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Chapter 48 : Double Life
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When it came to people who got only the good bits of what they deserved, Selena didn’t see Rose until the day after. To her enormous astonishment, Scorpius wasn’t at the hotel room when she dropped by and Rose was wearing clothes.
‘Do you even go home any more?’ was the only greeting Selena gave as she waltzed in.
‘I -’ Rose only had the gall to look indignant for a heartbeat and then turned bright red. ‘Leave me alone, I’m happy.’
‘No, someone has to help you mooch off Scorpius’ room service. Where is he? Or is it Albus’ turn to have him today? Have you guys worked out a time-share schedule?’
Rose flapped her hands as Selena slouched onto the sofa. ‘You can’t stop by unannounced and make judging comments about my life any more!’
‘Why? What’s changed?’ She waved a languid hand. ‘Unless you know how to make that awful coffee machine work, have some tea and cakes brought up, dear, their scones here are to die for.’
As ever, Rose grumbled but did as she was told, and Selena waited until afternoon tea had been brought up by a waiter who looked far less pleased when he realised Scorpius wasn’t there to tip gratuitously.
‘So.’ Selena decided this was a two-sugars-in-her-tea sort of day. ‘How’re you? Do you remember what sunlight looks like? I’m impressed you’re dressed.’
‘Yes, I’m happy,’ Rose huffed. ‘And yes, I have seen the outside world lately. A bit.’
‘Enough to get an overnight bag from home?’
Rose stuck her nose in the air. ‘Try an over-three-nights bag.’ Then they burst into giggles more light-hearted than Selena could remember since Methuselah died. ‘How’re you, anyway?’
‘Oh, you know. Daughter to an insufferable mother who’s running the world. I’ll mollify her by going to Niemandhorn for all the fuss and bother next week. Maybe it’ll stop her from going on a power-crazed rampage when she realises she has to hand control back to countries. I’m sure she’ll calm down when she gets to retire to the peaceful job of Minister for Magic for Britain.’
‘That does seem like a done deal, doesn’t it?’
Selena sniffed. ‘She’ll stop being frantic. Eventually. Once she realises the world’s not ending. But I didn’t come here to exchange pleasantries, really. Or to ask how your life is. I can guess. I can paint a blurry watercolour.’
Rose coloured again. ‘You’re not here to be sardonic and slightly judging? I’m all ast-’
‘I spoke to Matt,’ said Selena, sobering, and leaned forwards. ‘So I came to check in on how you really are.’
She froze. ‘What did he say?’
‘Nothing I didn’t already know. Nothing I didn’t guess the moment I saw de Sablé dead and Scorpius alive. Does he know?’
‘Scorpius?’ Rose dropped her gaze. ‘I haven’t told him. He hasn’t asked.’
‘It’s not,’ said Selena, slowly, deliberately, ‘the hardest thing in the world to figure out. Are you going to tell him?’
‘Tell him what - tell him I deliberately went against his wishes, tell him I -’ Rose slid back across the sofa, expression closing down. ‘No. No, don’t see what that would help - I know, I know, honesty in relationships, is it really a good idea to go the rest of my life not saying this -’
‘Rose, I came here because I figured you hadn’t told him, and Albus would have probably exploded by now if he knew, and I know you and Matt only argued about it. So I came because you have to talk about this with someone.’
‘Do I? Or can I just forget -’
‘I don’t know.’ Selena met her gaze. ‘Can you?’
Eye contact lasted only a heartbeat before Rose stared at her hands and wrung them in her lap. ‘I - I did what I had to do,’ she said, voice low, shuddering. ‘I don’t like it and I hate myself for doing it and Matt’s right to hate me, but - but once I had the idea, I couldn’t not. Selena, I couldn’t - what was I supposed to do, sit on an answer to everything I ever wanted and watch it sail right past me?’
‘Some people would say “yes”.’ Selena set her teacup down and joined her on the sofa, scooting over. ‘I’m not one of those people. Maybe you should tell Scorpius, maybe you shouldn’t; maybe this would be a truth too far, and he’s not an idiot, I bet he knows. And I know you shouldn’t sit on this all alone. So I came here.’
Rose collapsed against her at once, clutching her hand and burying her face in her shoulder, and as Selena wrapped an arm around her she had to muse on how some things didn’t change very much, really. ‘I hate that I did it, I hate that I chose to do it, I hate that I can live with it. I hate that I’m someone who can do this. And I hate the ways I don’t hate it…’
‘Everything we ever do, we have to live with. We don’t get much of a choice about it.’ Selena rubbed her back. ‘I don’t know what the right thing to do is, but I do know you have to carry on. I also know I refuse to pity you, because you’ve done something horrible to get everything you ever wanted.’ She didn’t let go, though, kept her arm tight around her. ‘But I don’t hate you.’
