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Chapter 56 : As If Time Were Nothing
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‘You’re still here,’ Albus said before he could stop himself. It wasn’t an unreasonable reaction to entering his parents house and finding his brother still slouched on the sofa, reading the paper, but it still came out more undiplomatic than he intended.
‘Dad works long hours, I spend more time at home with Mum,’ said James, lowering the paper. ‘That’s how things work these days. Also, team’s off for Christmas. No games until the New Year.’
‘So you can eat whatever you like.’ Albus hadn’t missed the implication of these days, and tried to not bristle. It was a long road to peace, even if he’d been home-bound since Niemandhorn. With Rose flitting between London, Ottawa and Baffin Island, and Scorpius still in jail until that morning, he’d had little reason to go elsewhere. And James was right; Ginny appreciated the company while Harry was up to his eyeballs in the latest global disaster.
At least this global disaster had an end date. He hoped.
‘For a bit. Mum’s out, by the way. Lunch with Luna. I think she’s making the most of freedom before Lily’s back on Friday.’
‘Hell.’ Albus blew out his cheeks as he hung up his coat. ‘End of term came suddenly. I lost track of time.’
‘You’ve had a lot on your plate.’ James tossed the paper down next to him. ‘You okay?’
‘Better now Scorpius is out. Punishing him would have been stupid, a complete scapegoating. It’s just as well his father’s been a decent man for once in his life and pulled through for him. Least he could bloody do, considering half of this is his fault.’
James raised his eyebrows. ‘Cranky Albus. This is a new one. Anyway, there’s post for you.’ He reached for the coffee table and tossed a thick letter over.
Albus caught it, and squinted at the handwriting. ‘This is from Gregory Goyle.’
‘And I don’t know who that is.’
Albus sighed and opened the envelope, only to find a short note and another, smaller envelope inside. He turned the note over, muttering as he read. ‘Potter, Suppose I’ll see you soon with it all ending. Put in a good word for me at the hearing for helping you find Draco, I hear he’s going to be really useful. Anyway, I got this yesterday with a note to get this to you, I don’t know why it couldn’t be sent direct so remember I did you this favour, too. Sincerely, Greg Goyle.’
Then he turned over the envelope and saw just Albus written, and once again he recognised the handwriting.
His feet were catapulting him to the back door before he knew what was happening, vision blurry, air rushing in his ears so badly he didn’t hear James’ confused calling, and he couldn’t breathe, couldn’t think until he was back in the cold, crisp air of the frozen garden. His fingers fumbled so badly as he opened the envelope he almost dropped it, but then the letter was in his hand and he had to blink hard before he could read the words, her words.
I don’t know how to do this, so I’ll start with the simple things. I’m sorry. I’m sorry you have to hear from me like this, I’m sorry I can’t explain face to face. I’m sorry there’s anything to explain. And I’m sorry for more complicated things, too; I’m sorry I wasn’t someone else, someone simpler, someone you deserved. You’d shake your head at that, but the truth is that even when I tried my hardest, I brought you as much awkward pain as anything else, and you should have had better. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Yes, I used Goyle to get this letter to you so you wouldn’t trace it. He’ll be in custody in Delhi by now, and by the time you talk to him and maybe, if you’re very lucky, find out where I sent this from, I’ll still be gone. I will remain gone.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t running to avoid punishment. I don’t know if Scorpius or Selena told you what Lillian said on the North Tower, but she was right. My pardon hearing wasn’t about forgiveness, it was about politics. That was true when it was guaranteed I’d get off before the Niemandhorn attack, and it was true when the truth about Lillian destroyed my every chance. A group of old witches and wizards listening to what I’ve done and deciding if I get punished based off the state of the world isn’t justice. If I am to be condemned, I’ll be condemned for myself and my own deeds. If I am to be forgiven, I’ll be forgiven because I deserve it.
