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Chapter 57 : When All Our Wars Are Done
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Scorpius’ reunion with Astoria lasted maybe another hour of awkward conversations and tentative plans for the future. By the time he got to the hotel suite, dusk was gathering and he wanted nothing more than to lock himself away from the world and get some rest. But Rose was curled up on a comfortable armchair with a book, and while the sight of her smoothed some woes, it rattled others. He’d only been out of jail a day, and there’d been no time for anything more than reunions and catch ups and funerals.
Her smile was soft, but apprehensive. ‘How’d it go?’
‘We’re going to talk more. Spend time together. My father can’t try to control her life from prison. She’s got less reason to drop me like a hot potato.’ He took longer than he needed to in hanging up his coat, to give himself time to get his expression under control. ‘At least there wasn’t any press at the funeral. I thought they might try to turn this all ghoulish.’
‘They have more exciting things to write about than us these days.’
He turned, smile not entirely forced. ‘They have more exciting things to write about than me. They should be writing about you. “Rose Weasley, Vanquisher of the Council of Thorns.”’
Her nose wrinkled. ‘I didn’t really vanquish the Council. I pushed their leader out a window.’
‘Fine. “Rose Weasley, Defenestrator of Dark Lords.”’
‘I wouldn’t call Raskoph a Dark Lord…’
He folded his arms across his chest. ‘You keep this up and I’ll start introducing you as: “This is Rose, she tackled this old guy out a window once, it was kind of weird.”’ He watched her laugh, but saw the apprehension linger in her eyes, felt it linger in his own gut, and before he knew it he’d blurted, ‘We have to talk.’
Rose looked away with a frown, closing her book. ‘Huh. That’s new.’
He bit his lip as he padded over. ‘I’m better at communicating -’
‘I wasn’t being snide. I just had a very domestic-feeling lurch of the stomach. I’m used to my stomach lurches being death-defying.’ She grimaced and tucked her springy lock of hair behind her ear. ‘Sorry. I’m doing a you.’
‘Babbling while nervous?’ Scorpius looked at the chairs, and decided to take the comfortable armchair across from her, even if it made her shoulders tense. ‘It feels like we shouldn’t have much to be nervous about. I’m not dead. There’s not a war. The bad guys are dead or locked up, our loved ones are mostly okay, and while there are some awkward sort of fuzzy grey spaces, it all feels like… like things we can live with.’
Her gaze flickered. ‘Sure.’
‘Except there are things I thought I could live with, only I had a lot of time to think in jail. And we’ve seen what lies with the best of intentions do to us, do to the world, and -’ He cut himself off, and looked her in the eye, hoping he had more of his mother’s warm blue than his father’s cold grey in his gaze. ‘I know you killed de Sablé.’
Now she flinched. ‘Who -’
‘I’m not an idiot; I only have theories on what exactly you did, but I was there, Rose. I saw you look at him at the last second of the ritual. I saw the look on your face when it turned out he was dead instead of me. I pretended I didn’t, I decided it was better to be oblivious, but then two things happened. The first is that I discovered another incident of someone doing something horrible, and all for me.’
Rose’s lips thinned. ‘I’m not going to defend what I did - except it’s not the same as handing over a super-weapon to the Council of Thorns for your sake. I’ve done the opposite of that; I risked your death, both of our deaths, to stop them in Ultima Thule -’
He lifted a hand. ‘I’m not saying it’s the same. But they’re both things I would never have agreed to. They’re both things done for me. They’re both things done by people who loved me.’ He had to drop his gaze at that, vision clouded by the memory of a casket they’d lowered into the ground just earlier that day. ‘And I don’t know how I can work through my feelings about Nat and pretend I don’t have any feelings about de Sablé.’