It took a while before Rose had calmed herself and pulled back, wiping her eyes. ‘Matt does. Do you think he’ll ever talk to me again?’
‘I think he’ll be civil in order to keep up appearances and for my sake. Do I think he’ll ever forgive you?’ Selena’s expression pinched. ‘You know, normally, I’d have something to say about you being too important to each other to let something get in the way. Even the breakup. But, no.’ She sighed. ‘No, I don’t think he’ll ever get over this. And I’m not going to encourage him to.’
‘Yeah.’ Rose’s voice was deep, thick. ‘Yeah, I deserve that.’
‘You deserve him being furious with you. You deserve to be punished for what happened to de Sablé. You also deserve to be happy. You also helped destroy the Chalice of Emrys and wipe out the Council of Thorns’ superweapon virus and save hundreds, possibly thousands of lives. Does that balance out? I don’t bloody know.’ Selena patted her hand. ‘And I’m sick of asking these questions. We did it with Eva, and now we’re doing it with you, and we should do it with Scorpius, too, but there isn’t an answer. Let’s be honest: you’re not going to prison, you’re not even going to a courtroom. You’re going to live, you’re going to be with Scorpius, you’re going to be free and you’re going to be happy and you’re also going to be guilty. There is no cosmic justice. Just us.’
‘Just us. Our own judges, juries, and executioners.’
‘Understand this is more about my own morbid curiosity. But what did you actually do?’
Rose drew back slowly, nose wrinkling. ‘I needed magic like the Chalice’s to anchor Scorpius. Most magic like the Chalice is pure life energies; I needed both life and death. Without the Styx, the only thing in the world like the Chalice was… magic from the Chalice.’
‘The magic keeping de Sablé alive.’
‘He’s lived for eight hundred years because he drank from the Chalice so many times; it was like his body itself was enchanted. It had to be producing its own life-sustaining energies, or he’d have died when the Chalice went through the Veil. He was, for all intents and purposes, a sort of… miniature, one-man, immortality-granting Chalice of Emrys.’
‘So you ripped that magic out of him and plugged it into Scorpius?’
Rose flinched. ‘In essence. With the added, uh.’ She shifted her weight. ‘The magics were of life, because they sustained de Sablé. With his death they were… altered.’
‘To be both life and death.’ Selena frowned at the table, and understood why Rose was talking about it in such a calm, clinical fashion. It was too ghoulish to get emotional about. And she didn’t want to get emotional about this, because then she was going to have to hurl judgement Rose’s way, and she wasn’t prepared to do that. Selena had never pretended to be the moral core of the group.
‘Well, it worked,’ she said at length.
‘Yeah.’ Rose stared at her hands. ‘It worked. He died without the energies. Scorpius is now tethered to life magic inside him. It won’t make him immortal or heal him or anything; it’s just an anchor. When he eventually dies, the magic will disperse, and he… passes over naturally.’
Selena sniffed. ‘That’s rather tidy.’
‘My work is always tidy.’ Rose’s voice came out detached.
Selena returned to her own chair with her own tea and began buttering her scone. ‘So. The important question: when’s Scorpius getting his own place?’
Rose blinked, bemused at both the question and the change of pace. ‘I suppose he can’t live in a hotel room forever.’
‘I mean, he can, he’s pretty rich, and if he moved he’d have to actually cook for himself.’ Selena lounged back, waving a hand in the air. ‘Or you two move in together in the utterly inevitable next step, as you’re not going to live under your parents’ roof more -’
‘Selena, please stop planning my future. I’ve only had it about two days.’
‘I’m not planning, I’m predicting -’ And though Selena could see the shadow of tension in Rose’s eyes, sense the guilt hovering around her, she knew that, ultimately, they could live with it all. They would live with it.
‘So if I just twist it here -’ Scorpius immediately regretted tampering with the coffee machine when grabbing a pipe made it spout black smoke right in his face, and with a noise of surprise he would definitely not describe as a squeal he reeled back. ‘Fuck! Fuck!’
Rose stuck her head out from the bathroom. ‘What, are you okay - oh.’ Concern faded when she realised he was overreacting. ‘Okay. Enough is enough. Don’t touch it, and I’m going to go down and ask the staff to either fix the damn thing or show us how to use it.’