But I don’t think the world works like that. I don’t think forgiveness comes all at once, I don’t think you do enough things and then the scales tip and you’re redeemed. Maybe I saved a lot of people in Cape Town, maybe I even helped a lot of people working for Baz. I definitely hurt and killed innocent people before that. Just as being pardoned by politics won’t wipe the slate clean, being locked up for politics won’t be any more fair.
Perhaps fairness doesn’t exist. Perhaps forgiveness doesn’t exist, and perhaps redemption doesn’t exist. But I think I need that uncertainty. I think I have to chase them, work for them, and maybe that takes forever. But it must be done, and that’s why I left. I wasn’t only running away from being locked up. I was running away from you.
When I’m with you, I feel like I’m already forgiven. When I’m with you, I don’t want to chase anything. The world stops. I’m home. I can’t have that. Not yet. Maybe not ever. I know that’s not fair to you, to leave you and to give you that uncertainty, but staying isn’t fair, either. Making you stand by as I get locked up. Or even trying for a real, normal life with you, because we can’t have that, either. Let us be honest: I was not going to sit with your family over a Christmas turkey dinner (apparently that’s what you do) with a big decorated tree and a lot of presents. You can protest all you like, but I know imagining it sticks in your throat. That’s your world. I’m not of that world.
Maybe we could have made it. Scratched out some balance between your world and mine, and met in the middle and built something for us both. I don’t know. But I know I’m not ready to find out, and I doubt you are, either. You have your promises to keep, and I would take you away from those.
My whole life, you have been the only thing that’s real. I think that’s part of the problem, but it was also the answer. I didn’t change for you, I didn’t change so maybe I’d deserve you or maybe you’d love me. But I did change because of you. You saw the person I could be, and because I believed in you, I believed in that person. You showed me I could be better, and the world forever despises disappointing you, Al. I feel like all I’ve given you is a road of strife, punctuated and ended in heartbreak and disappointment, but you have given me everything.
I should end it there, because I owe you an explanation and I’ve given you one, and anything else is cruel, salt in the wound for us both. But I’m going to be selfish, and I’m going to write more.
I wish we could have that life. I wish I could sit at your family dinner table and I wish I had actual things to talk with them about. I wish I could understand what Hogwarts was to you, I wish we could have drinks and dinners like normal people, I wish we could have some hideaway of our own that wasn’t my wretched safe house. I wish I could give up this chase and return to you and just try, and even if we failed, be with you and have you and be yours. These wishes are what will keep me going. Those, and the memories of everything we did have, every time you made me feel like a person, real and whole and caring. They will be my road map, my comfort on cold dark nights, my reason to keep going.
It’s selfish of me to say that, because I also want you to have a proper life, and I know that’s harder if you wait and you hope for an end to my journey which might never come back to you. But even more, I know you’ll do as you choose regardless of what I say. I know I can’t make you give up on me, because you couldn’t make me give up on you. Make no mistake, the road ahead is long and it is hard and it may be the death of me. I wish I could promise I’ll come back to you. I can’t.
I’ll end this now, and send it before I lose my nerve and burn the whole thing.
My whole life, you have been the only thing that’s real.
With all my love,
Albus didn’t know how long he was out there. His grasp of time had been thrown in the first place by his trip to New York, and so now he just sat on the patio step with the letter and waited for the cold wind that numbed his hands sink in to numb his blood and heart. The sun was dimming by the time the back door swung open and James’ voice came, gruff and awkward, ‘Hey.’
A silence, then James sank onto the step next to him and, stiff at first, threw an arm over his shoulder. ‘You’re going to be alright.’ Then his grip tightened, and an urgent warmth crept into his brother’s voice, and despite everything Al found himself leaning against James as all their cold defences shuddered into dust. ‘We’re going to be alright.’
‘I’m sorry for asking you to come all the way out here. Getting into Niemandhorn right now is a security nightmare, or I’d have come to you…’
Adeline Bachelet waved an imperious hand and, despite her advanced years, could still do so with enough of a commanding presence to make Rose shut up. ‘I am not tied to Niemandhorn. And the archives are shut down while these security arrangements continue. I have friends in Britain; I did not come here only for you.’
