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Chapter 47 : Walked With Dreams and Darkness
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Eva sat at the open window, feet dangling free in the cold air, and smoked a cigarette like a teenager trying to hide the smell. She wasn’t sure why; of all the things anyone visiting might pass judgement on, this would be far down the list. Perhaps she didn’t want the scent to linger, not because she disliked it but because she disliked what it represented. Tension. Escapism. Weakness. She rarely drank at the best of times, and these were not the best of times. Drinking might make her feel better, but Eva valued her self-control too much to sacrifice it at the bottom of a bottle. So she’d rooted through her bag for the things she’d packed for South Africa and came out with cigarettes.
The night air was freezing, a slashing reminder of stark reality that denied her any comfortable haze of obliviousness. But each drag of the cigarette worked on a microbe of tension at her shoulders, and while she suspected she’d have to smoke a tobacconist’s dry to truly unwind, it was a start. Such that when there was a knock at the door, she’d drifted away enough from her worries to be startled almost off the windowsill. But the interruption did not end in a plummet to her untimely death, and with renewed anxiety she turned to the door.
‘Come in.’ Only the good people of the incorruptible and pure IMC knew where she lived, so she kept her wand out of sight as she made ready for an ambush. She wouldn’t be immediately spotted in the window, but she had a good angle on the doorway and could -
‘You’re smoking?’ demanded Albus the moment he burst in, suddenly transformed into his mother’s son.
Eva stubbed her cigarette out on the windowsill and swung her legs inside. ‘You’ve been at a wedding. I’m sure there were free drinks. Don’t judge me.’
‘There were free drinks.’ He was still in his dress robes, blacks and emeralds and perfect tailoring from narrow waist to broad shoulders to a high collar he’d loosened. He lifted a bottle of champagne. ‘Scorpius told me to bring this.’
She narrowed her eyes. ‘Of course he did. How is he?’ Focusing on Scorpius Malfoy and his nine lives seemed safer than asking why Al was here.
‘Happier. Settling.’ Al put the bottle on the coffee table, then looked around. ‘Do you have glasses?’
‘Yes. The DMLE made sure my safe house, with its crusty furniture, threadbare curtains, and bed with squeaky springs, was equipped with champagne flutes.’
He grinned and sauntered for the kitchen. ‘The bed does have squeaky springs.’
She slid off the ledge. ‘Al…’
‘I have seen my as-good-as big brother get married to my cousin - that’s not as weird as it sounds. I have seen my father and uncle come back from war, I have seen my best friend and my dearest cousin reunited and - well, they’re doing whatever they do.’ He clattered as he hunted through kitchen cabinets. ‘It’s been a lovely day. People are happy, celebrating. The war’s over, or it’s over in lots of places and the IMC is ending it everywhere else. We don’t have to live under a shadow; we can look to the future. And that’s what I did, all day, with my family. So now I’m here. Ah-ha!’
She squinted as he emerged, triumphant, with a pair of chipped mugs. ‘You didn’t need to leave them and rush here -’
‘The party’s winding down; I’ve not rushed off anywhere.’ He set the mugs on the table and picked up the bottle.
‘Yes, but you’ve not - we were going to think -’
Albus frowned. ‘We were.’ Then he twisted the cork off with a pop that made her jump. The cigarette had not been that much help after all. ‘Are you okay?’
‘Al, I dropped a bombshell on you this morning, and now you’re here…’
‘I am.’ He smiled a smile that softened all the sharp edges his face had grown the past two years, a smile that eased the tension worming away in her. ‘This afternoon you told me that maybe you would get pardoned. Which means you and I aren’t just killing time until your sentencing, which means we can actually ask the big questions, think about the big things. Which means we, like my family’s been doing today, can look to the future.’ He started to pour. ‘I’ve just shown up at your door with a bottle of champagne. What do you think I’m thinking?’
