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Chapter 53 : Power on this Dead World
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Knowing and knowing were two different things. Selena had seen Thane and her mother talk, she’d seen them leave the office together. Disaster struck Niemandhorn and not only was her mother fleeing the scene, she was doing so in the willing company of one of the world’s most dangerous men. The man Selena had once committed to hunting down across the world and killing.
She’d hunted him, alright. But still he lived. Maybe today was a day to change that.
With Harley left behind, so was most of the chaos of Niemandhorn. The shouts of combat, screams of pain, and flashes of magic and thudding rock faded into the distance as they ran down corridors, up stairways. Not many people worked in these upper levels of the castle. The Council was still occupied rounding up staffers from the lower floors. Only a trio of Thornweavers, lying in slick pools of their own blood when they stumbled upon them, gave any sign that Thane and her mother had run into trouble.
It did not look like it had been a lot of trouble.
Then their passageway reached the north tower, and a staircase spiralling up to the rooftop itself. Eva went press on, but Selena hesitated and grabbed her by the arm. ‘Wait.’
‘We wait too long, and they’ll take whatever escape route’s up there. They’re not going to sit around.’
‘Probably not.’ But Selena didn’t let go, gaze hardening. ‘I just want you to remember that we’ve left Matt behind to go after them. He might be a prisoner. He might be dead.’
Eva frowned. ‘I don’t need reminding of that.’
‘You’re about to confront Prometheus Thane, who’s going to do his best to make you his bitch again with just a word.’ Selena licked dry lips. ‘You really do need reminding of what’s at stake.’
Eva’s expression flickered. ‘That was a long time ago.’
‘And you’ll face him in about two minutes.’
They said nothing more as they hurried up the stairwell. Selena let Eva go first, tactical judgement overriding her anxiety. She wanted to rush, to race up to her mother and shake her, to make her explain how this wasn’t as it appeared. But if this turned into a fight, there was nobody better in the world to have on her side than Eva Saida.
So long as Eva Saida was on her side.
Images flashed through her mind with every thudding step up the stairs; everything her mother had told her, everything she’d seen of the Council. Then conjured scenes, flickering moments of her mother in dark lairs consorting with Prometheus Thane, with Joachim Raskoph…
The frozen winds of the Alps smacked her away from imagination and into the brisk present when they reached the roof. It wasn’t large, a mere rounded tower-top, and ice had settled underfoot enough to make an unexpected footstep treacherous. It was snowing, but not hard; snowing like they were a scene for a Christmas card, instead of hunting down traitors and terrorists at the highest point of all the world’s power.
Her mother and Prometheus Thane stood next to a pair of broomsticks at the far side of the roof of the tower, eyes on the skies, where dark dots sometimes swept through cloud cover. It took them a heartbeat before they noticed new arrivals, and the wind snatched snippets of his words across to them.
‘…hole in the patrol patterns, then we’ll go -’
How close had they been to leaving? How many more words with Harley, cautions exchanged with Eva, would have resulted in Selena bursting onto an empty rooftop?
That question stopped being so relevant when Thane spun at their footsteps, wand lashing out for a wave of biting air and shards of ice to sweep across at them. Selena threw herself down, her reflexive shield spell only taking the edge off the impact, and she felt the sting of cuts across her cheek. Eva, next to her, went down on one knee, but energy blazed around her, absorbing the onslaught.
‘Thane!’ That was her mother, moving next to her ally, and putting a hand to his forearm. ‘You can’t -’
Whatever Lillian was about to say was lost when Eva lunged to her feet. Her wand moved with her whole body, back and low and then forwards, crackling with a spell she flung with full force at Thane. He sidestepped, placing himself in front of Lillian, so could only Shield them from the blast.
As he staggered, Selena pushed herself upright. Her Stun might as well have been a light show for all the good it did; Thane’s wand still whipped to the side, blocked it -
- and sent it in a ricochet right back at her.