He saw her swallow hard, watched her wring her hands together. ‘I - I had all of these arguments with Matt. About how it was monstrous to accept sacrificing you, so why was it that much worse to choose who we sacrificed? He made good points at me. About how playing favourites over who lives and who dies is monstrous, too. And it is, I don’t think what I did was right. But I don’t think sacrificing you would have been right, either.’ She looked up, and when their eyes met he could see a shot of steel running through her. ‘I don’t have a huge, sweeping justification, Scorp. I made the choice I could live with. And I accepted that maybe you wouldn’t be able to live with it.’
‘You mean, live with you.’ He bowed his head. ‘Please, Rose, like we’ll reach the final hurdle, after all we’ve been through, and I’ll say, “Sorry, love, I think we should see other people.” We just got our happy ending; I’m not going to defenestrate it like you defenestrate dark lords.’
Her laugh was small, an involuntary burst past her lips that came with a hint of a sob, and she lifted her hands to stifle it. ‘I’m sorry,’ she said, and at first sounded like she was apologising for laughing. But she choked on the words, and then she was apologising again even as she swallowed more sobs and fought to steel herself, straighten her shoulders. ‘…I’m sorry - you know, I refuse to go to pieces so you have to comfort me while you’ve every right to be angry -’
‘Hey - hey.’ He shot over, knelt by the chair and reached for her hands, his clasp tight. ‘This whole, “let’s not ignore it” thing goes two ways, you know. It’s not good for me to sit on it. Maybe wind up resenting you for it. But you, going through all of this, and not being able to tell me?’ His throat constricted. ‘I’m not okay with doing that to you, either.’
‘I guess.’ Rose’s hold on his hands was like a vice. ‘I didn’t want you to hate me. But I didn’t want you to feel like you owed me, either. Or had to forgive me.’
Scorpius let out a slow, shuddering breath. ‘I might have been pretending I didn’t know. And maybe it’s a little bit why I stayed away before the wedding, so I could think things over.’ He let go of her hand to lift his fingers to her cheek, brush away a tumbling tear. ‘But I came back, didn’t I?’
‘I’m really,’ she rasped, ‘hating those words.’
‘Yeah, me too.’ The corners of his eyes crinkled. ‘Though I should have been the one to invoke them in Niemandhorn, shouldn’t I?’
Again she tensed. ‘Scorpius -’
‘I know Albus catching you wasn’t the plan.’ He bit his lip again. ‘That was the second thing that made me realise I couldn’t be oblivious. Because there I was, pretending you hadn’t killed for me, and then all of a sudden you’re trying to sacrifice yourself to save the day.’
Her gaze locked on to his. ‘I don’t have a death wish.’
‘I’ve done some crazy shit in my time, Rose, but dying was never actually the plan.’
‘It wasn’t a good plan. I didn’t do it because I thought I deserved to die -’ She was flapping with her free hand by now, speaking faster. ‘But I couldn’t think of a way of killing him which wouldn’t get me killed, and blasting at him from the door he’d probably Shield against so I wouldn’t achieve anything, and after talking to Cassian I thought I could lure him into lowering his guard but then I had to be damned sure I did it right.’ She stopped as if all her momentum had suddenly shattered, and looked down. ‘That was the most sure way I could think of.’
‘And had nothing to do with you carting a whole load of guilt around?’ She began to gesture with her hand again, so he caught it, brought her knuckles to his lips and felt her soften. ‘Hey. I’m listening, not judging.’
She gave a soft sigh that took some tension with it. ‘I used all of my wits and skills to pervert a ritual that should have been about saving the world, and for rather selfish reasons. I don’t know if I was trying to even the score by throwing myself out that window with Raskoph. I do know I had to do anything I could to stop him, to save Niemandhorn. Because if I could use my every bloody talent to save you, if I could find the answers for just one man, even the man I love… what the hell kind of person am I, if I don’t also go that extra mile for a whole castle of innocent people?’
He stared at her. ‘Wow.’
She frowned. ‘Wow?’
‘Your parents have screwed you up almost as badly as mine screwed me up.’