‘I don’t - I wouldn’t presume -’
‘Eva.’ Albus padded over with the drinks. ‘I didn’t kiss you in Nairobi just because I’d had a near-death experience. I didn’t come to you when I thought Scorpius would die because you were cut off from the world. I sure as hell haven’t kept coming back here the last few days because you’re a bit of fun I’ve been using before you got locked up again. We haven’t talked about the future because we didn’t think there was one. I didn’t think about a future because I didn’t want to think of it ending.’ He extended a mug. ‘I still don’t want to think of it ending.’
‘You can’t be asking for that,’ she blurted, but she was too numb to not accept the mug. ‘You can’t be asking for a future with me.’
‘Because I’m a killer and a thug and this pardon is just politics -’
‘Perhaps. But you weren’t pardoned when I forgave you. This has changed my hopes, not my feelings. And we’ve not talked about those, much, have we?’ His frown turned thoughtful. ‘Do you know why I kissed you in Nairobi? Ran to you after? Why I kept coming back? Why I’m here -’
The moment was tumbling into perfection and so Eva cringed back, because she’d never known that to be anything but a trap. Even at its best, it was joy with a darkness at the end of the tunnel. Right now, she couldn’t see the hook, the pain, so it wasn’t in her nature to do anything but pull away, run, because the fall had to be somewhere. She spun, but the only place to flee to was the window. Hiding her face from him as she slammed the mug of champagne down, braced on the windowsill, would have to do. ‘Albus, don’t -’
‘I love you,’ he said, and the words stabbed through her like blades of crystal, pure and perfect and searing. ‘I have loved you for a long, long time, because I remember what I saw in you before and I know what I see in you now, and they are the same. You are forceful and honest - yes, honest - and you rise above yourself and the darkness and the world better than any of us.’ Then he was by her side, and though he reached out, he didn’t touch her, let his hand hover inches away. That alone, that urging without pushing, had her turning to face him, even if she could only stare at his shoulder. ‘And you make me better. When I was at my worst, my darkest, everyone else wanted me to be the old Albus. They wanted me to go backwards. You - you understood I had to go out the other side. Rise above.’
For the first time, Eva was relieved she’d cried at Judge Roux. It meant she was too exhausted for another outburst, and one was quite enough for this lifetime. ‘At best, that was me being selfish, because the old Al, the schoolboy, wouldn’t see anything in me -’
‘Like hell; it was impossible to go back, but you showed me a way forwards -’
At last her eyes snapped up to meet his. ‘And you have to keep going forwards. The war’s over. Scorpius is alive. That means you get a life. A normal life. Jobs, friends, families - what the hell can I bring to that?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Albus, green-eyed gaze infuriatingly calm and honest. ‘But I want to find out.’
‘Do you think I’ll have a normal life? Do you think I’ll want a normal life?’ He stepped closer, brow furrowing. ‘I want peace, yes, but that’s not the same. Putting the war behind me doesn’t mean forgetting it. I can’t forget it. It’s marked me. It will mark my life. And I know what you’re really asking, and no, I don’t want a “normal” partner, I want someone who understands what I’ve been through, who’s shared what I’ve been through. Who knows me at my worst, and didn’t give up on me. You might think this is a pie-in-the-sky dream, Eva, but you’re wrong. Forgetting you, forgetting what we’ve been through, running back to normality - that’s a dream.’ The corners of his eyes crinkled. ‘And not a very good one.’
She had to drop her gaze again, grip on her mug knuckle-white. ‘I didn’t do any of this expecting something in return,’ she mumbled.
‘I didn’t think that.’ His voice softened. ‘What did you want? No - what do you want?’
‘I don’t -’ Eva’s throat tightened. ‘I’m not sure I’ve ever been asked that question.’
His half-smile was gentle. ‘Then I’m asking it now.’
‘I want - I want…’ Her breath caught, expression folding up. ‘I don’t want to lie awake hating myself, but I don’t want to forget, either. I don’t want to feel guilty every time I’m anything but miserable, but I don’t want to be miserable forever. I don’t want to go to prison for the rest of my life, but I know I deserve - I deserve it…’ It took effort to lift her eyes, rake them over his honest face, piercing gaze that by now could rip apart any masks. ‘The only thing I’ve wanted, my whole life, was to be safe. And for a long time, I thought I was made safe through power. And then wielding that power against others. If I was strong, I was safe. I stayed strong by beating others down. By staying under the protection of those stronger than me. For a while, that’s what you were: someone stronger who could keep me safe.’ She had to close her eyes now, slam back the swell of guilt and grief and joy. ‘Then you made me want to be free. Then you made me happy, and you made me not hate myself, but you never stopped making me feel… safe. But that’s not really an answer, is it?’