Scorpius wiped the coffee staining from his face. The white dressing gown was probably beyond all salvation. ‘I already asked them to.’
‘And did they?’
‘And do you know how to use it?’
‘They - a thing got twisted and - I forgot.’ He dropped his hand. ‘I’ve had a lot on my mind! Near death! Saving the world!’
‘And now it’s time we live in the real world, dear.’ She, unlike him, had actually got dressed this lazy morning in a sea of lazy mornings, so she just kissed him on the newly-wiped cheek and left the suite, abandoning him to perch with the latest Daily Prophet and neither tea nor coffee.
It was the third morning since the wedding, and some part of Scorpius suspected he was supposed to be making plans. Plans to find somewhere to live, plans for what to do with Malfoy Manor, plans for his life, and it wasn’t just the hazy comfort of spending long days doing absolutely nothing with Rose that was delaying him.
Though that was nice. He didn’t think they’d ever spent time together like this. Even after Phlegethon, their relationship had been too new and the presence of her or Albus’ parents too looming for them to have more than snatched, awkward moments of finding their feet. Then during the Chalice hunt, they’d been able to scrape the privacy but not the time.
This was new. Lounging and delighting in each other’s company around the hotel suite, and he’d still taken her out for dinner as promised, hurled money at one of Diagon Alley’s nicer restaurants until they’d jumped him up the waiting list on a table. That had been more familiar, running to money and pomp and circumstance to have fun and please her, though these days he suspected a night on a sofa with processed food snacks would be a delight if they were together.
But she was not the only delay. The fate of his parents still hung over him, an uncertainty in the midst of the resolutions the defeat of the Council of Thorns promised.
Which was why the sudden bursting of Eva Saida from his Floo made his heart lunge into his throat more than the intrusion strictly required. ‘Scorpius!’
She looked ragged and tired, eyes flashing with an anxiety he hadn’t seen in her before, and even though he knew not to fear for her, he found himself reaching for his wand anyway, as if Hell’s agents might be behind. ‘What’s going on?’
Eva stalked across the hotel room, hands on her hips, chest heaving. ‘I just talked to Albus. We’ve got a problem.’
‘It’s not Goyle. It’s worse. It’s horrible.’ She stopped, head bowed, catching her breath. ‘I don’t know how to explain it.’
Scorpius lifted his hands. If there was a crisis, he thought, he was still in his dressing gown and hadn’t had a morning cup of tea or coffee. ‘Slow down. Start from the beginning.’
She nodded, took a moment more, then lifted her head to look him in the eye and said, ‘Al’s invited me to dinner at his grandmother’s tomorrow.’
‘Shit! You said it was bad, but…’
It took Scorpius a moment to realise they were both deathly serious. He let out a slow, calming breath. ‘Okay. What if you said you were ill?’
‘Albus would see through that - or he’d want to fuss over me, wouldn’t he, and I’d feel guilty for lying -’
‘I could hex you.’
For a moment, Eva looked tempted. Then she raised a hand. ‘No. That’s mad. I need - I need help to get through this. I came to you because you know the family, you’re good with people, and you…’
‘And I’m not about to judge you?’ Scorpius smiled, not unkindly. ‘Look, sit down. Rose is going to be back with coffee, one way or another. Let me get dressed, and we’ll make a plan.’
‘Everyone’s off to Niemandhorn tomorrow,’ said Albus as he perched on the back of Eva’s sofa. ‘That’s why Gran wants to do it today. Last Sunday was the day after the wedding and everyone will be gone this weekend, so it’s -’
‘Belated Sunday lunch.’ Eva frowned at herself in the mirror, more concerned about her appearance than she’d ever been. ‘Why is that a special thing?’
‘Because it’s - you do a roast dinner on the Sunday afternoon…’ He sounded nonplussed.
‘In this case, “you” is “the English”.’ Eva sighed. Cultural clashes. That’s exactly what I need on top of all of this. She turned to him. ‘How do I look?’
Now he looked nonplussed. ‘Um. Fine? Normal? Why does it -’
‘Don’t say it doesn’t matter.’ She tromped towards him, but stopped midway. Change your gait. Don’t stomp. ‘You invited me to this, so it obviously matters -’
‘It wasn’t my idea, Gran invited us as she’s obviously heard about you, and that’s probably Lily’s fault -’
‘Who’s going to be there?’
‘Gran. Granddad. Mum. Dad. Ron. Hermione. James.’