She gave another small, involuntary laugh, but this was tinged with less grief. ‘No. No, this isn’t about them. This is about me not being able to live with picking the selfish choice again.’
‘Wow,’ he said again, and smiled when she made a face. ‘You do a lot more thinking than me when you’re being stupid and heroic.’
Her expression folded, and she tightened her hold to entwine their fingers. ‘I won’t ask for your forgiveness,’ she whispered. ‘I just want to know if… if this is something you can live with.’
Scorpius looked up at her, watched every anxious shift of her expression, every flicker of that face he knew so well, and let a smile curl the corner of his lips, tentative and wry though it was. ‘We both have a lot to live with. Things we’ve done. Things we’ve seen. Things we’ve survived. But that’s the important part, isn’t it? We survived. And I know two things for sure. The first is that we find out if we can live with it… by living.’
Anxiety knotted her brow. ‘And the second?’
He slid onto the chair’s armrest, wrapped an arm around to pull her closer. ‘The second is that I think we keep your new rule idea.’ Scorpius leaned down to kiss the top of her head, feeling her flow against him, clutch at him like he was a lifeline, and he was entirely happy with being the anchor to solid ground, to life and to love for once. ‘Where you go, I go.’
‘You’ve got five minutes,’ grunted the Enforcer with the surly disposition, and opened the heavy metal door to let Selena into the dank visitor room in Azkaban.
She’d never been here before. All she knew of the prison came from a reputation still tarnished by the memories of Dementor guards, even a quarter of a century on, and so she’d told herself those were days long gone. It couldn’t be that dreary, that horrific. She was wrong. It was an isolated, jutting rock squatting in the North Sea, the walls towering and impenetrable, the windows narrow and barred. There was little light here, little life here, and most certainly no hope.
The sight of her mother, shackled to a table and clad in a pale prison robe that looked more like a smock, did not break the gloomy spell. Lillian Rourke had been forever poised, in control, every part of her appearance deliberately chosen, not a single strand of hair out of place. Until now. Now, blonde hair lay dank and limp against her cheeks. A lack of makeup made her look somehow older and younger at once, lacking the disguise of every blemish or encroaching wrinkle, but denied the mask of austere control.
But Lillian’s eyes lit up at the sight of her, so bright and hopeful that Selena had to press her back to the door closed behind her. ‘Dear -’
And Selena said nothing, just coiled like she was poised for fight or flight, and clawed in herself for a feeling, any feeling, let alone words to express it.
Lillian raised her hand, but the manacles jangled and that broke the moment of hope, slumped her in her chair. ‘I’m glad you came here. They’re transferring me to Nurmengard next week. So that’ll be a long trip to visit.’ She hesitated. ‘If you want to visit.’
As a child, Selena had played about in her mother’s shoes and makeup, acted like the fancy lady and dreamed of being half so glamorous as Lillian.
Without an answer, Lillian drew a slow breath. ‘I know it’s going to be hard. I know they probably won’t let me out of here. I’ll tell the truth, and they’ll see how much of it was really Raskoph; everything they’re saying about me propping up his rise to power, there’s no proof, just Draco Malfoy’s word. And he did more than me, really, he put Lethe in warehouses…’
You just blackmailed him into it, and they only can’t prove you had Raskoph’s rivals killed because Thane’s dead and Scorpius never knew. As a teenager, she’d learnt from her mother how to lie, how to tell the best lies. It was about picking and choosing the bits of truths you liked, that the world would like, and focusing so hard on them everything else became irrelevant. To lie well, you had to believe it, or how would anyone else?
‘Dear - whatever happens, I’m going to get through this. We’re going to get through this -’
Which was the point Selena hammered on the door until the Enforcer let her out, and she tore away from the cell block and didn’t look back. The only thing worse than her mother’s excuses was her mother’s determination. Because her mother taught her how to be strong as well as a liar, resourceful as well as manipulative. Masks weren’t just tools to control others, they were shields against them. Wanting things wasn’t wrong, because nobody would give you anything.