Bouncing back and forth, the spell had less impact. It was still enough to knock her again off her feet, and she hit the icy ground hard, gasping for air. Eva and Thane exchanged spells over her, but even at a glance she could see Thane was at a disadvantage only because he was protecting Lillian, too. Selena scrambled back up and did not raise her wand again, but stared at the wild-haired, pale-faced figure of her mother. ‘Mum! What the hell is going on?’
Except the wild hair was just from the wind, the pale face just from the cold. Lillian was no fighter, but she knew to stay behind Thane, she knew how to help a Shield, and she hid only by tactical expediency, not cowardice. But at her daughter’s voice, Lillian turned, and put her hand to Thane’s arm once again. ‘This isn’t necessary.’
‘I beg to differ,’ growled Eva, and send magic thudding into the masonry under Thane’s feet. Nothing happened.
The smile he gave in response was apologetic. ‘Magic stone, Eva. Can’t break it up, fling it about. It’s making fighting those golems hell downstairs.’
Selena hurried to her lone, crazy ally’s side. ‘Eva, we can’t -’
‘They can explain from inside a cell. And if this is all a misunderstanding, that’ll get cleared up there,’ said Eva through gritted teeth.
That’s actually a much safer idea. She was too shocked to feel as sick as she thought she should at the idea of turning her wand on her mother, but before she got to that point, she had to turn her wand on Prometheus Thane anyway. She didn’t, not yet, because Eva threw another Stun and when Thane retaliated, Selena knew her place - step closer, hurl her wand in unison with Eva’s, amplify her Shield so they were both safe, so Eva could focus more on bringing Thane down.
Not that he was batting much of an eyelid at these spells. But it looked, at least, like he didn’t want to hurl truly dark, dangerous magics at her, which meant that at least her mother held some sway over him and her mother hadn’t so completely lost her marbles that she was prepared to murder her own daughter -
‘Hey! You don’t get to finish this without me!’
Then Scorpius Malfoy burst onto the tower roof behind them, and Selena would have pointed out he was supposed to be on the other side of the world if she weren’t so damned pleased to see him. She actually saw Thane’s eyes widen at the fresh onslaught of spells from Scorpius, and while she doubted he feared another teenager joining the fight, an extra wand to fight couldn’t be ideal.
Thane had, thus far, been standing to block Lillian, holding his ground, protecting with magic over movement, but now he pushed Lillian away. ‘Stay down!’ he shouted at his apparent charge, before he bounded across the wide rooftop. His whole stance changed; no more was he solid rock, unbending against Eva’s spells, but fast, flowing, dancing away from as many blasts as he blocked, hurling his attacks back with irregular, jarring speed and accuracy.
‘What the hell is going on?’ Selena snapped yet again.
Scorpius yanked his wand up for a brisk Shield against Thane’s spell. ‘Your mother backed the Council when it was nothing but an array of mad dark wizards hiding in dark corners across the world.’ He ducked a blast. ‘She turned them into a threat so she could justify forming the Convocation, so she could seize power across the whole damned world. And then, when I died and they didn’t get Lethe, she charged Thane and Nat Lockett to bring me back so they still had their super-weapon.’
This was all said very fast, punctuated by bobs and weaves against the onslaught of magic, but his words hit her harder than, perhaps, the spells might.
‘You guys better have this!’ Selena yelled, and pulled back, letting Eva and Scorpius face off against Thane in unison. There was little she could do here except keep on Shielding, and even her inexpert eye didn’t suggest that was going to be enough. Eva was one of the most brutally competent fighters she’d ever seen and Scorpius had only got better, but Selena had seen Prometheus Thane fight Joachim Raskoph. They were in a whole other league.
Brute force wasn’t going to do this. But while Thane was up to his eyeballs fighting two of his protégés, a witch and wizards who’d learnt their best tricks off him, little Selena Rourke, no great shakes with a wand, remained overlooked. Even her mother’s eyes were locked on the fight, though she was moving closer to the broom.
Maybe she was securing ground. Or she was going to run, and the thought of that lurched in Selena’s gut bad enough to catapult her around the periphery of the fight. ‘Don’t even think about it, Mum!’