‘Your brother; oh, good.’ She turned her eyes skyward.
‘Rose made sure she and Scorpius will be there, so Scorpius has to run the gauntlet, too -’
‘Scorpius,’ said Eva delicately, ‘has done this before. The only way I can use him for a distraction or solidarity is to throw him under the bus.’
‘And Gran does love Scorpius.’
‘Of course she does,’ she muttered.
‘George and Angelina are going to be there, too -’
Eva lifted a hand. ‘Don’t tell me. George is your mother’s brother. He runs that joke shop. Angelina is - what does she work in, broomstick development?’
‘Yes!’ Albus beamed.
Silently, she thanked Scorpius’ exhaustive briefing on the Weasley clan. They hadn’t been sure who was coming, so they’d covered all possibilities. There had been lists. There had been charts. ‘Is that all?’
‘Try as Gran may, she can’t easily fit more people around the dinner table. That’s for special occasions. But the dinner’s for us and Dad and Ron, and Ron and Mum are closest to George -’
Youngest three siblings, dead twin brother. ‘No, uh… damn it. What’s their son. Frank?’
‘Fred. And no. And Roxanne, Lily and Hugo are still at Hogwarts -’
‘Albus, I’m struggling to remember the relevant names. Anyone who’s not going to be there might as well not exist for how little I care. I’ve had assassination missions which needed shorter briefing.’ She paused. ‘That’s the sort of thing I shouldn’t be saying.’
He winced. ‘Probably not. But, look, you don’t need to worry.’ He stood and swept over to her, a hand at her arm. ‘Just be yourself.’
Eva gave him a flat look. ‘You are very sweet. But we’re going to be late if we don’t leave now.’
When he Apparated them, he looked at last half as nervous as he should be, and guilt twisted in her gut as she realised he was probably trying to act confident to reassure her. Deep down, she couldn’t blame him for this lunch springing up. It was the alternative to prison; either she’d be locked up forever or she was going to have to face his family eventually, and he probably couldn’t have turned down the invitation on her behalf without making the situation worse.
It was wrong to say she’d hoped for more time, Eva realised as her scrappy flat rushed away to be replaced by the biting cold of the West Country in December, and the ramshackle sight of the Burrow in all its tumbled glory. She hadn’t hoped for this at all, and that wasn’t nerves speaking, nor was it that she hadn’t dared hope. Of all of the challenges that had forever lain between her and Albus, the normalcy of his life and family had never even been contemplated. It had been too simple with life and death and justice to overcome, and at the same time so alien she didn’t know what she should think. The only positive conclusion Eva could reach was that being nervous about a family dinner at the Burrow stopped her from being nervous about her hearing pardon in a few days at Niemandhorn. That, she thought, seemed downright easy in comparison.
She was jerked out of her reverie by Albus squeezing her hand, and the reassuring smile he gave let her know he did, actually, understand. ‘Come on,’ he said gently. ‘It’ll be fine.’
That was the moment she realised she didn’t need to get through this only for her own sake. It did not help her nerves.
There had been long planning sessions with Scorpius, and then Rose once she’d returned with the solution to the coffee machine; briefings on who was who, preparations for conversation topics, plumbing the depths of all their knowledge and all of her experiences to find something, anything that might make for acceptable discussion over the dinner table. But every jot of it flew from her mind as Albus opened the creaking garden gate and led her down the long, crunching path for the front door.
It opened before they got there, revealing a short, plump woman, her grey hair streaked with ginger, wearing an apron and a huge smile. ‘Albus.’
He hadn’t been here, he’d told Eva, since his moderately disastrous return home, and she could almost feel the nerves rippling off him as he went to his grandmother to be grabbed in a hug so fierce she suspected he couldn’t fight it even if he’d wanted to. This left her stood at the doorstep, wondering what to do with her hands.
Then Molly Weasley let Albus go and rounded on her, and Eva froze. ‘You must be Eva, dear, it’s so lovely to meet you,’ Molly declared. Then hugged her, too.
What. Do I. Do.
A cautious pat on the back was judicious and polite, but it was also the only thing Eva could manage before she was released and they were both ushered into the house. The arrival of December and the end of the war apparently heralded the onslaught of Christmas, decorations dripping from rafters and the swaying tree in the corner, atop which a pair of snowman figurines waltzed together. A gust of false, enchanted snow burst from a shelf to waft atop her, and Eva fought the instinct to Shield herself as if she’d set off a security ward.
Start with breathing. That’ll help.