And every lesson, the good and the bad, ran through Selena’s mind as she stalked through the halls of Azkaban, against a background of staring eyes and muttered voices from the staff, the guards, even the inmates. They didn’t need to ask who she was, because she walked tall and blonde and poised and was every inch her mother’s daughter.
The daughter of a monster who’d broken the world to remold it in her own image.
Somehow she kept it together until she made it through the Floo checkpoint, somehow she remained in control until she was tumbling through green fire and into the living room of Matt’s flat, and there she crumbled. There her legs gave way from under her and she collapsed onto polished wooden floors, a crumpled heap of shattered poise and broken masks.
She hadn’t wept like this since Methuselah. Methuselah, who’d died securing a cure for Phlegethon her mother made sure they received, who’d died because giving him all the knowledge of the ritual might inconvenience her schemes.
‘Hey - I thought you were meeting Scorpius -’ Matt didn’t hesitate reaching for her with his prosthetic any more, but this time she reeled away at the feel of smooth metal. He’d only lost his hand because he’d had to rescue her from Raskoph, and Raskoph had only taken her because his fight with her mother was personal -
Of course he’d think it was different, so by the time she realised she’d slammed against the wall in a crumpled heap, she looked up to see him frozen before the mantelpiece, expression creased with horrified concern.
‘Hey, I’m sorry,’ he croaked.
‘It’s not you. It’s not you, it’s not - how can you not hate me?’
He blinked, then caught up, and sank onto his haunches before her. ‘You’re not her.’
‘But I am. I’m not Scorpius, confirming all I hated about a father; I’m her, I’ve always been like her, tried to be like her, and I don’t even hate her; I went there and she was Mum, in prison, and I couldn’t say a single word, not a single -’
‘It’s okay.’ Matt raised his hands, quick, comforting. ‘I know it’s hard to see them like that. I hated seeing Dad in jail. And you know that you don’t have to hate her?’
‘I should.’ Selena drew her knees up under her chin. ‘They do. And me. All of them, seeing me going to visit my monster of a mother, thinking I sympathise; and even if I don’t, that’s what the name “Rourke” is going to be across Britain, across the world -’
‘Who cares what anyone else thinks?’
She glared at him. ‘That’s a logic which applies to school, Matt. Who cares if nobody likes your shoes. Except I cared, I always cared, and this is different. There’s not going to be a person in the country who won’t know who I am, and - and this is going to be my life, now? Condemnation or pity. Daughter of a monster. Deciding for me how I feel before even I know, and probably judging me for the choice they made, I can’t…’
He scooted over, but didn’t reach for her - just extended a hand, patient and waiting. She knew those were tricks he’d learnt for Rose, but somehow it helped for him to offer instead of insist. There were times all she wanted, in pain, was for someone to bundle her up with unconditional comfort. And then there were times it was easier for it to happen on her terms. ‘You’ve got a lot to work through. And I know that can’t make it easier, dealing with the world’s judgement when you’re not sure where your own falls.’
She did reach for his hand, but still slumped with her head against the wall, eyes closed. ‘Everyone else has to live with things they actually did. I have to live with this, and I didn’t even do any of it.’
‘It’ll die down -’
‘It’s in the press, every mention of her includes a mention of me. It’s on the streets, every witch and wizard recognises me, mutters. I was looked down at through cell bars at Azkaban, Matt. It might die down, but nobody is ever going to forget this. It’s like a constant buzzing in my head; I have to deal with Mum and the world at the same time, and it’s too much, too much -’
Her words were tumbling together into sobs, and now he reached for her, slid to her side and pulled her into her arms, and once again she could fall to pieces, just for a little while.
They didn’t speak for some time. Time she spent sobbing, and time he spent mumbling nonsense words into her hair, and then time spent in a silence of shuddering breaths and comforting embraces. When he did talk again, though, his voice was hoarse with apprehension. ‘I’ve had this thought. And I’ve done some work on it, so all you’d need to do would be say “yes,” but if I’ve overstepped my -’
‘Matt, skip to the end. This isn’t even nerdy babble.’