Lillian reeled at her daughter bearing down on her, raised her wand - and hesitated.
She doesn’t want to hurt me.
Lillian’s hesitation died, and then it was mother against daughter. The cold wind whipped between them, as fierce and biting as the spells they hurled. Selena wouldn’t have thought of her mother as a fighter, but she remembered stories of the odd encounter on her travels. They were both two inexpert combatants. But what they lacked in skills or talent they made up for in sheer frustration and desperation.
‘How?’ Selena demanded as a Stun blazed inches past her head. ‘How could you do this, how could you be working with Thane?’
‘He was a prisoner,’ snapped Lillian. ‘But he opposed Raskoph. Don’t be ridiculous, Selena, this is nothing more than an emergency measure to keep me safe. If there was an attack and he was free and my bodyguards were nowhere in sight, he was to evacuate me.’
‘That’s a lot of convenient “ifs”. You sent your bodyguards away! You attacked us!’
‘Of course he did!’ Lillian hurled another spell to be blocked, then pointed at Eva, still locked in a three-way throwdown with Scorpius and Thane. ‘She came at us, of course she hates Thane. Better to Stun you and explain it later, but I didn’t want you hurt, dear.’
‘No.’ Selena snapped up a Shield. ‘You’re just trying to hurt me now.’
‘You came at me -’
‘I’m not an idiot. This has all been a little too convenient, hasn’t it? Lethe’s outbreak just as the Convocation was going to fold. The only person who’s benefited from this disaster has been you!’
‘I have buried so many people -’
‘Mum!’ Selena lowered her wand, aware her frustration sounded more like a teenager in an argument. ‘Stop lying. I can tell!’
Except, apparently, that I haven’t been able to tell.
To Lillian’s credit, her expression barely wavered. To Selena’s, even the mildest of flickers on her mother’s face was like a road map to guilt after all their years of shared confidences, support, fear. ‘You wouldn’t understand. You’re too close to this.’
‘Why, because I spent years fighting the Council? Because they abducted me at least once, almost killed me at least once? Because they got my boyfriend killed?’ Her laugh was like acid. ‘No, why might I be close to this?’
‘I didn’t make the Council!’ Their spells had stopped flying by now, but still their wands were poised, ready, and they faced off like coiled springs. ‘They were always there, coming together. I even tried to stop them, but they were a fledgling group in foreign countries who might have disliked dark wizards, but they disliked Britain interfering in their work more. The world wasn’t policing itself for justice, using combined resources to be better or safer.’ Lillian’s lip curled. ‘It was about treaties, trade agreements, sovereignty. Profit and power!’
‘So, what, you helped the Council to show the world?’
‘The global wizarding world has been broken for a long time. The Council could prove a point, and I didn’t do much at first, I just didn’t fight tooth and nail against ungrateful governments to smother them. I turned a blind eye. I let unsavoury characters go where they shouldn’t, let information pass through hands. And so I gained power in their ranks as someone who could help achieve their goals, influence them. They were growing anyway. All I did was let them flourish.’
‘Better the devil you know, if the devil you know is going to try to wipe out a school.’
Lillian tensed. ‘Hogwarts and Phlegethon were not my plan. I objected, it happened. It happened to all of you and I was horrified and I hated it. But I did what I could.’
‘Like form an international government headed by you?’
‘Some of the Council were less extreme, and I put pressure on them. Together we had Thane hand over the Resurrection Stone because Phlegethon had proved its point, we saved -’
‘Methuselah died!’ Selena remembered sitting in the dark in front of his body, cold and alone until her mother came, until her mother made her a promise. ‘You said the people who’d done this would pay, Mum, you said - now you’re just paying them -’
Her wand jerked up, and so did her mother’s, but neither of them made another move. Lillian’s masks were broken by now, her gaze one of twisted, frustrated anguish. ‘The world is going to be a better place once this is over.’
‘And how many people have had to die for us to get there?’
