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Chapter 54 : We Die Together by One Doom
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‘It’s sick, Raskoph using golems,’ Matt rasped, still slumped with his back to the wall of the tiny office. ‘They were created by Jewish wizards, and usually to be protectors. Not to be stolen away and turned into tools, weapons. Especially not by a group like the Council.’
Rose finally tore her gaze off the door Albus had closed behind him. ‘You weren’t so condemning of the Templars for looting the magics in the first place.’
He struggled to sit up. ‘That’s not -’
She closed her eyes and let his protestations wash over her. This was not the time to argue, and it certainly wasn’t the time to challenge him on his occasional apologist tendencies. At the least, her criticisms of the Templars wouldn’t sound great after de Sablé. She turned back to him. ‘You’re our resident golem expert, then. How do we stop them?’
Matt paused and squinted. ‘You don’t stop them. They’re incredibly resilient, you know that. They absorb almost all direct forms of magic, and they’re very physically tough. Bombarding them with brute force is the one thing we’ve found which works.’
‘But Niemandhorn Castle is so bloody sturdy that there’s nothing to bombard them with.’
Harley sat on the desk with his jacket off, rolling up his shirt-sleeves. He still looked a bit grey. ‘I can’t go toe-to-toe with more than one again. And that there’s touch and go.’
Rose’s lips thinned. ‘You took down the dragon at Tomar, Matt.’
‘Because it was just one golem, and it was so huge I could get close to it and change the words of power imbuing it. That’s the only other way to destroy them or stop them. But they’re rampaging infantry; are you really going to pin one down and shove your hand in its mouth? And even if you do, that’s just one.’
‘What about wrestling control of them from Raskoph? That’s got to be possible; Eva did it to the golems in Ager Sanguinis -’
‘The golems probably have Raskoph’s name inscribed on their paper. Changing that will be what Eva did in Ager Sanguinis, but I don’t think the golems were active when she did that.’
She frowned. ‘Do you think they’re following Raskoph’s orders or the group’s?’
‘There are two ways to command a golem that I know of,’ sighed Matt. ‘The first is to give them a simple, ongoing command, like the golems in Badenheim. They were activated by the security wards and then they were set to kill everything in sight. But in that case, the golems are stuck in one place. The alternative is to write the name of the person whose orders they should follow amongst the words. And it has to be one person, not a group.’
‘So this has to be Raskoph.’ She looked up. ‘What I got out of the memories of this Thornweaver suggests they follow him, first and foremost. So Raskoph can order the golems to stand down.’
Harley snorted. ‘He’ll get right on that.’
‘Maybe if he’s forced to.’ Rose clasped her hands together and broke into a pace. ‘If he stands to lose something else, something better, instead.’
‘Do you have anything better?’
She paused, expression folding tighter. ‘What if Raskoph died?’
Harley’s eyebrows raised and the House Elf looked at Matt, who shrugged. ‘The golems should just… stop.’
‘Not even finish their last orders?’
Matt grimaced. ‘I don’t know. The dragon in Tomar went on a rampage, but I think the dragon was charged with defending that place and viewed it as under attack. This is an ancient form of magic; my conclusions are from comparing myths to what we’ve seen. I wasn’t even certain changing the words in the Tomar dragon would work.’
‘So it’s that easy,’ sighed Harley. ‘Force Raskoph at wand-point to surrender, or kill him. When he’s right now sat in the middle of the Convocation meeting chambers, surrounded by golems and his own men, with a bunch of prisoners to be used as hostages. Don’t suppose anyone knows his convenient weakness?’
‘I have it on good authority that he can’t fly,’ Rose snarked in a sing-song voice. She rubbed her temples, not because she needed to think, but because she didn’t like her thoughts very much. ‘Okay. I guess I have to go in there.’
‘There - where?’ Matt sat up with a groan. ‘Into the chamber?’
‘It’s where he is.’
‘And you’ll do what?’ Harley made a face. ‘Die excitingly?’
‘Not my plan.’ Hands on her hips, she turned to them. ‘Raskoph needs to die. We can’t kill him from afar. So the plan is simple: I’m going to go in there. And I’m going to kill him. At which point, the prisoners in the chambers, who are mostly guarded by golems, can overwhelm the remaining Thornweavers and then sweep through the Castle to help everyone else.’