Rose hadn’t been sure where to have this meeting. Inviting Bachelet to her home, her parents’ home, would have made this too personal. But she was aware of the delicacy of the situation, and so a public space hadn’t been an option. In an abuse of the last bit of authority she possessed in her project to secure Ultima Thule, she’d commandeered an office in the Ministry, and didn’t feel all that guilty about it. This was, after all, the last piece of business in the discovery.
‘Though I should be thanking you,’ said the steel-haired Bachelet, sat straight-backed in her chair, peering at her over half-moon spectacles and appearing altogether more like a reproachful schoolteacher than a grateful supplicant. ‘It would appear that you, Miss Weasley, saved Niemandhorn.’
‘You’re welcome.’ Rose had found gratitude much easier to deal with when she’d started saying that and moving on. Indulging it felt like a lie. Dismissing it never worked. ‘But I -’
‘I am a little bitter, however, that you denied me an encounter with Raskoph.’
Rose wondered if she’d made a tactical error in not going to the archives and press-ganging Bachelet into her rescue operation. Then she saw the faint shake in the elderly witch’s hands, the way she had to squint without the help of her glasses, and suppressed a groan. Joachim Raskoph had still been a formidable fighter after a hundred years. Adeline Bachelet had tended a records room of the ghosts of her past, not kept in practice with a wand. ‘I’m sorry,’ she still said.
She was rewarded with a wry glint of the eye, and realised the other woman wasn’t serious. ‘I should have liked to have seen the look on his face when he was beaten. I will settle for him being beaten. It is a good compromise.’
Rose dropped her gaze and reached for her bag. ‘That’s sort of what I wanted to talk to you about, Madam Bachelet.’ She saw the older woman’s expression flicker, wondered if she’d used the right honorific, but without a correction forthcoming, just continued. ‘You gave us Cassian’s journal and… and I think you should know that we managed to decipher it.’
Bachelet rammed her glasses on. ‘You -’
‘The writing you could see was gibberish. He also wrote in an invisible ink, and we found a way to reveal it.’ She put the worn, leather-bound notebook on the desk between them, along with the small drawstring pouch. ‘It’s in there. I tucked some notes in the journal for how you make more. There’s, um, also his watch in the pouch -’
‘His watch -’
‘He did find Ultima Thule, Madam Bachelet.’ Rose tried to stop her voice from croaking as she saw the older woman’s face slump, and she knew she was looking down a road not taken. ‘He found it, and he died stopping Raskoph from unlocking it. If he hadn’t, Raskoph might have become a second Grindelwald eighty years ago, could have done unspeakable evil. But he didn’t. Because of Cassian.’
Bachelet stared at the journal and pouch. ‘How do you know all of this?’
‘We found Ultima Thule. We found his body.’ She hesitated, knowing she would want the truth, knowing she had wanted an awful lot that was bad for her. But it looked like Adeline Bachelet was too far down that road to turn back now. ‘We found his ghost,’ Rose said at last. ‘He couldn’t rest so long as Raskoph was undefeated. We spoke with him. He helped us.’
Bachelet half-rose in a jerk, reaching for the journal before stopping herself. ‘Is he - did he - does he still -’
‘He’s passed on. With Raskoph’s defeat.’ Perhaps before, Rose thought, but she didn’t want to speculate. She’d returned to the frozen wastes of Baffin Island, seen the shattered mountainside of Ultima Thule, and over the long days there, had seen no sign of the spectre of Cassian Malfoy. And he was a Malfoy. If he’d been there, if he had anything to say, he’d have said it. She swallowed, hard. ‘He’s at peace.’ I hope.
Bachelet’s fingers curled before she could grasp the journal, and she spent a long time just staring at the measly array of personal effects which were all that could be returned to her of a life she’d lost. At length, she drew a shuddering breath and said, in a voice, almost too small to be heard, ‘Thank you.’