To her intense displeasure, there was no sign of Scorpius and Rose; indeed, they’d beaten everyone there but the hosts and Albus’ immediate family. This went against the plan, but Eva was a professional. No plan survived contact with the enemy. So here she was, operating solo, because Albus was a mission objective to keep happy, not a part of her unit facing down the opposition.
She turned to Molly Weasley and forced a polite smile - nothing too much, still sincere without being over the top. ‘Thank you for inviting me.’
Great. Good work.
Albus flapped next to her as they joined the foursome already in the Burrow’s sitting room. ‘Eva, this is my grandmother Molly, my grandfather Arthur; you know my parents, and this is my brother, James -’
James Potter was a tall man who looked like he thought this would be intimidating when he crossed the room to stand too close. ‘And you’re Eva. We’ve heard so much about you.’
Disapproval rolled off every syllable, and somehow Eva found this less stressful. She met his hostile gaze and shook his hand and let a flick of tension enter her smile. ‘Likewise.’
That did stop him short, and he threw Albus a suspicious glance before he stepped back. Albus, of course, had told her nothing. Scorpius had relayed the tales, with updates from Rose: the wild child, the one the tabloids loved, forced to grow up and become responsible and hating it. If James thought about it enough, he could probably blame her for that. She was part of why Albus left, after all.
Mercifully, Albus’ grandfather hurried to fill the void, grinning and shaking her hand far too fast. ‘Wonderful to meet you, but sit down, everyone, sit down. Al’s never brought anyone to lunch with us before, this should be lovely,’ said Arthur, ushering everyone to the armchairs.
‘Unless you count Scorpius,’ muttered James.
‘Rose brought Scorpius and where are they?’ said Al, desperate.
‘Probably coming with Ron and Hermione,’ said Harry, already sat next to his wife. They both looked pointedly polite; not cold, but guarded. Eva could appreciate that. At least Ginny wasn’t being aggressively domestic at her again. ‘George had to cancel. Trouble with cover at the shop. They’re doing better business now Christmas is…’
‘Back on,’ said Ginny dryly. Eva was relieved to see Albus look confused so she didn’t have to, and Ginny continued. ‘The war’s over. So Christmas is going to be the big celebration.’
Molly was moving between kitchen and living room like she was on some sort of cycle, and soon enough Eva found a mug of tea pressed into her hands without even being consulted. The smell of a roast dinner wafted through, and would have been enticing if she weren’t too tense to be hungry. This wasn’t about dinner. It was about survival. ‘We’ll do a big lunch for everyone on Christmas Day,’ said Molly as she passed, and again beamed too-broadly at Eva and Albus. ‘You’re both welcome, of course; unless you had plans.’
Albus looked flabbergasted. ‘I didn’t - we don’t - do we?’ He looked at Eva.
She tried to not look betrayed, and turned her gaze onto the assembled Potter-Weasleys. The temptation to lie was almost overwhelming. Almost. ‘I don’t, uh -’ She paused, rallied, and marched on like hurling herself at a firing squad. ‘I’ve never celebrated Christmas.’ They all, down to Albus, stared with a mixture of shock and pity, which at least meant she felt irritated instead of intimidated. ‘I’m from Algeria. We don’t, didn’t do Christmas.’ Traditions and ceremonies had been part of the life she’d left behind when she’d joined Prometheus, and it had always mattered to her mother more. But she still remembered them, Ramadan and Eid, even if she was hazy, after more than ten years, on what it all meant.
At least now they looked awkward from culture clash instead of her history as a hired killer, and Eva almost burst with relief when the door swung open for the arrival of Scorpius, Rose and her family. Greetings were exchanged, she didn’t need to be introduced to anyone this time, and Scorpius demonstrated exactly why she’d wanted him there when he bounced right up to Molly for a huge bear-hug.
‘Molly, I haven’t had one of your roast dinners in literally a lifetime; this smells amazing -’ Albus was right. Molly Weasley loved him. Eva wasn’t sure if this provided a great distraction or if he was going to make her look bad in comparison. She was also less sure if he’d asked Rose to wrangle them an invitation to be backup for her, or just so he could get a free roast dinner.
‘Honestly, Eva,’ Scorpius continued once he’d disentangled himself, ‘you’re about to have the best meal of your life. Albus might have cooked for you before, but I think the talent dilutes through generations.’
Eva heard Albus give a soft, ‘uh oh,’ beside her, just in time to spot Ginny cocking her head.
‘You’re saying my cooking’s not as good as my mum’s, Scorpius?’