‘You make it sound real simple,’ said Harley, ‘when instead you’re going to open the door and get your head blown off the moment you point your wand at him.’
Matt shook his head. ‘I fought him. He is a demon in a battle,’ he said, struggling to get to his feet. ‘At the least, you can’t do this alone.’
‘Matt, you have to stay here.’ She crossed the room and at the lightest touch of his shoulder, he slumped back down. ‘There’s nothing more you can do.’
Grey eyes blazed as he glowered up at her. ‘I know what you’re doing, Rose. I am not going to let you go on a pointless suicide run out of - of guilt.’
‘This isn’t a pointless suicide run, but I am guilty -’
‘You can’t balance the scales! A life for a life - it doesn’t work like that.’
She sank onto her haunches before him, feeling her guts coil around her heart. ‘No, it doesn’t. That’s not what this is about. I know what you thought of me when you yelled at me; you’d always wanted me to be better, stronger, these past two years.’ The clenching began to wind up her throat. ‘Not living or dying for the pain of losing Scorpius. And then I went and killed for the pain of losing Scorpius. You always wished me better than that.’
His movement was sluggish when he grabbed hold of her jacket, but fear and fury fired pistons in his hand to make his grip iron tight. ‘I’d rather you didn’t die at all, and certainly not because I said something bloody stupid -’
‘This isn’t about anything you’ve said or even anything I’ve done, Matt. This is about - about what we can live with.’
‘I don’t mean bloody killing myself, Matt. I mean that there is something that I can do, something that may save lives. And after all we’ve seen and done, refusing to even try? That’s something I can’t live with.’
She watched him chew on her words, watched him near choke on them, but then his jaw tightened and his gaze on her grew cold. ‘You come back. You hear me?’
‘I will.’ The promise tasted like ashes.
‘Do I get to stay here with him?’ Harley jerked a thumb at Matt.
‘I need you near me. Don’t come in the chamber, just get close enough to gauge the room.’ Rose turned to him. ‘When everything goes to hell, I want you to start Apparating the badly injured out of there. I don’t care where you take them, so long as it’s out of the firing line.’
Harley slumped. Not with, she thought, a reluctance to fight, but almost the opposite. For all his manner, he did not seem pleased at relegation to a support role in the coming scrap. ‘Do I get to get you out of there, too?’
Her lips thinned. ‘If you get a chance, sure. Don’t worry, he’s not going to just blow my head off.’
Matt grabbed the edge of the desk and hauled himself up to slump against it. ‘And why the hell not?’
She unslung her bag, flipped it open, and rummaged around inside until she found what she was looking for. ‘Because,’ said Rose, pulling out a small glass vial of a clear liquid, ‘he’ll want something I have.’
They left Matt sat on the desk, crumpled and worn, and Rose thought she wouldn’t swap places with him for the world. However high the stakes, whatever the consequences of her failure, her fate - everyone’s fates - were in her hands, while all he could do was sit and wait and wonder, helpless. But she was done being helpless. Done standing idly by, done only scrabbling for the desperate survival of her and her friends. So she had to do this, even if she was alone.
That was the deepest pang in her gut. Urging Scorpius to come back to her, when she wasn’t sure she could come back to him, and when she’d urged Albus to not go to him, not try to save him. But Albus had turned his back on her just the same, abandoned her just the same. There were no loyalties that could guide her, not to loved ones and not to morals.
What can we live with.
Harley disappeared from her sight a split second before she rounded the final corner to appear in the huge, double doors of the main entrance to the Convocation’s meeting chamber. It was as sweeping and grand as ever, a semi-circle falling down to the central platform. The seats were all occupied with cowed and disarmed witches and wizards of the IMC, watched and guarded by the forces of the Council of Thorns, though Rose counted three golems for every human Thornweaver.
Most eyes were on the central platform, which was a mess of broken glass and whipping winds. The huge windows granting that perfect, sweeping view of the Alps were shattered, and only Colonel Raskoph stood amid the wreckage, tall and still as iron even though he wasn’t saying a word. This did mean she had a split second before she was noticed, and then a golem was bearing down and a dozen Thornweavers rounded on her.