Rose looked down, and willed herself to end the meeting there. She instead found herself speaking more. ‘I think you should know that I couldn’t have beaten Raskoph without him.’ His information on how a mere mortal couldn’t bloody fly hadn’t been a revelation, but that wasn’t the point. ‘He might have died, but he - he taught me a lot. Showed me a lot. I wouldn’t have had the guts to try what I did, if it weren’t for him.’
‘To try what you did.’ Bachelet glanced up. ‘You mean, a foolish sacrifice?’
He’d regretted it, Rose remembered. Or, that was what he’d said after eighty years in the cold, with nothing but the memory of the woman he’d loved and left behind for company. And she’d clung to that knowledge when deciding to kill de Sablé, clung to the idea that a heroic sacrifice for a greater cause could also be a horrendous mistake. And then she’d been in the same position as Cassian Malfoy, and had done the same as him.
She wondered if he’d have still died if he’d let the people he loved go with him into danger. And then her mind sheared away from that thought, because she suspected it was one which would keep haunting Adeline Bachelet for the rest of her life, and Rose had spent enough time down that path for her own lifetime. She was lucky. It was, now, the road not taken.
‘I mean,’ Rose said at length, gently, ‘Not letting evil win. In the world, or in ourselves.’
The funeral was a subdued affair, because not a lot of people wanted to attend the burial of a traitor who had masterminded the return of a supernatural plague to the world. There were no government officials, none of the people who had attended her awarding of an Order of Merlin out of formality. Only by stubborn deflection of Hermione Granger had the medal not been stripped posthumously. It was only the closest of friends and the closest of family who gathered in the Glastonbury cemetery on a frozen December’s day, and watched as the gravestone erected in the memory of the living Scorpius Malfoy was taken down so the ground could become the final resting place of the dead Nathalie Lockett.
‘I think she’d like that,’ was the only thing her bereaved husband said to Scorpius, because Scorpius left as soon as possible afterwards so he didn’t have to see a Quidditch legend cry.
He lingered at the gravestone next to Lockett’s, which was the second reason he’d urged them to use his old plot. Methuselah Jones’ headstone looked even older and shabbier next to the brand new, gleaming headstone for Lockett, even if it had been there a mere three years, three years that felt like only one to Scorpius.
Selena was already there. She hadn’t really joined the gathering for Lockett, but had stood at the edges, trapped between two memorials for the lost, and she barely looked up when Scorpius slunk to her side. ‘There should be more people here,’ she murmured.
‘There should.’ He frowned at Methuselah’s gravestone. ‘Do you ever wonder what he’d think of all this?’
‘I try to.’ Her brow knotted. ‘But this is all so much more mad than it was back then. He’d be so different if he’d lived, wouldn’t he? And so would we, but I mean, if he’d gone through everything with us… it was all so long ago. He was with us in a different lifetime.’
‘Literally, in my case.’ Scorpius looked over. ‘How’re you holding up?’
‘With my Mum as the new Grindelwald? I’m just dandy. And a social pariah. The only reason I can show my face out the house here is because this is a funeral for another pariah. So I guess Lockett and I have something in common at last after all, and now I have a similar, overwhelming urge to drink a distillery dry -’ She stopped herself, nose wrinkling. ‘Sorry. I know she was important to you.’
‘Doesn’t mean I’m not angry at her, though.’
‘Then I guess you and I have more things in common.’
Scorpius slunk closer and wrapped an arm around her. ‘I know it’s different for everyone. And I know you don’t have a long and distinguished history of hating your mother all along. But I get it. I get hating someone and loving them. I get how it makes you feel like a terrible person for loving a terrible person, and I get how it makes you feel guilty for hating someone so important to you.’
‘Yeah.’ Selena blinked hard. ‘I don’t suppose you’ve got any answers for how to deal with it?’
He pursed his lips, felt the cold winter wind whip across them, bringing with it the odd snatch of words from the gathering around Lockett’s grave. ‘You know,’ said Scorpius, ‘I really don’t. It just sucks. But you’re not alone.’
‘I know.’ She looked up at him. ‘Not everyone we love abandons us.’
‘Some of them do crazy shit in our name.’