‘You saw what the world was like! Magical power is enough to have us cross the globe in the blink of an eye, but still world governments put in limitations so they can keep control, taxation, trade. Threats were never opposed in unity, resources were never pooled.’ Lillian’s eyes widened. ‘France and Spain wanted trade agreements signed in exchange for offering help with Phlegethon. The entire reason you took the law into your own hands and hunted Thane two years ago by yourselves, as teenagers, was because the system didn’t work! The system couldn’t bring him to justice!’
‘You can’t use that as a justification!’ Selena almost screeched. ‘You can’t say the world needs to be changed because it wasn’t equipped to defeat a villain you created! The world wouldn’t need to respond to threats like Thane and the Council if you hadn’t propped them up!’
‘Don’t be so naive,’ Lillian sighed. ‘The Council made huge leaps and bounds without me. The Stygian Plagues happened almost entirely without me. People like Raskoph, Krauser, Horn, they all existed without me, and they would have done something. What if we weren’t in control of them?’
‘Merlin’s balls, this is why Raskoph came for me, isn’t it? Not because I was the daughter of his enemy. I was the daughter of the person using him.’
Lillian grimaced. ‘I don’t know at what point he realised I was playing him. But he needed me while we were getting Lethe distributed, so he did nothing. Until the night of the attack, at which point he didn’t need me any more. Since then, I’ve not done anything to help the Council, since then I have only fought them. He must have seen it coming; tried to snatch you so he could control me in the war.’
‘Okay, you know what?’ Selena had to grip her wand harder to stop it from shuddering. ‘Maybe I’m just a stupid teenager having a row with her mother, but the good news is that I don’t have to make the decision on condemning you. I bring you in. The world decides.’
‘The world.’ Lillian spoke to her, that time, like a mother condescending her daughter. ‘Do you think the world will listen, analyse, understand? Do you think they’ll realise how much better they will be in the years to come with the unity I’ve brought through the Convocation? Or do you think they will panic. Distrust their governments, go running to the hills. Set back not just global wizarding government, but all wizarding government, back two centuries?’
‘It’s amazing, I know,’ Selena sneered. ‘When you fuck up people’s trust, they stop trusting you. Maybe you should have thought about that before you embarked on a worldwide con with a body-count.’
‘Perhaps I deserve that consequence, but does everyone else? If you bring me in, that’s what happens.’
‘If I don’t bring you in, you get to keep riding to power on the bodies of every person the Council killed.’
‘They can’t be brought back.’ Lillian’s eyes flashed. ‘But we can make their sacrifice not be in vein.’
‘It’s not a sacrifice! It’s fucking murder!’ Selena clenched her free hand. ‘And maybe you’re right about the world getting screwed over if they learn what you did, but they’ll be screwed over by you if you think this is acceptable!’ Her breath was coming in ragged gulps now, her head floaty. ‘Maybe once you acted out of - benevolent frustration, but you went way beyond just letting evil happen. You could have let it end when Scorpius died. You refused.’
‘If I stopped then, it would have been for nothing. I regret everything that had to happen,’ said Lillian, and worst of all, Selena believed her. ‘But the world has to move forwards, not backwards.’
‘Not if it’s forwards into a lie. You can’t build anything good on that.’
‘Did I really raise you to be that naive?’
Selena let out a long, slow breath. ‘No. No, you raised me to survive and prosper at all costs, to put a brave face on everything and hide what I felt. And I believe you meant the best for me, too, Mum. But it almost killed me. And it’s no way to live.’
Lillian looked down at her wand. ‘It was always you and me against the world, Selena. This time isn’t any different -’
‘That’s not going to work.’ Selena’s throat started to close up. ‘By now I am pretty used to the people I care about abandoning or betraying me in some way, and I accepted you’d already done that long ago. Left me to deal with my grief and suffering, but I thought it was for a greater good. We are not the Rourke women against the world, not any more. Not in the way we used to be.’