Rose lifted the clear vial, pointed her wand at it, and took a deep breath. ‘Everybody stay where they are, or I break this.’ The acoustics of the chamber carried her voice down even to Raskoph, the cold wind tugging at his dark robes, and she saw him lift his stone-hewn face.
‘Miss Weasley.’ The voice was so slow and deliberate she would have thought him uncaring if she didn’t know she’d already got his curiosity. She’d be dead otherwise. ‘Why should I care?’
‘Because this is something you want.’ Hoping her legs wouldn’t shake too badly, she started down the stepped aisle towards him, towards the chilled winds and his tall, impassive dark form. ‘Do you think I ran to the roof of the world, killed your men, and came away empty-handed? It wasn’t easy. There wasn’t much. But before Ultima Thule came down, I took a sample of the Styx.’
Raskoph’s frown was slight, but it was the most expressive she’d seen him. ‘Impossible.’
‘How do you think I kept Scorpius Malfoy alive? You know the Chalice was destroyed.’ She saw a Thornweaver twitch as she passed them, and stopped. ‘You could take this off me by force. You could try to Stun me or kill me or tackle me. But you have to be sure, damned sure, that you can do it before I blast this or smash it, or that you can recover even a drop - that even a drop will be useful.’
Raskoph opened his hands, and his eyes were dark even across this distance as he stared at her. ‘I went a very long time without the waters of the Styx.’
‘That’s true. But now you’ve lost Phlegethon, Eridanos, Lethe. And those were all pale shadows of what you could create with the original source. And maybe you could dig up Ultima Thule yourself, but that will take months, weeks, decades, and it will be watched. Guarded.’ She lifted the vial up a half-inch. ‘But if you walk away with this, today, your Council of Thorns has its weapon again. You only have so many golems, I bet, or you’d have used them before. But with this, you’re the threat you were a fortnight ago.’
‘Then why,’ said Raskoph, ‘are you offering this to me?’
Rose took a slow, dragging breath. ‘In return, you leave this people be. And you leave Niemandhorn.’
The silence was broken only by that wind howling through the broken glass. The skies were brightening, the clouds clearing, and Raskoph stood in the shattered window, a shadow against a shining, cold day. Then he lifted his hand and beckoned her closer.
Her every step felt leaden, clumsy as she descended past the rows of staring prisoners, suspicious Thornweavers, impassive golems, down to the central podium. Raskoph’s hands were still open, dark like the spectre of death welcoming her to his realm, and she tried to slow the thudding of her heart as she approached him. It was so loud she almost couldn’t hear, couldn’t think, though perhaps, Rose wondered, that was a good thing. If she stopped to think, she’d lose her nerve.
The platform was more narrow than she’d expected, and once she reached Raskoph they weren’t more than six feet from the jagged, broken windows. His hand curled before her. ‘You will, of course, let me examine it.’
‘And then you just take it off me.’
He cocked his head. ‘I will hardly let everyone here go on your word that this is what you say.’
It wasn’t enough. Not yet. But she couldn’t delay any more, and now was the time it would go very, very wrong, one way or another. Rose drew a slow, shuddering breath, and extended the vial. ‘You’re right to be cautious,’ she said. ‘Because I lied.’
Then she dropped the vial of mundane water, and the sound of it shattering came with the softest, collective sigh from the witches and wizards of the Convocation, their hopes dashed along with it.
Raskoph’s expression twisted through anger and confusion, and his wand snapped out. ‘Expelliarmus!’ Even if she’d tried, she couldn’t have kept hold of her wand, and the impact of even a mere Disarming from a wizard of his power had her stagger back. It wasn’t difficult to look terrified, to back off towards the window as his wand whipped up in her face. ‘What is this?’
Maybe we get our happy life but we let evil win; in the world by letting it prosper, or in ourselves by breaking all our own rules.
Or we sacrifice the personal for the bigger picture.
It still wasn’t enough, so Rose gritted her teeth, looked him in the eye, and said, ‘The last victory of Cassian Malfoy.’
That made rage win out over confusion, and Raskoph stormed forwards. ‘Last? There was no victory of Cassian Malfoy. I killed him, I defeated him -’
‘You may have killed him. But he defeated you, Colonel. He denied you Ultima Thule, then and forever, and you will never know its secrets, never unlock its powers. You may kill everyone here today, but you’re finished; a pathetic footnote of Grindelwald’s rise, a relic losing a war all over again.’