Scorpius stared at Ginny like she’d just turned into a large, hairy spider. ‘Oh, that was a trap.’
‘Actually,’ said Rose wryly, ‘you did that to yourself, and I’m not helping you.’
‘Abandoned.’ Scorpius slapped a palm against his forehead, and flopped onto the sofa next to Eva. ‘It’s a family conspiracy. We’ll need to consolidate, reinforce against the dreaded Potter-Weasley brood.’
‘Hey,’ said Albus. ‘You came here.’
‘To be fed, Al, not to be viciously ground underfoot…’
Scorpius waxed lyrically melodramatic for a while, which suited Eva just fine. Sitting in quiet amusement kept the heat off her, and let her people-watch, which she was more comfortable doing even at the best of times. She knew she owed Scorpius for this; for the briefing beforehand, and for drawing the heat off her now, as she knew it was intentional. He played the fool, he made people laugh, and everyone was so genuinely pleased to see him that he could become the centre of attention and get away with it.
This lasted until Molly moved them to the dining table for lunch, then she made good on Scorpius’ promise that the best meal of Eva’s life was coming.
‘Albus didn’t tell me if there’s something you don’t eat,’ said Molly airily, depositing dish after dish on the table in a seemingly endless parade of roast beef and Yorkshire pudding and Brussels sprouts, as if her oven were a clown car. ‘So I just made lots and be sure to tell me if there’s nothing you -’
‘It all looks wonderful,’ said Eva quickly. ‘Thank you.’ While she wasn’t lying, the carefully structured courtesies felt awkward as they tumbled out, artificial, and she caught a sidelong glance from James as she spoke. Either he was the only one picking up on it, or everyone else was too polite to react.
At the least, commenting became impossible because soon there was eating. Now she had to resist the urge to scoff down food with the age-old instinct of one who knew what it was like to be truly hungry, and most of the chit-chat over the table drifted between the upper two generations about what would be coming in Niemandhorn.
‘…don’t see why I need to go,’ Ron grumbled as he demolished a small castle of mashed potato. ‘If I wanted responsibility I’d have taken the Patrol Director gig.’
‘Because I’ll be up to my ears in committees,’ said Harry. ‘And I can’t attend them all, and even if you’re not the deputy it’s almost like the world’s realised you know what you’re talking about and can speak on my behalf.’
‘I’ve spent a very long time nurturing my reputation as your yes-man specifically so I don’t have to!’
Scorpius, at the far end, leaned towards Albus and said in a stage whisper, ‘Hey, Al, that’s a good idea; maybe I should do that for you?’
‘Oh my God,’ Rose muttered, and Eva declined to comment on the similarities between her father and her boyfriend.
Harry fought a smirk as he looked across the table at Ron. ‘I promise a holiday when it’s over.’
Hermione skewered a sprout. ‘Though it’s not like I’m taking time off soon.’
‘Brilliant.’ Ron beamed. ‘Some alone time.’ He waved his fork, then helped himself to more beef. ‘Fine, fine, I’ll take some meetings off your plate. So long as it’s not those judicial process ones, full of lists of horrible people doing horrible things and how much we’re going to… punish… uh.’ Eva would have been happy to let the comment slide by, but she caught Hermione’s wince just before she heard Albus’ sharp inhale, then Ron’s voice trailed off and he peered across the table at Harry as if he could save him.
Well, that was inevitable.
Harry cleared his throat. ‘I’ll do those,’ he said awkwardly.
‘Yeah.’ James put his knife and fork down and tilted his chin up a challenging half-inch. ‘How do they usually go?’
Albus glared across the table. ‘Jim.’
‘What? I’m just asking. How do you weigh those up; what’re the mathematics of guilt plus crimes minus good deeds equals punishment? Or lack thereof?’
Eva slipped her hand under the table and touched Albus’ elbow as discreetly as she could. Don’t rise to the bait. Don’t do it.
Harry lowered his glass. ‘James, it’s complicated.’
‘Okay, sure, that’s why I’m asking.’ He looked down the table to Eva, dark eyes clear and challenging. ‘I guess I’m just curious.’
Unhelpfully, evading and redirecting when confronted were habits Eva had tried to break herself of. They’d led to too many moral compromises in the past. ‘If you have questions, James, by all means, ask.’ She sipped her water and didn’t break eye contact.
‘Sure; sure, I think I will -’
Rose rolled her eyes. ‘That’ll be a first.’
Scorpius judiciously shovelled more food down his throat.