She’d seen her mother keep her composure with only the slightest cracks so far. Those cracks had still been like rifts, flaws in the masks of a woman who lived for masks, who knew how to make the world see her however she wanted to be seen. But to see Lillian’s face go slack now was like watching all masks fall in an avalanche, and Selena knew this was the moment her mother realised she would never understand.
‘It’s going to be long and messy,’ Lillian whispered, her voice drifting across the frozen roof of the tower despite the whipping winds and blasts of the nearby fight. ‘Court cases and inquisitions and you’ll be dragged into the middle of this, you’ll be tarred with the same brush -’
Selena gritted her teeth. ‘I gave up on easy a long time ago. I never wanted this, but it’s here, for me and for my friends and I’ve seen too many of them break or compromise and -’
But then Lillian’s wand jerked back up, and the Stun almost knocked Selena off her feet before she Shielded it at the last second. And as the fight exploded back into being, Selena remembered one thing: Rourke women didn’t give up without a fight.
Across the rooftop, Scorpius was remembering that Prometheus Thane didn’t give up without a fight, either. Even against two of his protégés.
Perhaps that made it worse, he thought, when he saw Thane not simply block one of his Stuns, but catch it, energy crackling in the palm of his hand. ‘Mediocre,’ Thane proclaimed. ‘You know I have hanging shields up to absorb surface impacts -’
Scorpius glowered. ‘You know you’re a smug, murderous prick -’
‘Don’t get drawn into it,’ said Eva. She moved more like Thane, the same fluid motions, the same calm control. If possible, her eyes were even icier, more detached. ‘He’ll crawl in your head and get you angry and make you doubt yourself.’
Thane’s cold blue eyes flickered to her, and he parried her next spell as if swatting away a fly. ‘And you, my dear, will start with lighter spells to try to assess my weakness and then throw everything you have at what you think is a breach. A fine plan, except you’re always in favour of using overwhelming force, and what do you do if that doesn’t work and you’ve blown your best shot?’
Scorpius saw Eva stumble as she Shielded against his retaliation. ‘It’s worked so far.’
‘Of course.’ Thane inclined his head and side-stepped like flowing water. ‘You were never one to plan ahead. You win by sheer dogged determination and, often, pure nastiness. How’s that worked out for you since swapping sides?’ Eva didn’t answer, so his gaze landed on Scorpius. ‘And you -’
‘And me.’ Scorpius grinned, let his teeth show a little too much. ‘Feeling like projecting your daddy issues all over me yet?’
That actually got a flinch from Thane, and Scorpius lunged forward, taking a heartbeat extra to pool his magic before he hurled his next blast. Thane was hit on the shoulder, but with a spark of protective energies, and while he staggered, he stayed upright.
His eyes were even colder once he looked up. ‘Do you want to open that can of worms? Or will you stick to cute jibes, boy, while someone else does the heavy lifting for you?’ A gout of fire burst from Thane’s wand, and while Scorpius’ shield saved him from burning, the searing heat forced him back. ‘Do you have more than clever words? Perhaps some spell you learnt off Weasley or Potter which they can do better? Or are you going to try to distract me with a parlour trick of an illusion?’
Eva retaliated against the fire with a spray of water that came low, threatening to drench Thane’s legs and the floor under him, but he whipped his wand down. The water bunched together - then burst up, a protective wall of ice against which Scorpius’ next spell splashed harmlessly.
Her eyes fell on Scorpius, and her voice was low and tight. ‘Don’t let him crawl in your head. Just fight him.’
‘I don’t -’
Then Thane exploded the wall at them, and Scorpius had to throw himself to the ground to not be shredded by shards of ice. Eva held her ground, but she staggered under the force of keeping her Shield up, and when Thane’s wand lashed out again, his next blast hit her in the gut.
‘You know, my dear, I always expected better of you,’ Thane sneered as she hit the ground like a sack of potatoes, and to Scorpius’ horror, she didn’t rise. Thane turned to face him as he clambered to his feet. ‘Less so of you. Or are you going to blame someone else for how you can’t beat me? Your father, maybe?’