‘Like dangerous rituals with a body-count?’
Scorpius winced as he heard the double-meaning, and knew Selena had been probing him. He also knew, from the glint in her eye, that she’d measured his reaction perfectly, and so it was with a hint of pettiness that he said, not unkindly, ‘Or get their hands cut off trying to save us.’
‘Hand,’ Selena sniffed. ‘It was only the one time.’
It was odd to be able to laugh at this. ‘Oh, Selena Rourke plays with live Bludgers -’
‘Please, Scorpius.’ She tossed her hair. ‘I can get away with this. I’m the only person as terrible as you.’
He wanted to protest that, but knew it would come across as only self-pitying. So he just leaned over to kiss the top of her head, and let her go. ‘Take care of yourself. You know where to find me.’
‘I don’t; I lose track of if it’s Al or Rose that’s your keeper these days…’
Keeping his laughter down, he left her to her thoughts and her farewells, left her to this private moment with Methuselah Jones he could only be glad he didn’t understand. Rose joined him, catching his hand as they slunk away from the final echoes of the funeral, but they didn’t say a word as they headed for the cemetery gates. Only when they got there and saw a figure waiting, tall and aristocratic and almost humming with apprehension, did Rose lean up, kiss him on the cheek, and say, ‘I’ll see you later.’
He didn’t begrudge her leaving, with a crack of Disapparition and what felt like a gust of chillier wind at her vanishing. She knew what she was doing, and she knew it was best he have this conversation with his mother in private.
‘So you’ve de-disappeared,’ he said as he crunched over, pulling his winter coat closer around himself like a shield. ‘Astonishing; you’re nowhere to be found in times of trouble, but once the coast is clear, back you come.’
Astoria’s face creased with dismay. ‘Darling -’
Scorpius tightened his jaw and he glanced at the cemetery gates. ‘Not here.’ Others would follow soon enough, so he gestured down the path winding towards trees stripped bare by winter, even autumn leaves turned to dust to leave only hard ground, cold bark. ‘Couldn’t come in to the funeral? Thought it might look bad if someone caught you paying your respects to her?’
‘I thought I would give you the space to grieve of your own accord,’ said his mother, falling into step with him. ‘But I came to see you as soon as I could.’
‘Like hell,’ he scoffed. ‘Correct me if I’ve got any of this wrong. Erik Geiger identified you as a prisoner he wanted to take alive in South Africa. This rattled you, made you think maybe the Council had plans for you, or intended to use you against me or Dad. So instead of, I don’t know, coming to me for my help, or even to give me support, you decided to disappear. To save your own hide. And you didn’t come back when Lethe was destroyed because Dad was out there somewhere, and you’ve only come back now because he’s in a prison cell and the world has it on good authority you’ve not done anything wrong.’ His lip curled. ‘Legally.’
Astoria wrung her hands together. ‘I thought he was a part of the Council and was with them, not on the run from them. When Geiger identified me I - I panicked. It sounded so like your father to use his goons to grab me, bring me back under his control…’
Scorpius’ shoulders slumped, and he glared at a nearby tree so he didn’t have to see his mother’s blossoming panic at old memories. ‘Yeah, he’s a real piece of work. I do know that much.’
Silence reigned for long moments, broken only by the rustling of bare branches and the whipping of winter wind as they wound their way further and further from the cemetery. ‘Did you speak with him?’ Astoria asked at last.
‘I did. He’s the reason I’m free,’ Scorpius sneered. ‘He can’t bring himself to be a decent father, but he can throw himself on his sword for me. Like the big gestures make up for a thousand smaller cruelties.’
‘He knows what he’s supposed to do as a father.’ Astoria’s voice was low. ‘He knows he’s supposed to put family first. But he gets muddled up, views family as a concept, and puts that concept before the actual people.’
‘It’s why I had to get away from him -’
‘I know.’ Scorpius stopped, closing his eyes. ‘And - and I’m not angry at you, not really. I don’t think I resent you for leaving. Leaving home, or hiding this last month. I know we’re both what he made us. Though he’s also what his father made him, and his, and onward. So eventually I have to stop being understanding and blame someone, and I change my mind each day on who that’s going to be.’