When she opened her eyes, he was wearing that small, reassuring smile that was so self-conscious she fancied she hadn’t seen him turn it on others. ‘I don’t know. Does it answer it for you?’
Eva swallowed hard. ‘Everything else in my life that was safe was wrong, or an illusion, or a lie. I want something real. My whole life, you have been the only thing that’s real.’
Al’s face slumped, but the pain in his eyes was bittersweet and drowned quickly under the rush of hope. He lifted his drink, and all she could do was match him so they clinked chipped mugs of champagne. ‘I brought this so we could have a toast to the future. Maybe, instead, we should toast what’s real.’
Eva rarely drank. But these were, perhaps, the best of times, and the bubbly champagne, even drunk from a mug, was the best thing she’d ever tasted. But still she had to swallow bitter apprehension, too. ‘You know that it’s not carved in stone; the hearing might go awry -’
‘And we’ll deal with that when it happens and we won’t feel guilty for fighting for a future - Eva -’ His hand rose to her chin, thumb gentle against the scar at her jaw. Any time Prometheus had done that, it was a subtle reminder of her flaws and weaknesses and how they made her his. Albus’ touch was the opposite; a soothing of pain, an acceptance of fault, a protection against vulnerability.
Though it still made her his, and she felt the tension flow from her as he leaned in, nose brushing against hers. He was so close and so perfect she couldn’t bring herself to reach for him, as if acceptance would break the moment and show it for the trick her bones still shuddered in fear of. ‘This is real,’ he breathed. ‘This is happening, we will make it happen. I want you; I want you in my life and I want you in my future and I don’t know how it’ll work, either, but I know I want to find out. Figure it out. With you. This is real.’
Their kisses before had been wild, impulsive, hungry; one or both of them forever in defiance of the world and their better judgement but overridden by sheer need. This was just a tease of his lips against hers, a lingering, feather-light touch that still somehow reached deeper, plumbed through the depths of her and brought everything churning to the surface. Every doubt, every pain, every thought and feeling she’d shoved into dark corners brought squirming up into the light, his blazing light.
The chipped mug shattered when she dropped it, melted into his embrace in utter surrender, but its sound - nor the sound of Albus’, soon to join it - couldn’t break the moment. His arms wrapped around her, her mouth helpless under his, but this was not the hungry fire of the past, this was not the blazing desperation to smother all other feeling.
It was, in every way, absolution.
Apparition when you couldn’t keep your hands off each other was difficult. But it was faster than stumbling through Scorpius’ hotel room, because walking in a tumbled embrace meant a lot of tripping and a lot of pauses on the way to the bedroom.
The rest was like a dream in itself. A sometimes fumbling, awkward dream, where a clasp on her dress outwitted him for a good thirty seconds, and his dress robes seemed made of endless layers, and by the time they’d fallen into the bed they were giggling too much for the moment to be the perfect passion and intensity of her frenzied daydreams.
It ended up perfect because it wasn’t the dream. Perfect because the winter wind howled outside like a herald of the waning war, but it could not reach them here any more than the war itself. Perfect because when the haze faded, when her head stopped spinning, she didn’t feel like a liar and a traitor. Perfect because the fire could be stoked to keep the room warm once they cooled down, and yet still she could lie in bed, curl up against him, and still have Scorpius wrap his arms around her.
‘Tell me I’m not dreaming,’ was the first thing she said once she could speak again, her voice low and throaty as if to talk louder would shatter the illusion and she’d be alone in the dark again.