‘I’m not here for my father,’ said Scorpius, breathing coming raggedly. ‘I’m not even coming here for answers.’
‘Ah.’ Thane sounded bored. ‘Justice, then.’
‘Fuck that. Justice is what the wider world brings down. It’s you and me. You turned me into a weapon, you hurt and killed my friends, you killed Nat.’ Scorpius’ jaw tightened. ‘And it’s been you and me since the first, hasn’t it?’ Then he lunged, and the two of them burst into a fresh onslaught of magic and fury.
Scorpius ducked and weaved, he Shielded and blasted, and even managed one of Thane’s own tricks after a third volley when he caught an oncoming blaze of energy with his wand. It hung between them, crackling and sparking as they both wrenched at it, tried to bring it rocketing back under their control.
‘Of course you want answers,’ yelled Thane over the snapping of magical power. ‘You’ve got that question, the one you’ve always had: Why you?’
‘It doesn’t matter!’ Scorpius lied. ‘I know you used me. I know we weren’t trying to kill Raskoph together, we were building him up, even if he didn’t know it. I know you manipulated me into thinking rescuing Selena was my idea.’
‘Your father really did break.’ Thane wrenched his wand to one side and then the power exploded, knocking them both staggering back. ‘I wonder if you’ll break as easily?’
‘Except you don’t want me to.’ Scorpius reeled, catching his balance. ‘You want something better, don’t you? That’s why you sided with Lillian. You weren’t about burning the world to ashes; you actually believed, didn’t you?’ He saw a muscle twitch in the corner of Thane’s jaw and plunged forward, sending a swift array of sparking blasts against his defences, forcing him to parry and step back, and round they moved, round and round the rooftop. ‘You never wanted to be this inconsequential thug, but that’s what you are. That’s why you pretend to be better, to have a code, even though you don’t.’
‘If I didn’t have a code, you’d be dead in the Forbidden Forest -’
‘Kids weren’t supposed to die at Hogwarts! You weren’t being benevolent, you were following the damned plan. You would have killed Rose and I at Monte Carlo, but she beat you.’ Scorpius caught Thane’s next blast, deflected off into harmless thin air. ‘I know you’d have killed her or Albus or Matt at Ager Sanguinis, but Eva stopped you, the one opponent you didn’t expect. You’re smart and you’re powerful but you are nothing more than a brute for hire with delusions of grandeur.’
Thane’s lip curled. ‘And yet, you see so much of yourself in me.’
‘Of course I do.’ Scorpius grimaced as his next spell deflected off Thane’s shield. ‘Poor little rich boys with family names to tar us black, to make us fit so poorly in the shiny happy world? I don’t know if you wanted me to rise above it like you couldn’t, or if you wanted to break me and make me just like you. I don’t know if you knew.’
‘I don’t know if it matters,’ said Thane, but the superior glint was gone from his eye, nothing but icy cold left in his gaze. ‘It ends here anyway. And do you really think you can beat me?’
Scorpius cocked his head to one side, gaze flickering across the wide expanse of the tower, of Selena still locked in conflict with her mother, of the clouds beginning to part above. He drew a slow breath. ‘No.’
Then Eva Saida shot Thane in the back.
It had taken some time to manoeuvre their fight. Thankfully, Thane was a fluid fighter who liked moving. Thankfully, he’d assumed Eva down for the count. Thankfully, he’d become even more entrenched in the argument than Scorpius had.
‘You really should have worried about her more than me,’ he told Thane as he slumped to the floor, Stunned and stiff and unable to answer. Scorpius padded over and plucked his wand out of his rigid hand. ‘You didn’t make me. We’re not alike. You made her.’
‘Yeah,’ said Eva, getting to her feet with obvious difficulty, her voice thick. ‘But it’s harder for him to conjure this noble self-image if he’s comparing himself to an Algerian street rat.’
Then a blast of magic blazed between them, and they reeled to see Selena still locked in the fight against her mother, the odd spell going wild. Both turned, wands levelled on the pair, and Scorpius raised his voice as they approached.