She felt his lips curl against her forehead. ‘So, you know how you’re still technically an employee of the Clarion?’
Selena winced. ‘That won’t last -’
‘…and Toby wants to start up an international edition for British ex-pats abroad. National news and more global news. It’ll take globe-trotting reporters to put stories together. Not staying in one place much. Hell, maybe even writing under a pseudonym…’
She pushed away from him and sat up. ‘Did you just nepotism me an escape ladder?’
‘I didn’t get you the job at the Clarion in the first place! And you were the one who almost found out about the Lethe smuggling on your own!’ Matt pointed out, eyebrows raised with indignation. ‘I was talking to Toby and this came up and, yes, I said maybe it’d be good for you. But he agreed, because he thinks you’re good at your job! And you are! But more importantly, you enjoyed your job!’
‘So, what? I just leave Britain, go across the world to different places and different people and different stories? Where I won’t be recognised on sight and don’t write under the name “Rourke” and…’ Selena’s nose wrinkled. ‘Why am I complaining about this again?’
His smile was nervous, but pleased. ‘You get some time away. The story about your mother won’t stop, but give it time and the story won’t need to be about you, too. You can stick your nose in other people’s business for a few months, years, if you want. Do something you enjoy that’s not about you, and that’s far from the crowd.’
She winced. ‘Is that running away?’
‘Only to the most cynical mind, which I know you have…’ His smile turned teasing. ‘You’re allowed to run away a bit. You didn’t ask for this, or do anything to deserve this. Spend some time being you. Sorting yourself out. What you think, what you feel, what you want. Away from all the crap.’
Selena bit her lip, and realised her hair was a mess. Tidying it gave her something to do while the idea spun over and over, and she had to be a state after Azkaban, because it took her a few minutes before her gaze locked on him and she blurted out, ‘What about you?’
Now he looked embarrassed. ‘Well. I don’t want to assume anything. But, I thought, if you wanted - I mean, I’ve got enough research material to write ten books on the Chalice, and I could do that anywhere, I just need my notes, a quill, and paper and…’
His voice trailed off, and she realised it was because she was gawping at him. She shut her mouth. ‘You’d just follow me around?’
Matt gave a one-shouldered shrug. ‘Maybe it’s about time someone was your cheerleader.’ The corner of his mouth curled up at her bemused look. ‘Okay, let me break it down. First, I wouldn’t mind a bit of quiet myself, and I could honestly spend the rest of my life being the guy who destroyed the Chalice of Emrys and then wrote about it. And maybe you’re wondering if my ego can take it being your life calling the shots and - uh, that’s a fair accusation. But the day got saved at Niemandhorn by a whole load of people in a load of different ways, and do you know what I did? Gave Rose some information and then hid in an office. Sure, it was good information. Sure, she used it to save the day, and good for her. And I’m more interested in how the people I care about got out of Niemandhorn in one piece, but… I’ve spent a long time trying to be The Guy, and then a long time being The Guy on some things. At Niemandhorn, I was just backup. Other people were The Guy. And that was good. So if I can do it for Rose in a crisis, I can sure as hell do it for you for your life.’
Selena slid across the polished floor back towards him, and with fumbling fingers reached for his prosthetic hand. The metal fingers curled around hers, warm and responsive as flesh and blood, because they were a part of him now as much as anything else; not an addition, not a compromise, not a flaw to blame her for. ‘Word of advice,’ she said, and tried to fight her smile. ‘When talking about life choices, don’t mention your ex-girlfriend.’
His grin widened. ‘Is that a “yes”?’
‘What was the question? “Can I follow you around the world?”’
Selena Rourke looked the messy academic up and down, then tilted her nose up, voice lofty, controlled, superior as she sighed, ‘Oh, well. I suppose. If you must.’