He shifted beside her, made a low mumble in her hair. ‘Of course you’re not dreaming -’
‘That I won’t wake up and be alone in this world again -’
‘Rose.’ He pulled her to face him. Fingers traced across her jaw like he had to confirm it for himself, but then his hand slid to her arm, down to her hip, and it was like being grounded, if he were the ground. ‘I’m here. You’re not dreaming.’
She had to kiss him, a lazy, languid kiss. ‘I’m not dreaming.’
‘And tomorrow we can do whatever we want.’ His smile was like a lick of the fire with its warmth. ‘Even the fancy dinner if you still want.’
‘I think leaving this hotel room is going to be a challenge.’
‘We don’t have to. We could stay here. I pay enough for room service.’
She sighed. ‘And the real world will come soon.’
‘Hey. It’s over.’ His fingers trailed across bare skin, and she shivered not because it was cold. ‘I still need to find Draco, there are still answers, but that’s - that’s loose ends. We can do anything.’
Mollified, she flopped onto her back, let the room spin around her pleasantly. ‘I’m going to need a job.’
‘I hear they’re good for you. I’m going to need somewhere to live that isn’t a hotel room.’
She glanced over. ‘You don’t want Malfoy Manor?’
Scorpius shook his head. The firelight flickered across his silhouette - that straight nose, sharp jaw, but in the exhausted, contented haze, with his hair flopping into his face, he seemed softer. Younger. But, then, they were young, weren’t they? ‘I’m beginning to understand why my father has been so obsessed with the family legacy. If you keep the family alive, the name alive and important, then it’s like making sure the people who came before matter, are remembered. And that is important. But it’s important because of people like Cassian. The ones who get forgotten and overlooked, not the ones who fought on the wrong side in every war. He can’t have been the only one.’
She kissed his cheek. ‘He wasn’t.’
His smile flickered, not ungratefully. ‘There had to be others, too. And I’d like to find them. But for them, I’d like to make the name Malfoy mean something else. And I can’t do that with the Manor.’
Rose frowned, resting her chin on his shoulder. ‘Getting rid of Malfoy Manor won’t wipe the slate clean. There’s good there, too. You grew up there. So did Cassian.’
‘Yeah, but -’ He glanced at her. ‘Do you want to live there?’
Her breath caught. ‘I don’t - I never thought about it.’
‘Do you fancy your parents popping over to the house they were once imprisoned in?’ Scorpius’ gaze flickered. ‘The good bits of Malfoy Manor mean something to people long gone. The bad bits mean something to people still here.’
She said nothing for a long moment, wondering if he’d brought up her parents as a mere example or if her and her family’s comfort was a concrete reason for Malfoy Manor to never open its doors again. ‘You’ve got time to make these decisions,’ she said at last, instead.
‘Yeah.’ His lips curled, slow but pleased. ‘Yeah, we do.’
Once, it would have driven Rose crazy for the conversation and night to drift off on such ambiguity. But falling asleep next to Scorpius Malfoy with a huge question mark next to their future together proved easier than any sleep she’d had in the two years of her future being a black pit.
Waking up was less pleasant. The sun was bright and crawling through the windows, as they’d not stopped to close the curtains, so light spilt across the bed and roused her with the languid dawn. That she’d not had many hours of sleep was not the problem, however. The problem was that she was alone in bed.
It was the same feeling she’d had on the train to Niemandhorn, the same jolt upright with blind terror that it had all been a dream, like it had been a dream so many times before - that he wasn’t back at all, or that she hadn’t done it right down in the catacombs, that she hadn’t sacrificed -
‘You’d think that people would have had enough of silly love songs…’
The sound of clattering from the main room reached her almost as soon as Scorpius’ warbling did, and she collapsed back on the bed and tried to slow her breathing.
‘I look around me and I see it isn’t so…’
She took her time crawling out of bed, and helped herself to a hotel dressing gown. When she emerged, he was stood before the cantankerous coffee machine, hammering the top of it and still, despite his usual lack of success, bouncing from foot to foot as he sang. At the sound of her he spun, bounded across the room, and grabbed her by the wrist to tug her back into his arms as he had when they were dancing. ‘Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs - I can’t make the coffee machine work.’