‘Madam Chairman, I might submit you’re surrounded.’
Lillian looked from her daughter to the oncoming duo. It was as if she’d aged a decade in the last few minutes of fighting, as if the icy winds had carved new lines into her face. But she did lower her wand, and Selena’s heart stopped thudding in her throat.
‘This does no good for any of you,’ sighed Lillian. ‘Selena, you’re submitting yourself to a lifetime of being the daughter of the woman who betrayed the world. There will be nowhere you can go that will be free of that stigma. And if not for me, or not for my cause, or even yourself, then stay quiet for others.’ She looked at Scorpius. ‘How many people did you kill on my behalf when you worked for Prometheus Thane, Mister Malfoy?’
‘I remember,’ he said through gritted teeth. ‘And I’m done running from consequences. That’s a family legacy that needs to end. I’m ready to stand up and tell the truth; there are things I regret and things I’ve done that were wrong, but bring it on. How do you feel about your chances?’
Lillian’s gaze barely flickered before she turned to Eva. ‘And you, Miss Saida. Your pardon is more about politics than action. I even supported it. If the Convocation falls, if I fall, then how do you think it ends for you? You think they finish the hearing and let you off? Or do you think anyone ever associated with the Council of Thorns is getting pardoned? Especially a former agent who had my full support?’
Eva flinched. ‘I’ll be lucky to dodge a Dementor’s Kiss.’
Scorpius did tense at that. ‘We can take measures, Eva, we can explain things -’
‘Maybe we can, maybe we can’t.’ Eva lifted her wand a half-inch. ‘I didn’t try to change so I’d be forgiven. I didn’t try to be better so I’d be rewarded. If this is how it must be, then so be it. I made my peace with condemnation a long time ago.’
‘We’ve always sorted stuff out ourselves. The world can do it, too.’ Selena let out a low, shaking breath. ‘So, there it is, Mum. We get you out of here, and we will tell the truth.’
‘And even if you somehow get out of this and kill all three of us,’ said Scorpius, ‘Rose and Albus know it, too. My father knows it. The truth is out there.’
‘You might have wanted better for the world, Mum,’ said Selena, heart pounding so badly in her chest she thought it might break out. ‘And you might have wanted better for me. Maybe we even deserve better than we’ll get. But we don’t get what we deserve, and we have to pick what we can live with. I can live with these consequences. I can’t live with a lie built on all these bodies.’
Her mother took a step back. ‘This will ruin you, dear.’
‘I’ve been ruined before. I survived it.’
‘Not like this.’ Lillian’s expression creased. ‘I will not just roll over and confess. You have to make this stick. It’s going to be long months, maybe years, of the world going over everything that’s happened. And if you lose? What does that do to you?’ She took another step back. ‘And if you win? What does that do to you, to us -’
‘There’s no us, Mum, not any more -’
‘Selena.’ Lillian closed her eyes. ‘It’s always been us. My only regret in all of this is how I’ve hurt you. And I know, now, it’s inevitable that I keep hurting you. So all I can do is… what I must.’ And then she stepped up onto the edge of the North Tower, high above the thundering fall to rock and ice far, far below.
Selena lunged forwards. ‘Mum, don’t -’
‘What possible reason,’ she said, face creased into destroyed loss, ‘do I have to not?’
‘I’ve lost, even if you can’t prove this. The IMC will be destroyed by suspicion before I get cleared. Or they will lock me up and throw away the key. However it ends, one way or another, I will have nothing, I will be nothing -’
Selena was acutely aware that while Scorpius and Eva had their wands on Lillian, they weren’t moving or casting. Not when Lillian stepped up on the ledge, and not when she took one last step back. They could have done a hundred things, but still they hesitated, still they looked to her.
It was a morbid sort of acceptance that the choice was hers, but Selena wouldn’t call her reaction a choice. There was no decision to her legs catapulting her forwards, no resolution to her hands snatching her mother by the arms and dragging her down off the ledge a split second before she could plunge into nothingness. ‘Like hell!’