It ended many times, for many different people in many different ways.
It ended when the Chalice of Emrys was destroyed, bringing its cycle of giving life and death to an end, and taking the Lethe plague with it. It ended when Joachim Raskoph died, and his power over the golems died with him, freeing the people of Niemandhorn Castle to fight back. It ended when the world came to realise and believe the International Magical Convocation a sham, built on the bodies of those the Council of Thorns had killed.
And for many, it didn’t end at all. Matthias Doyle’s stump still ached of a morning. Albus Potter still looked at a crowd and wished for a face he wouldn’t find. Rose Weasley still woke in a scream of sweat and the sense of falling, and Scorpius Malfoy still knew what that felt like enough to comfort her. Selena Rourke still lived through the trial and judgement of her mother and all her sins, and there was never an end to her figuring out how she felt about it.
But there were, at least, beginnings, and one of those beginnings came very soon, starting in a tea shop in Diagon Alley only a handful of days before Christmas.
‘Why’re you checking your watch?’ Rose’s gaze on Scorpius over the table was suspicious.
‘I’m not,’ he said, and put his pocketwatch away with impish innocence. Albus, across from them, raised his head from his lemon slice, looked between them, and then immediately returned to his cakes. ‘I’m checking my reflection. The lid’s very shiny.’
She arched an eyebrow at him, but accepted the fib, and he tried to not grin as she looked back at Albus. ‘How’s your dad?’
‘Less busy.’ He poured himself more tea. ‘More and more work’s getting outsourced to the US and Germany. Seems like Lillian kept most of her allies not in Britain - she knew better than to try to go against Dad and your mum - so uprooting the messy bits isn’t so hard. She did us a bit of a favour removing the Halvard administration. So the rest is… global.’
‘Your mum’s going to wriggle out of the Minister post ASAP, then?’ said Scorpius.
‘She said there’s going to be an election in a couple of months, and she’s not going to run, but she knows a few people who will. Unusual people. New faces. Honestly…’ Rose sighed and stirred her tea. ‘You listen to her talk about it, and you listen to her talk about Lillian Rourke, and you realise she’s not that angry at her. I think Mum knows better than to dangle too much power in front of herself.’
Scorpius looked at Albus. ‘Your dad’s not still trying to get you a job in the DMLE, is he?’
‘That was just a short-term thing. More contractor stuff, all of it very dull, and he understood when I said no.’ Albus gave a small, not insincere smile. ‘It’s been good to be at home for a bit with Mum. Help Gran make Christmas plans. She’s been teaching me knitting.’
‘Al.’ Scorpius sipped his tea. ‘Has anyone told you that you’re adorable?’
‘Like a big, fluffy teddy bear.’
‘Yeah.’ But Albus’ brow knotted, and he looked to the window, Diagon Alley stretching beyond the teashop. Christmas was a week away, and still magical shoppers would not be daunted by a fresh outbreak of catastrophe. The world hadn’t ended, evil had been vanquished, and the festive season was upon them all. That seemed like a fine time for celebration, though Scorpius thought they wouldn’t know it from Albus’ frown. ‘That’s what I go for,’ he muttered.
Rose grimaced. ‘Have you heard…’
‘What would I hear? More letters of heartbreak? A tally of people saved so I know how many there are until the scales are tipped -’ Albus put down his teaspoon with more rattle than it really deserved. ‘Sorry. I just have to learn to live with this. She’s gone, and I understand why, but she’s not coming back.’
She might, Scorpius wanted to say, but he knew that wouldn’t help. So he said, instead, ‘What’re you going to do?’
Albus drew a deep breath. ‘Keep going. Spend this Christmas with the family, then I guess I have to find a job. Preferably something where I don’t have to curse anyone. I was thinking of talking with James about Quidditch -’
‘Yes, two Potters in the Falcons -’
‘- and training. I’m good at the physical. But I don’t want to hurt people any more. Maybe I can take some lessons and turn them to something positive. Work with people. Encourage them. I don’t know.’ Albus shrugged. ‘I’ve got a whole life ahead of me. It’s good to nobody if I waste it moping. What about you guys?’