James glared at Rose. ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’
‘Some of us have fought a war and struggled and suffered for it; some of us have stood on the sidelines and done nothing but snipe and judge -’
‘Rose, that’s not fair,’ admonished her mother.
Scorpius leaned forwards and looked down the table. ‘So, Ron, how badly d’you think the Cannons are going to get smashed -’
‘Somebody’s got to judge,’ snapped James. ‘As everyone else seems to want to sit around and pretend like this isn’t crazy.’
Ginny looked like she was either going to set the table on fire or Disapparate. ‘James, this isn’t the time -’
‘That’s not what you were muttering this morning, Mum, at the sheer idea of this -’
Now Eva wondered if she could Disapparate, but she felt Albus tense even more beside her and realised it was going to get worse before it got better. He straightened, his jaw iron tight. ‘I thought we could have a civil family lunch.’
‘Why?’ said James, rounding on him. ‘Because you were so good at the last one?’
Even Scorpius stopped mid-patter at that, wincing. ‘Steady on -’
‘I don’t need a Malfoy telling me how to talk to my own brother -’
‘I think that’s enough from everyone.’ Previous interjections had failed; nobody’s parents could rein in this much old bitterness and present awkwardness. But the simple, calm comment from Molly Weasley at the head of the table had everyone, even James, shutting up. All heads swivelled as she stood and picked up the empty dish that had once held roast potatoes. ‘Because, honestly, if this keeps up I don’t think anyone’s getting trifle for pudding.’
Ron shot to his feet. ‘I’ll get that, Mum, you sit -’
She swatted his hand away. ‘No, dear, because I’ve invited everyone over for a roast dinner, and so you’re going to sit and talk and I’m going to feed you. And I know what you’re thinking.’ She looked up and down the table, and while Eva was ready to jump out of her skin at the slightest provocation, feeling how immediately Albus’ anger was replaced with guilt that made her appreciate the true power of a simple look from the Weasley matriarch. Her daughter was a mere pretender to the throne, still. ‘By now, I should be smacking hands and shouting at you all. But I’m not going to. Because this is the third time I’ve sat my family down for dinner at the end of a long war, but this is the first time there are no empty chairs. No funerals. Well, we did have a funeral, but Scorpius had the decency to get better.’
‘It was only a setback,’ he agreed in a cheerful yet low voice, but it was still enough for Rose to reach for his hand on the table.
Molly gave him a small, warm smile. ‘Some of you know how lucky you are. Those of you who don’t - you’re lucky for that. But I won’t have this family survive a war and then get ripped apart anyway. I won’t have it. James, you’ve worked very hard the last couple of years to be there for your family. And that’s been very hard on you, and I know it’s left you tired. But if you keep it up for just a little longer and with everyone, I promise it’s going to get better. Rose, Albus; you’ve fought a war, and you’ve been through a lot. You’ve done a lot for the whole world. So now you also need to do something more, and that’s be patient for your family, because you’ve seen and done things they haven’t, and it takes time to build bridges across these experiences. Scorpius, Eva…’
Her gaze landed on them, at the far end of the table, and Eva found herself like a deer in the headlights, not at all prepared for home truths from this kindly yet terrifying matriarch. But Molly just smiled and picked up an empty dish. ‘Would you like some trifle?’
Scorpius, of course, rallied first. ‘I’d love trifle.’
‘I’m not going to lie,’ said Eva. ‘I thought trifle was a sort of problem.’
‘Try some,’ said Scorpius, ‘and just feed yours to Albus if you don’t like it.’
‘But not literally.’ James cleared his throat. He’d gone an odd shade of pink under his grandmother’s diatribe, and it had only faded a little by now. ‘We don’t need to see that.’
The smiles were genuine but awkward, like the silence when Molly bustled off to the kitchen, and it broke only when Ron looked up from the table, peered at Scorpius suspiciously, and cleared his throat. ‘What did you say about the Cannons?’
‘That,’ said Albus, closing the door to Eva’s flat behind him some four hours later, ‘could have gone worse.’
She made for the window, because it felt too hot and cloying even in a house with little internal heating in midwinter, but not before giving him a dubious look. ‘Yes, your brother could have actually set the room on fire. Wait, that would have been an improvement.’
He gave a short, humourless laugh. ‘You’re obviously new to Weasley-Potter family gatherings if you thought that was a disaster.’
The gust of wind from the open window brought her back to frozen reality. ‘You and Rose had a row with your brother in the middle of dinner. Your mother failed to intervene because James knew she agrees with him.’