‘I know I was weak, but if I thought of you, I was just going to be his prisoner forever -’
‘Don’t.’ He felt her hand on his arm and flinched away. ‘I don’t have to blame you to still be hurt by you.’
When he opened his eyes, it was to see his mother’s eyes - blue, that gentler blue that softened his own, that he knew gave him the twinkle when he laughed - swimming with tears. ‘If you want me to leave you alone, Scorpius, I understand that need.’
‘You’ve left me alone for five years,’ he groaned. ‘Or, well, um, longer, if you take into account me being dead. I don’t… I don’t know what I want.’ He kicked at the path, sent pebbles scattering worse than his fractured feelings. ‘I mean, I do, but that takes a Time Turner.’
‘Scorpius, I think we both tried our best for you -’
‘No! No, you didn’t!’ He rounded on her now, but he was childishly indignant instead of righteously angry, and all but stomped his foot. ‘You two both did what was best for yourselves. Neither of you put me first, ever. The first person who ever did was Albus, and the first adult who ever did that for me was -’ He faltered, and stabbed a furious finger back the way they came. ‘I just had to bury her!’
‘Nat Lockett -’
‘Believed in me! Talked through my worries! Put down my fears! And now she’s the one the world sees as a bloody monster, because she kept on putting me first until it condemned her!’ His chest heaved, even though he’d not said much, not walked much, and he could feel his breath tightening. ‘I don’t like what she did. I wish she hadn’t; I hate that she bought my life at the cost of hundreds. But you know what? I wish that once, just once, you or Dad had done what she did and put me above all selfishness or sense or even morality. Just once!’
His words echoed through the bare trees and bounced back in his face, and Scorpius had to turn away and swipe at his eyes because it felt too much like vulnerability to cry over Nat Lockett in front of his mother.
Astoria didn’t reach for him again, and it took a long time before she said, her voice very small, ‘I’m sorry. I wish everything had been different. I wish I’d been better. I wish I’d been stronger.’
And what, Scorpius thought with a wry twist of the lips, can anyone say except that? His throat was hoarse when he said, ‘Dad asked me to give him a chance. You know, visit him while he’s in prison, maybe try to rebuild a connection.’
‘Are you going to?’
‘I’m free because of him, I feel I should.’
‘Draco Malfoy,’ said Astoria in a low, taut voice, ‘is exceptionally good at turning emotions into transactions. We both know that’s not how they work.’
‘Maybe. But I guess the least I can do is visit him.’ Scorpius swallowed hard, not against grief, but against apprehension that rose from his gut with bile. It was an old apprehension, a childish one, and though he was a grown man who’d faced death and disaster over and over, this was, perhaps, more powerful. ‘And maybe the least you and I can do is try. Not with him. With - with us.’
When his mother pulled him into a hug and burst into tears, it was enough to shatter that apprehension, so ancient it had sunk into his bones and started to feel like truth. Because he’d whispered it to himself over and over since she’d left, and since she’d failed to be there in his many hours of need, and it was so easy to believe that his mother simply hadn’t given a damn about him after all.
But they were both what Draco had made them.
A/N: I guess that makes this the penultimate chapter? If I'm not counting the epilogue as a chapter in itself? Though the epilogue is still integral to closure? But yeah, anyway, the end is nigh. Getting scary, isn't it?
For those who're still interested in my work regardless, I have started to post chapters of my new fic, Not Fade Away! It's a Marauders Era story, which I didn't think was my cup of tea either, but here we are. Promises to be just as epic in scope as the Stygian Trilogy... if not with a slightly slower update schedule thanks to a change in life circumstances.
Obviously I'd hate to lose touch with so many of you who have been great readers and reviewers; you truly are the reason I've stayed in fanfic in general and this fandom in particular. I'll gush at you more probably in two updates' time, but, yeah. I don't just want the reviews (I do want the reviews). I'd miss you guys.