Scorpius tried to not smirk at the flash of worry crossing Rose’s face. ‘Um, I don’t know,’ she stammered. ‘Though I’m definitely out of Gringotts. Honestly, I’m a bit sick of digging things up. I’d rather care about the living.’
‘And my father tried to upend the family tradition of being idly wealthy. It didn’t end well. Maybe I should remember some Malfoy traditions aren’t so bad,’ said Scorpius, and allowed the smirk this time. Then he pulled out his watch again, and glanced across the table at Albus.
Al caught his meaning, and drained his tea. ‘Good to hear, but I better shoot off. I’m helping Gran put decorations on the Burrow roof. You guys are going to be there at Christmas, right?’
‘Right!’ said Scorpius, exuberant enough to distract Rose. ‘Wouldn’t miss it. I’m seeing Mum for breakfast, but then I’ll be over. I hope you’re helping cook, don’t tell your Gran but your mashed potatoes are creamier -’
‘She will curse me before she lets anyone do the work on Christmas Day. So you’ll have to be disappointed.’
He scratched his chin. ‘Somehow, I can live with this burden of a Christmas dinner cooked entirely by your Gran.’
Albus laughed, hugged them both his farewells, and left. The door hadn’t finished jangling shut before Rose turned to Scorpius and said, voice flat, ‘You were looking at your watch again.’
He frowned. ‘You got astute. But alright. Come on.’ He tossed coins onto the table and stood, taking his time to put on his coat and gloves just to irritate her more.
‘I spent five years spying on your every misdemeanour, Malfoy,’ Rose hissed as he led her out into the street. ‘I know when you’re up to something.’
‘I knew you were fixated on me, even when you thought you hated me!’ Scorpius grinned and threw an arm over her shoulder. ‘It’s like you tried to deny your love, but it couldn’t possibly -’
‘And what were you doing, pulling pig-tails?’
‘Oh, please. Boys tease girls they like because they don’t know how to express their affection. I’m a grown man. I can express my affection.’ His grin broadened. ‘I wind you up because it’s funny.’
It also served to distract her from their destination, which was off a side-road from Diagon and down a narrow cobbled street, the buildings looming close above, so tight it almost looked like roofs were touching. He counted the doors until he stopped at the right one, and gestured in. ‘Here we are.’
‘Surry Alley used to be all warehouses, in the nineteenth century before spatial compression magics got better and wizarding business stopped needing such huge buildings for storage. Or, that’s what the brochure said.’ The building did indeed have a big, open, old-world feel, though the windows were thicker than they appeared, the corridor well-lit and clean, and the lift they stepped into not as rattling or unreliable as its old-fashioned, cogs-and-levers appearance implied.
‘I’m going to ask what brochure, but this is honestly my last question, because then you’re going to explain this all in one go.’
Scorpius grinned as the lift rattled to a stop and led them to just one door. ‘I was being dramatic so I could show you,’ he said, and pulled a key from his pocket to let them into the flat. Something had to be done with all that warehouse space, after all.
They were at the top of the building, a huge skylight bringing winter sun through the slanted roof. Grey stone walls were off-set by brass metal fixtures and beams that brought more closeness to the huge, open-plan space, and a kitchen sectioned off by a broad counter gleamed at the far end with modern fittings.
‘It could be warmer,’ said Scorpius, watching as she wandered in with wide, bewildered eyes. ‘But a bit of decoration could do that. It’s got a little upstairs built in on that other side, so it’s not just one huge room, but a -’
‘You bought this?’ She turned to squint at him.
‘Not yet, I’ve just made an offer. But if you don’t like it, I can always back out, an upset estate agent is nothing if you throw enough money at them -’
‘If I don’t like it?’