He looked so crestfallen and delighted at once that she had to laugh. ‘Room service?’
‘They ran out of the fancy coffee yesterday. It was pretty horrifying.’ He spun her, let her go, then headed for the bedroom. ‘I’ll do a run down the shops, bring back fresh coffee and fresh pastries?’
‘I don’t mind sub-par tea and coffee -’
‘I mind.’ Scorpius paused in the doorway to beam at her. ‘Nothing but the best. Besides, I’m going to need to bring you clothes, too.’
Rose looked past him at the crumpled bundle on the floor that was her dress. ‘That’s… going to be an awkward walk of shame otherwise.’ It was already going to be pretty bad, considering she hadn’t warned her parents she wouldn’t be coming home. Not that they would be angry, but she’d left them to presume she was off falling into bed with Scorpius Malfoy. Then again, the alternative would have been to all but tell them, and that wasn’t much better. ‘Alright. Go fetch food and clothes.’
‘I will be sure to guess wildly at your size and pick horrendous colours.’ He returned soon after, dressed, and kissed her on the cheek before leaving. His every step was still a bounce, and she couldn’t help but beam in his wake.
And then, because she was a contrary soul, really, she headed for the coffee machine and tried to make it work.
It was just spurting out a rather vile-smelling espresso when there was a knock at the door, and she almost jumped out of her skin. Scorpius hadn’t been gone long enough, so she checked the peephole before opening and greeted Matt with a highly confused and rather bashful, ‘Good morning?’
He looked a state. His clothes were rumpled, his hair wild, and his prosthetic wasn’t even on, arm ending in a cuff and nothingness that still made her heart stop. ‘You’re here. Good. Thought you might be,’ he said in a low, clipped voice and, without waiting, pushed past her to stumble inside. ‘It’s you I wanted to see, actually…’
Rose shut the door and pulled the dressing gown tighter, keenly aware she’d just let her ex-boyfriend into the hotel room where she’d spent the night with her returned-from-the-dead-love-of-her-life. Awkward didn’t really cover it. ‘You found me.’
‘Yeah, you didn’t waste time.’ Matt waved his good hand, lip curling.
‘Matt.’ She planted her hands on her hips. ‘If you’ve - if something’s wrong, then I will listen, but I’m really not in the mood for you to have some weird back-slide and come and grump here and now - we’re over -’
‘I know that!’ He laughed a short, humourless laugh. ‘This is not about us. I moved on first, remember?’
‘It’s not a competition -’
‘Where’s Scorpius?’ Matt looked around the room. ‘Never mind. Best he stays out of this.’
‘Stays out of what? You look a mess, Matt, what’s going on?’
Now he rounded on her, grey eyes flashing. ‘What’s wrong is that I have spent the past four days trying to work out what happened. What mistake we made. Combing over every inch of that ritual, of the destruction of the Chalice, to try to figure out how the hell we wound up with Scorpius alive and Reynald de Sablé dead. I would have thought you’d be more curious, too -’
Her chest tightened. ‘Matt -’
‘And I could forgive some mixed feelings. I mean, if you screwed it up and things accidentally went this way, I’d understand you not being too cut up. But I know you, Rose. If you make mistakes, you don’t let them go. You certainly don’t shrug your shoulders and move on after a mistake of this magnitude -’
‘I am not shrugging my shoulders and moving on -’
‘I should have seen you in my warehouse with a whole new wall of crazy, trying to figure out how you miscalculated, because you would never leave an accident like that unsolved!’ Matt barked, straightening. ‘So I knew - I knew before I even started untangling your work - where this would end up, I knew in my gut what had happened, probably the moment I saw de Sablé dead and Scorpius alive! But I didn’t trust my gut! Because I believed you would never do that!’
Rose had to fight to keep steady as she drew a long, slow breath. ‘Matt. I made a mistake -’
‘Bullshit!’ Matt reached into his jacket and pulled out a fistful of papers. ‘You murdered Reynald de Sablé! The ritual destroyed the Chalice like we planned, yes, but it did more than that! You didn’t need him there to balance anything out, there was no risk of magical backlash! You needed him there so you could rip the life-sustaining magics out of him, corrupt them with his death, and then place them - ageless energies of life and death - in Scorpius! A new anchor!’