‘May kill everyone here today?’ He was in her face now, hand snatching out to grab her by the front of her jacket. It was like being clutched by granite, his gimlet eyes glinting with endless fury. ‘I will. And you last, you after I’m done with every torture, every punishment -’
‘May.’ Her throat was dry, voice coming out as rasping as his. It made her sound determined, Rose thought, instead of scared witless. ‘May, because Cassian Malfoy told me something, and now I know how to beat you.’ She snatched hold of his wrist, of his jacket, clinging to him just as tightly as he to her. ‘You can’t fly.’
Then she hurled them both backwards, out the shattered window, and into oblivion.
Cold air. Rushing winds. White everywhere; white of Niemandhorn Castle, vanishing with surprising speed, white of the Alpine peaks, white of the ice and snow far below, white of the passing clouds, broken only by the specks of blue and hope -
And the darkness of Raskoph, writhing with her, reminding her that her work wasn’t done yet. Round and round they tumbled as they fell, but then somehow she’d yanked his wand from his hand - but it went flying into nothingness, too, and he shoved her away, expression a rictus of rage and shock and, as he, too, realised what was happening, fear, and down they fell -
Scorpius. I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry -
Then a solid shape slammed into her from the side, hard enough to knock the breath from her, and distantly Rose thought she hadn’t seen any rocky outcroppings jutting out, and surely those would have hurt more, but now she wasn’t falling any more, and Raskoph’s black shape was still tumbling below -
‘I’ve got you! Hang on!’
And Albus clutched onto her as he dragged his broom up out of its wild dive. She was still too numb from shock and frost to do anything but be limp in his arms, though as they slowed she found she could curl her fingers in his jacket, found she could begin to think again, breathe again, maybe even speak again.
‘What the hell did you think you were doing?’ he bellowed, red-faced, almost shaking her as he brought the broom to a slow ascent.
‘I was - I -’ Words felt strange in her mouth, like her mouth was made for nothing more than screaming. She hadn’t expected to use them again, and so Rose just slumped there for long, thudding heartbeats more. Eventually she swallowed hard, and managed, ‘Killing Raskoph.’
‘And yourself?’ Albus shrieked. ‘Are you absolutely mental?’
Maybe, Rose thought, then squinted up at him. ‘What’re you doing here?’
‘I -’ He stopped at that, brought the broom to a halt. ‘Scorp and Eva chose their fight. But you asked me to stay. I didn’t get very far before I remembered I promised it would be different this time.’ His face slumped. ‘And that I wished we were better.’
‘If it helps,’ she slurred, light-headed and feeling a little drunk as the adrenaline worked its way out of her system. ‘This would have probably been your role in the plan even if you’d been there. But, good timing. Top marks.’ Maybe this was what it felt like to be Scorpius, Rose wondered. Doing stupid things and then saying stupid things. But she had to smile, a stupid smile splitting her face in two, and one Albus clearly couldn’t help but return. ‘Thanks.’
‘Any time.’ Albus looked up to the shattered window from which she’d leapt, and frowned. ‘I hope you had a plan for after this point. Or was that everyone else’s problem?’
‘The golems should be following Raskoph’s orders. With him dead, the Thornweavers are vastly outnumbered.’
They made it back to the window and into the meeting chamber to find the tables had turned. Golems were slumped, inanimate shapes, and their collapse and the chaos had made the Convocation prisoners fight back. A wand would beat a fist, but not ten fists, not at close quarters, and while there were witches and wizards with fresh injuries, the handful of Thornweavers had been overcome.
Albus set the broom down on the platform to a cheer from the survivors, and Rose decided to celebrate making it to solid ground by falling to her knees and throwing up. The world spun and churned around her, focus narrowing to nothing but the hard stone under her and everything her body was doing. It wasn’t supposed to be doing anything, she supposed, so nausea and tightness of breath and her heart clawing its way through her ribcage were all victories.
They burnt, though.
‘Here you go, girl.’ That was Harley, sitting down next to her and passing over his little handkerchief. ‘Reckon you can keep that.’
She wiped her mouth and blinked back watering eyes, and her voice rasped as she managed, ‘Thank you.’
