future chapters, but I just thought I’d save myself some hassle and clarify that now.