It was like she’d been punched in the gut. ‘Matt -’
‘Don’t deny it Rose - just don’t.’ He hurled the papers to the floor. ‘You murdered him.’
And then her gut tightened to a fist. ‘I saved Scorpius -’
‘By murdering someone else -’
‘What was the alternative, Matt?’ Anger fizzed through her veins, enough to take her legs out as much as strengthen, but she gritted her teeth and stepped closer. ‘That we murdered Scorpius!’
Matt rocked back. ‘That wasn’t murder. He agreed to it; de Sablé didn’t agree to anything -’
‘Scorpius didn’t have a choice! Not really!’ She threw her hands in the air. ‘Either he died to save the world or he refused, and dozens, hundreds of people would be killed by the Council. The war would still be going. Don’t you dare say that Scorpius had a choice! He was going to be murdered, and because it was an untenable situation, we all went along with it!’
‘I’m not pretending that’s right. But that doesn’t justify lying to us, manipulating de Sablé, using him and killing him!’
‘We were going to use and kill Scorpius. But you’re right, I did lie to you. Because I knew this would happen, because the moment we were choosing who lived and who died, then you’d realise what we were doing was impossible and monstrous and you’d do nothing!’
‘How…’ Matt stared at her, and as the anger faded from him it looked like it had hollowed him out. ‘You’re not sorry? You kill de Sablé and then days later you’re jumping back into bed with -’
Rose stepped in, heart thudding in her chest, ears ringing. ‘Sorry doesn’t - you think I’m not -’ It took her a moment to tackle her indignation so she could manage coherence instead of spitting rage. ‘I am going to have to live with this, Matt. And it is going to rip me apart every day, even if, yes, even if I dare let myself be happy. But the difference between this and killing Scorpius? I can live with this. However much it hurts, whatever it does to me, however much it dooms me, yes, I can live with this! Just like you made a calculation and accepted killing Scorpius, I made a calculation and accepted killing de Sablé.’
Matt raised his hand to his temples, reeling. ‘I accepted the situation ahead of me and did the best I could for the most people. I didn’t judge who gets to live and who gets to die, who deserves it, play favourites with people’s lives. Because that’s what you did! The person loved most gets the life, the other person doesn’t, you don’t see how that’s monstrous?’
‘I see it,’ she said, voice shuddering. ‘But you are delusional if you don’t think everything was monstrous.’
‘I think,’ he said, looking her in the eye, ‘that there are degrees, and that matters. And I cannot accept manipulating and exploiting circumstances like this, judging and deciding like this.’
‘Then your feelings,’ said Rose, swallowing bile, ‘are just something else I’m going to have to live with.’
He gaped at her for a moment, then took a step back. ‘No, you’re not. We’re done, Rose. In everything. You and me - I don’t want anything to do with you, not ever again.’
And Rose did nothing as the man who’d once loved her so much he’d lifted her whole world stalked out in utter disgust. For a long time she stood and stared, felt the shuddering inside her as raging anger and biting guilt continued their war, the war that had broken out since she’d had even this germ of an idea, and she knew they were never going to be done battling. That wasn’t the question. The question was if they would hollow her out in the fighting.
Then she picked up the papers Matt had brought, with all their blazing work and blazing truth, and took them to the fireplace to reduce them to nothing but ash.
‘I won’t be sorry,’ said Selena, picking her way between heavy cardboard boxes, ‘if I never see this place again.’
Nejem picked up a fresh stack of papers. ‘It’s abhorrent. I miss proper offices with proper walls and chairs that aren’t little filing cabinets.’
‘Wasn’t your last job for Gringotts spent in deserts and tents?’
‘I missed proper offices then, too.’ He sniffed and straightened. ‘I’m on the team that discovered Cantref Gwaelod and destroyed the Chalice of Emrys. Employers will be knocking down my door. Gringotts will have to give me my pick of assignments to keep me.’