Albus remained at her side, and she realised he still had a soothing hand on her back. She looked up to see a woman in the South African Crime Bureau’s uniform approaching, wearing a rather wry smile.
‘Warrant Officer Pretorius.’
Pretorius looked down at her, then back at Albus, and cocked her head. ‘You people don’t do anything by halves, do you.’
‘We like to be thorough in saving the day.’ Albus’ expression tightened. ‘There are people out there -’
‘And we’re getting wands in the hands of security and sending them out there. The Chairman hasn’t been found.’
‘North Tower -’
Which was when Erik Geiger and his Thornweavers appeared in the chamber doorway with the bound Scorpius, Selena, and Lillian Rourke to be greeted by a whole lot more wands than they themselves brandished.
Even from down here, Rose could see Scorpius beholding the sight of the liberated IMC personnel and beaming as he turned to Geiger. ‘Did you take us to the wrong place? We can try again.’
It didn’t take long before Geiger and his men were disarmed and their prisoners untied, but Rose got to her feet just as Albus grabbed Pretorius by the arm. ‘I need you to trust me,’ he told her in a low, tight voice, ‘and arrest Lillian Rourke.’
‘Or at least get a group of security guards you trust and hold her in confinement until my father gets here.’ His jaw tightened. ‘Please trust me.’
Pretorius looked at him like he was crazy, but she was gentle when she pulled her arm free. ‘Confinement I can manage. For her own safety. Under people I trust.’
Rose watched her as she hurried off, then felt herself swaying. ‘I may fall over again.’
‘Then it’s just as well I’m here!’ Scorpius had hurried towards them once freed, and now bounded across the platform to wrap them both in a bear hug. She clutched him so tight she didn’t think she’d let go again, and could almost feel the bewilderment in his embrace. He’d learn, eventually, what she’d done. But for the moment, the worst hadn’t happened, and she was here and he was here and they were all alive, alive, alive. Over his shoulder, she could see Selena still up at the doorway, watching Pretorius escort off Lillian. Matt had just made it to the chamber, probably hearing all the commotion.
She closed her eyes and gave up giving a damn about the rest of the world, though a cold crept in as Albus let go and said, in a heavy, apprehensive voice, ‘Where’s Eva?’
Frozen wind whipped in her hair, in her face, but the skies above were clearing, bright and blue and shining, and so the dark shape of Prometheus Thane as he streaked away was an easy target.
No more running. Not from me. Not from you.
They were neither of them brilliant fliers, but they didn’t need to play Quidditch or perform aerial acrobatics. He just needed to run, and she needed to chase. Maybe he saw her coming as they streaked through the icy skies away from Niemandhorn Castle, away from the battle and its devastation, and the devastation of the world that was to come with the truth. Maybe he was just playing it safe, but still he skimmed low, a dark shape against white snow, then turned towards the narrow passes of the nearby peaks. Niemandhorn Castle was at the top of Niemandhorn Mountain, but there was plenty of Alps left to hide in.
And she was in no mood for hide and seek.
Eva went high, picking up more speed out in the open, trying to keep a bead on Thane as his broom swung between narrow passes, jutting rock. If they got entrenched into a wand-fight, she was under no illusions she could win. He knew her every trick, had taught her how to fight, and he was better, still, more talented and more experienced and simply nastier. Even on the top of the tower she hadn’t fancied her chances especially, and then she’d had the help of Selena, had the help of Scorpius -
She ducked lower, picked up speed until she was sure she could see him almost directly below her, then dropped like a stone.
Ice sliced at her face, and she still had to veer to avoid juts of rock, to compensate for the wind sharp enough to cut. He was almost at the end of this stretch of crevasses and stony crests, but he was still looking up at her when she was close enough to see, and her lips thinned with satisfaction.
Yes. Look at me.
Her wand movement was conservative, and he was ready, so ready for her to bear down on him that when he emerged from the rocky expanse into the open and a dark shape lunged at him from his left, he only had his reflexes to go by. Thane veered wildly, spinning away from a threat he hadn’t quantified.
If he did quantify it, he’d realise it was an illusion. But the heartbeat’s panic to distract him was all she needed to breach his defences with a second wave of her wand, and then her broom slammed into his, sending the two of them careening into thin air, tumbling into the snow with an impact enough to knock the air out of Eva’s lungs.