‘It wasn’t -’
‘Your family were polite but awkward as hell. We have less than nothing in common. No Quidditch, no work talk, no travel talk, because I don’t care for Quidditch, my job experience is killing people, and anywhere I’ve travelled to I have also been killing people. There’s a kind of murder theme to my small talk.’ She spun, hands on the windowsill. ‘You cannot possibly paint that as “just one of those things,” Albus.’
His expression creased. ‘If you just give them time -’
‘Time for what? For them to forget? For me to get a - a normal person job and normal person hobbies that I can talk to them about?’ The cold wind was bringing back the truth, but it wasn’t loosening the tension in her throat, in her gut, and she couldn’t meet his gaze.
‘I don’t have the easiest time of it, either! They talk about anything over the last two years and, oops, I wasn’t here, I was off hunting dark wizards -’
‘But you can talk about things before that. And you will slot back into a life with them; that’s how it works.’
She went to turn away, but then Albus lunged closer, snatching her hand. ‘What if I don’t want it to work that way? What if I want it to work a way with you?’
Eva looked up to see those peerless, honest green eyes, and wished she could sink into them as she had so many times before. But they were meant to be beyond lies and delusion; this was meant to be real. All of it, for once. ‘I won’t be a source of argument for you and your brother -’
‘James and I have managed to argue fine for years without you. There were a lot of things going on in that row, and most of them had nothing to do with you.’ He stepped in, so she had to crane her neck to meet his gaze, and all that did was make her feel more powerless under him. ‘You saw how he rounded on Scorpius. You saw how Rose started on him. Even without you, there’s lots that needs working on. And I want to work on it with you.’
‘I don’t know how to. The longest conversation I had was with your grandmother about the food in Russia, and don’t lie to me, that was desperate. If Scorpius hadn’t been there to take the heat off me, I don’t know how it would have gone.’
‘I’m not pretending it was perfect. I know it was pretty damn bad. But everyone in that room, except for maybe James, knew the score. They’re not under any illusions about you. They knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but they wanted you there anyway. And yes, it’s for my sake, but you being there wasn’t a surprise to anyone. The Weasley family is all about bringing in the waifs and strays. It’s how Scorpius got there. It’s how Dad got there. One bad dinner is not the end of the world.’ He lifted her hand to his lips, gaze ardent and now, she thought, pleading. ‘And even if all dinners are bad, that doesn’t have to affect you and me.’
‘It will. Don’t be naive, Albus, you can’t compartmentalise your life more. That’s what your grandmother was saying to you, to Rose. The war’s over, she was saying, and it’s time to go home.’ Her gaze dropped. ‘But I don’t know if I can go home with you.’
He opened his mouth, all defiant obliviousness, but at that exact moment an owl flew through the window and into them.
To say it was a moment-ruiner was something of an understatement, but Eva couldn’t fight the relief at the shocked reeling, the wings flapping in their faces, and the hunt to recover the bird and whatever message it was bringing their way. Anything it had to say was better than continuing this conversation.
Al got there first, and his expression turned a different kind of serious as he removed the letter and cracked it open. ‘It’s word from Goyle,’ he said, brow furrowing, and Eva waited in awkward silence as he read on. ‘He’s found Draco. They exchanged word and Goyle knows where he’s staying - some magical hotel in the wilderness of Sri Lanka.’
‘That’s not a short trip.’
‘It’s not.’ Albus’ jaw set as he folded the letter and looked at her. ‘We’ll go after Niemandhorn -’
‘You can’t do that; he might be gone by then.’
‘Probably.’ He frowned more. ‘I’ll tell Scorpius; he and Rose can go -’
‘Except they haven’t done the reading on Draco’s accounts and resources; if they meet trouble, they might not be able to unravel it. You have to go, Al. Bring them with you, but you have to be there, and soon.’
He scowled. ‘I’m not sending you to Niemandhorn on your own. I’m not letting you go through that hearing alone -’
‘I have a judge on my side, and the Chairman of the IMC.’ She slunk closer and reached for his hands. ‘They have your written accounts. The die is cast, and all we can do now is wait. But finding Draco Malfoy? You can still influence that, Al.’ Her grip tightened. ‘Finish the job. They need you more than me.’
Albus glared at her for a moment, then looked away and let out a long, slow breath. ‘Fine,’ he said at length. ‘But when this is over - when I’m back and you’re pardoned - we’re having another conversation about this dinner. And maybe another dinner.’
I wonder, thought Eva idly, if I can convince the hearing to execute me instead.