‘So you get to choose something exciting?’
‘I get to pick a desk job.’ Nejem’s eyes gleamed. ‘Where I can analyse what other wizards found while they crawled around in the dirt.’
Selena looked the fussy little research assistant up and down, and sighed. ‘You’re not a very exciting man, are you?’
‘You know how many times I almost died in Egypt? I’ve had a lifetime’s worth of excitement.’
And I bet your near-death experiences didn’t even enter double digits. But Selena knew better than to compare damage, so she smiled and patted him on the arm. ‘Good luck.’
She wasn’t here for herself. The warehouse had been a place to visit on sufferance, but she knew the take-down would be long and complicated, and she’d barely seen Matt since Paris. He’d absconded with de Sablé’s body back to this place and buried himself in all their ritual notes and records, searching for answers as if it would undo what had been done. But enough was enough, and now she had to drag him from his cave one last time.
He was, as she’d expected, in his office. As she hadn’t expected, most of it was packed away, but she was unsurprised to see the huge corkboard still up on the wall and still adorned with scribbled notes and scrawled diagrams and photos. And him, of course, stood in front of it, tapping his wand against his chin. His shirt was rolled up to the elbows, and he hadn’t put on his prosthetic, which she’d found he was doing more and more in public if he didn’t have to use his hand.
Selena wasn’t sure if this was acceptance of what had happened, or some bitter rejection of a mockery of a real limb, and she knew she wasn’t equipped to handle these kinds of questions. So she simply shut the door behind her loud enough to get his attention. ‘When this is over,’ she said, voice low, wry, ‘I’m cutting you off from walls of crazy.’
Matt jumped and spun, startled, hair a messier mop even than usual. ‘Oh, you’re - how long was I here?’
‘Today? This week? Ever? It’s over, Matt. I can’t drag you from the darkness every day.’
He looked back at the board and sighed. ‘You’re right. I’m not even -’ He paused and shook his head. ‘You’re right.’
Selena frowned as he tucked his wand away and began plucking papers off the board. ‘What? Just like that?’
‘You wanted me to fight you?’
‘I expected it. I thought you’d need to explain what happened to de Sablé…’ Her throat tightened, but she fought to keep her expression level.
He paused, back still to her, hand braced on the corkboard, and neither of them said anything for a while. Even if he hadn’t so much as looked at her poker face, she realised he could see right through her. ‘I was hoping I was wrong.’
She wasn’t about to give in, though. ‘Sometimes things happen in magic -’
‘Can we not?’ Matt turned, but his gaze was pained, not angry. ‘We both know what happened. I only did this because I didn’t want to believe it. But I ran through every possibility, retraced all our footsteps, and if that’s not enough -’
‘We can’t know how the Chalice of Emrys interacted with someone like de Sablé, he was infused with it -’
‘I confronted Rose. This morning.’ He slumped. ‘She admitted it.’
‘Yeah. Oh.’ His lips thinned. ‘I see you’re not surprised. Or angry. Or indignant.’
Selena shifted her weight. ‘Should I be?’
His eyes flashed. ‘She murdered -’
‘I was there, Matt, I know exactly what she did, and I dare say I understand why she did it better than you.’ She lifted a placating hand. ‘Do I think she was wrong? I absolutely do. Am I outraged? I am not. Because…’ She drew a sharp breath. ‘I’d have probably done the same thing in her shoes.’
Matt snatched parchment and pictures off the corkboard like an angry gardener attacking weeds. ‘Love,’ he snarled, ‘doesn’t justify murder.’
‘I said I’m not condemning her. That doesn’t mean I’m defending her.’
‘It’s not okay!’ He spun, expression twisted. ‘It’s not okay to harm someone else just to keep ourselves okay! That’s exactly how evil’s born in the world! We don’t protect ourselves and our loved ones at the expense of others, at the expense of those we think nobody will miss!’ He waved a fistful of papers at the door. ‘She picked de Sablé because he suited her purposes, but you know as well as I do how she’ll have justified it! That he had no family, no friends, no loved ones! So that makes it alright for him to die while the rich, popular pure-blood lives!’