But it also knocked the wand out of his hand, and thus was Prometheus Thane dismounted and disarmed by his oldest protégé using the favoured tricks of his latest.
She would have liked the symmetry if she hadn’t been too busy kicking him in the chest. ‘Stay the hell down.’
Thane sprawled onto his back with a spray of snow, and only when Eva stopped, gasping for breath, wand levelled on him, did she realise how damned cold it was out beyond the castle walls. For a long moment they stayed there, him flat and groaning, her trying to gather her wits. It took a minute before he lifted his head, aristocratic features rather wry, and said in an arch, superior voice, ‘Are you really going to use that, my dear?’
‘I,’ she hissed, ‘am not your dear. I’m not your weapon. I’m not yours.’
‘And yet, here you are. Chasing me when you didn’t have to. Furious at me when you don’t have to be.’ Thane pushed himself onto his elbows. ‘I’d say you care about me just as much as ever. So shall we stop pretending we’re at each other’s throats? There’s nobody else around.’
‘This isn’t a trick. I’ve not been playing white hat just to fool people. You need to be stopped -’
‘I,’ said Thane, ‘have been sitting in a prison cell. And before that, I’ve been fighting the good fight, killing members of the Council, saving lives. And do you really think that, once I’m away from here, I’m going to go on a rampage across the world? You know me better than that.’
‘It’s not about preventing you,’ she snarled. ‘It’s about making you pay -’
‘Giving me what I deserve?’ He cocked his head at her. ‘I saved you, Eva.’
‘You made me a weapon -’
‘You would have had a miserable existence in the miserable Muggle world and would probably be dead by now if it weren’t for me. I found you, I elevated you. I gave you a life.’
‘Sending me to a school, finding me a home - that would have been giving me a life!’ Her wand was threatening to shake so badly she had to hold it in both hands. ‘You took me under your wing because who suspects a nine year-old of being a spy? A fourteen year-old of being a killer? And then I was brainwashed, I was your - your plaything, so loyal to you because I’d never known anything else!’
‘My plaything?’ He looked genuinely sickened. ‘I raised you. I cared for you. I saw potential in you and wanted to give you a chance. Do you think I took in a child because it was convenient for me, travelling the world like I did? Have you truly been so turned against me you think me a monster in everything?’
‘I don’t - it’s not -’ She had to gasp for steady breathing. ‘I know it’s more complicated than that. But you still turned me into a murderer. Still made the choices for me before I really understood right from wrong. And I don’t - that isn’t the point, anyway!’
‘No, perhaps not. What is the point, then?’ Thane arched an eyebrow, somehow still in impeccable control even when sprawled on the snow at the top of a mountain. ‘For you to bring me into custody? Perhaps we can be cell-mates -’
‘I don’t -’
‘If your friends want to do the “right thing” and tell the truth - and the points against that have already been made - then Lillian Rourke is correct. There’ll be no pardons any more. There’ll be no benefit of the doubt. We’ll face the Dementor’s Kiss together. Does that make any sense to you? You do the right thing, I do the wrong thing, and yet, we’re still doomed, together? I don’t want that for you -’
‘Don’t,’ she spat. ‘Don’t pretend this is for me.’
‘I’m not thrilled at the idea of incarceration and losing my soul either. But what’s the gain, Eva? Practically, even morally?’ He lifted his hands. ‘You know me. You know I’m not one for petty vengeance. You know how much I’ve been paid for this job? A lot. Enough to go find a corner of the world, far from the fallout of the Convocation and the Council, and just live. Did we ever do that, Eva?’
She flinched. ‘You won’t be happy with a quiet life -’
‘I don’t do this for the thrill. I did it for the money and then, yes, I actually believed in Lillian Rourke’s vision. That’s why I’ve not cut corners, that’s why I’ve only killed when I had to -’
‘You are not the saint you think you are, Prometheus.’ Her jaw tightened. ‘You see yourself as a professional, but I know where I learnt to be petty and learnt to be nasty. I learnt it from you, because you know the value of being feared, and sometimes, just sometimes, you must be in control, whatever the cost.’