Lillian collapsed against her, defeated and shrunken in a way which made Selena’s guts churn worse than the revelation of her mother’s monstrosities. ‘Why -’
‘You don’t leave me again!’ Selena’s throat was raw as she shook her mother by the shoulders. ‘You don’t get to do this, drop this on me, and then just go! I don’t care about the world’s judgement, I don’t care what they decide, but you don’t do this and abandon -’
Which was when Prometheus Thane exploded with light.
Or, that was how it felt. Looking back, Selena realised she’d stopped paying attention to him as she fought with her mother. She’d stopped paying attention to anything - how the skies were clearing, clouds parting to show peerless blue, the rolling mountains of the Alps stretching away into endless white. How the black dots of broom-riding Thornweavers were gone, left for parts and reasons unknown.
And in that moment, the three of them were so focused on their agreed course and the condemnation it would bring that they weren’t watching how Thane was writhing out of his Stun, how he was pulling a second wand from somewhere inside his robes. How the wand-tip flared - and then blasted outward with blazing, blinding light.
It probably, thought a detached part of Selena’s brain as she screamed, wasn’t even that powerful a spell. A heavy-duty Lumos was not the worst thing in the world. But none of them were expecting it, and so they all reeled, dazzled. The best she could do by instinct was clutch her mother, a morbid mixture of a childish desire for comfort and a treacherous refusal to let her escape, but Lillian was as stunned as any of them.
Then came Prometheus Thane’s voice, calm through the chaos. ‘I’m very sorry, Ms Rourke. But it seems the game’s up, and I’m going to have to breach our contract.’
Thudding footsteps, the faint whir of magic of a broom, rushing air -
Selena was still blinking back spots when she saw Thane launching into oblivion on his broom.
Scorpius swore and ran for the second broom, the escape vehicle that was supposed to be Lillian’s. ‘A second wand, I should have remembered,’ he swore. ‘Keep her secure, get her -’
Which was when Eva Stunned Scorpius.
For one horrid moment, Selena thought there were triple and quadruple crosses going on, but Eva only cast the one spell, just enough to knock down Scorpius so she could snatch up the broom instead. ‘I’m sorry,’ she told his prone form. ‘But there are so many reasons it should be me, and not you.’ She swung her leg over the broom and turned to Selena, who was still trying too hard to catch up on her sight and everything going on to object. ‘Tell Albus - I don’t know.’ Eva made a low noise of disgust. ‘You’re good at figuring out what people really mean, and what they need to hear. Make something up. Tell him I said it.’
Then she launched into the air after the rapidly disappearing shape of Prometheus Thane.
‘Shit.’ Selena didn’t release her grip on her mother, but she did flick her wand at Scorpius. ‘Ennervate!’
The noise which tore from Scorpius’ throat was like a dying animal as he rolled onto one knee. ‘Damn it! Not fucking again, not -’
And Selena tried to not remember everything she’d been told about how Methuselah Jones died. ‘Scorpius! She’s right!’ she snapped. ‘She’s the best with a wand and she’s got the most fucking baggage and maybe that’ll help her beat him! But there is nothing we can do about it, and we need to get Mum -’
Then there were thudding footsteps from the stairway, and, still blinking black spots from their eyes, Scorpius still shaking off a Stun, Selena still shaking off revelation that her mother had spearheaded a global conspiracy to unleash dark magic on the wizarding world, neither of them were in any state to do anything but blink owlishly at the half-dozen Thornweavers who burst onto the rooftop.
‘Don’t move!’ snarled the lead one, who wore no dark robes and no masks, but levelled his wand at them like he meant business. Then he grinned. ‘Malfoy. Two Rourkes. Looks like it’s our lucky day. If you’re wise, you’ll throw down your wands and submit, as you should, to the Council of Thorns.’
Selena gawped at the dark wizard she would later learn was Erik Geiger. ‘And who the fuck are you?’