‘You’re spinning this way more cynically than it -’
‘Am I? Or are you saying Rose would have killed a beloved family man to save Scorpius, too; great defence -’
‘I don’t know! I’m not Rose! I’m not defending her!’ Selena stalked forward to snatch the papers from his hand. ‘Am I happy Scorpius is alive? Yes. I think he deserves a break. Am I happy Rose isn’t heartbroken again? Yes. She also deserves a break. Did I like de Sablé? I did. Am I going to mourn him? Only a little! But I know that what I feel isn’t the same thing as right and wrong, I’m not a monster! And neither’s she.’ They both slumped, realising as one that their fury and frustration was for the rest of the world, not this little room. ‘We’re just fucked up people doing what we can to survive.’
Matt bowed his head. ‘These are all arguments people use to justify their evil.’
Selena sighed. ‘I know. And it’s good that you care, it’s right that you care.’ She hesitated. ‘Are you going to tell anyone?’
He gave a low, forlorn, empty laugh. ‘What would that help? No. No, I don’t want to have anything to do with Rose ever again, I have no interest in rekindling any friendship, any connection… but my judgement will have to suffice.’
She dumped the papers on the table and reached for his hand like he was lost in fog. ‘I know what you’re thinking, but she’ll care. Losing you will burn in her, Matt.’ She let out a slow breath. ‘I’m not telling you to forgive her. I’m not going to pretend I know what anyone should do any more. But I can’t find it in me to condemn anyone. Except, you know. Raskoph. Thane.’
Matt rolled his eyes, but his grip on her hand tightened. ‘Who knows? Thane might get pardoned for all the help he gave us, for all his fighting against the Council the last eight months.’
‘If Mum doesn’t want to end up in the most petulant of her daughter’s doghouses, she’ll know better.’ But her smile was wry, self-effacing as she looked up. ‘That reminds me. Of, you know, the actual reason I’m here, because I sure as hell didn’t waltz down her to rescue you from your man-pain yet again.’
‘Is that a subtle message that I should stop wallowing?’
‘I thought it was pretty clear. But here’s something else to do.’ Selena fished in her purse for a sealed letter. ‘This is for you, and I don’t at all know what’s in it. Except that I do, and you’re invited to Niemandhorn next week for an awards ceremony.’
He needed her help to crack the wax seal. ‘An awards ceremony?’
‘Yeah, it’s like you destroyed the Chalice of Emrys and so wiped out Lethe and brought the war to an end, or something, so they want to give you a medal.’
His expression turned far more pained than the news deserved. ‘I didn’t -’
‘Yes, yes. Team, etc, etc. But you led the team, Matt. You started this, you drove this, you had the right ideas at the right moments, and there are plenty of Order of Merlins to go around for everyone else, but someone has to be front and centre.’
His lips curled, quiet and wry, but pleased. ‘Orders of Merlin. Not Order of Merlins. Because “Order” is the -’
‘I don’t care. Medals, Matt. Someone wants to say, “well done, you were the smart guy, you saved the world,” and they want to say it to the whole world, and after all your lamentation of needing to prove yourself, you’ve finally proved yourself and everyone’s going to see, so you’re going to enjoy -’
‘Okay! Okay!’ He laughed, tired like he’d run a marathon in his heart, but genuine. ‘Niemandhorn. Public acclaim. I’ll try to enjoy it.’
‘Good. Because I’m going with you.’ She gave him an impish smile. ‘I’m the daughter of the leader of the free wizarding world. I think I can wrangle tickets and rooms at Niemandhorn come the End of the World Conference of Important People. So relax. Enjoy it. We deserve this.’
Matt bowed his head to give her a brief, gentle kiss. ‘You’re right,’ he sighed. ‘It’s about time people got what they deserved. The good bits.’
A/N: Scorpius is singing ‘Silly Love Songs,’ by Paul McCartney. I suspect his fondness for Muggle music, born specifically to annoy his father, would extend more to the classics than anything contemporary (and I’m not making up contemporary music for the mid 2020s).