For the first time, she saw Prometheus Thane’s expression set in a way that suggested he wasn’t in control. But then he let out a slow breath. ‘Perhaps you’re right. The world does things to us, to us all. But now we have a chance, Eva. If we stay, we’ll be hanged to set an example, to show the world that evil must be destroyed. Not because anyone cares about what we did. Not because it makes anything better, or easier. Just so people can pretend they’re superior, pretend they’re safer, when all they want is the illusion at best, vengeance at worst. Really, Eva, who benefits from my condemnation?’
She could hear Albus echoing those words in her ears, except he’d said them to her, about her. ‘This isn’t about wider justice, Prometheus. I don’t care about the Convocation, or whatever comes after. This is about you and me.’
‘It is.’ He lifted a hand, slow and deliberate to not make her start. ‘So come with me. We’ll leave, we’ll go far away, and not be the thralls of wider powers who care about their security, not right and wrong. There’ll be a quiet, sunlit corner of the world, and we’ll make it our own.’ Then he smiled, that soft smile she’d for a long time convinced herself he didn’t turn on anyone else. ‘It’s what you always wanted, isn’t it?’
Something inside her seized up, and she didn’t know if it was revulsion or desire. It was what she’d wanted, over two years that felt like a lifetime ago, when he’d commanded her slavish devotion and she’d wondered, wanted, deep, deep down.
She stepped back, snow crunching underfoot. ‘Not any more.’
His gaze tensed. ‘No. Now you want him. Now he’s the master who lifted you up from what you were and made you his, and you’re just as blind as you were with me, so convinced it’s different. But you can’t have him, Eva. You can’t have your happily ever after. Did you think you ever would? A suburban house with a white picket fence and two and a half children; did you really think that would happen?’
Eva could taste bile. ‘That wasn’t the point. I didn’t change to get a reward -’
‘But you wanted it.’ Thane moved, now, rising to one knee, still slow and deliberate. ‘You wanted to not be the weapon. You wanted peace. You bring me in, all you get is torment and death. But we can go, Eva, we can find peace.’
‘You don’t deserve peace.’ Eva drew a shuddering breath. ‘And maybe I don’t, either.’
‘But the Kiss?’ Now his eyes widened and Eva realised the only thing she found scarier than when she’d thought Albus Potter was dead, was seeing fear in the gaze of Prometheus Thane. ‘We don’t deserve that. Or - or maybe I do, I don’t know, but I don’t care. I still saved you, I still brought you from that place, I still - maybe I did wrong by you, maybe I used you, but I still helped you and if you have anything, anything in your heart that resembles gratitude, you won’t surrender me to that…’
Her jaw tightened. ‘I can’t let you go, Prometheus, not after all you did to the world, to Scorpius, to me -’
He had to know it was helpless. He had to know he wouldn’t make it more than a split second’s lunge before she reacted, before magic sparked out the edge of her wand and hit him.
He couldn’t have known what spell she would cast. She didn’t know what spell she’d cast, until blood sprayed out from his chest and he fell with a guttural cry. He crashed back onto the ground, red rivulets spreading out into the snow, and before she could think she’d thrown down her wand, fallen by his side to pull him into her arms.
It wasn’t to help him. It wasn’t to save him, though she knew a dozen spells to staunch the bleeding or to subdue the pain, just as she’d known a dozen ways to knock him down without harm. But she still held him as he gasped, and he clutched at her, eyes wide, mouth working like a fish thrown on the shore. His breath wheezed, every rise and fall of his chest such clear agony, but his knuckles were white in their grip on her, and with every shudder her leaned closer.
‘I’m sorry,’ she found herself saying, the words like sandpaper on her throat. ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry,’ and over and over she repeated it, even as she made no move to save him. Her hand was brushing his hair back, then her fingers trailing across his cheek, those chiselled features of lordly mastery and control she’d only obeyed, loved in her way, now twisted with pain and fear. She pulled him closer, kissed his forehead, rocked him, and though there were a thousand things she could think, of how much she hated him and how much she owed him and how much she loved him, all she could do was keep saying she was sorry.
When he spoke, she thought it was a gasp of pain at first, but the croak became words, and she drew him in to hear it better. Hear the rattling breath, but then coming weakly - so, so weakly: ‘Go. Find some peace. Go. Go.
Then he went still, and neither breathed nor spoke again. And Eva Saida knelt in the snow, holding the body of the man who’d made her a monster, the man who had saved her, and did nothing but weep.