Scorpius shoved his hands into his pockets and sauntered to where she stood under the skylight, motes of dust floating about her hair to give her an ethereal, otherworldly look, which he thought apt. This moment shouldn’t have ever been more than a dream to him, but here he was, flesh and blood and speaking out loud. ‘Well, yeah. I’m not going to live in that hotel forever, and it’d be pretty stupid if I got a place and didn’t at least consult you -’
Except the moment was here and he was being him about it. ‘…and I didn’t think you wanted to keep living with your parents. Do you like it?’ Now he frowned, nerves catching up with him. ‘To live with me here, I mean.’
Rose worked her jaw wordlessly for a moment - then had to lift her hands to stifle a giggle. ‘That was the least smooth - what about the Manor?’
‘Oh, that. I thought about selling it, but I know I’d just be doing that to piss Dad off, and I’d also have to jump through legal loopholes if I wanted to do it before he gets properly convicted -’ He waved a dismissive hand. ‘I’m renting it to Harley and his Elves at a pittance. They’re using it as a sort of in-between place for House Elves to stay, somewhere they can go if they don’t want to live under their employers’ roofs but don’t have their own place yet. I figured I might as well get on that whole “use the powers of the Malfoy family for good” plan.’
Her gaze rose, drifting around the high roof, the stark blend of old world construction and new age refurbishment he’d hoped she’d find enthralling. ‘You know I can’t just live here and be your idly rich girlfriend.’
‘I didn’t think so. And I was kidding about the whole, “idle rich” thing, anyway.’ Scorpius shrugged. ‘Mum didn’t get into running that relief charity of hers for the right reasons, but it’s successful anyway. She’s going to take a step back from it.’ He drew a deep breath. ‘I think I want to run it.’
She looked at him, startled. ‘A charity?’
‘I don’t have to globe-trot, I don’t have to go anywhere. The charity’s got an office right here in London. I mean, sure, I’ll hire managers, but I actually make a pretty good face. I’m well-known, not considered that internationally evil. I’m good with people. I can use that. Be notorious and throw great fundraisers. Again with using the powers of the Malfoy family for good.’ He sighed. ‘For a long time, I wanted to run from the name. Now I’m wondering if I can change it. Properly change it, not change it like Dad did, and change it for me, and for people like Cassian.’
Rose was smiling so widely it was like the sun was reflecting right off her face, dazzling into his eyes. ‘That’s a really good idea. I still have no clue what I’m going to do. I’ve spent so long wanting things I couldn’t have, or being dragged along by the world, I didn’t stop to think about ordinary things.’
‘You’ve got time. Nobody’s going to do a damned thing between now and Christmas.’ But still he stood, hands in his pockets, staring at her expectantly.
She shifted. ‘What?’
‘You didn’t answer!’
‘I asked if you like it! If you want to live with me! There’s a whole -’ He threw his hands in the air. ‘We just saved the world in big ways and little ways and now there’s peace and I’m trying to build a future and you’re - I want you in it! Say something! Anything!’
‘I’m sorry!’ Laughing, she crossed over to grab his flailing hands. ‘I didn’t realise there was any question -’
‘You’re a woman, you’re all wily, who bloody knows -’
She cut him off by leaning up for a quick, but very distracting kiss. ‘I love it. I love you. I don’t think you should upset the estate agent and I would adore getting out from my parents’ house.’
He let out a slow breath, one which purged with it all the tension he hadn’t known still lingered in his guts, in his heart; not just anxiety over this invitation, but guilt and frozen cold that had been in him since he’d died. Or maybe since before then, maybe this was the last of his father’s poisoned legacies being slain, cleansed. He slipped his arms around her, letting the winter’s sun bathe them like another embrace of a shining horizon, and rested his forehead against hers. ‘And I do love you. Enough to answer your voice from the Otherworld, enough to come back for you. Enough, even, for one last, giant sacrifice, which I think should show you that my feelings for you are a never-ending -’
‘I love you,’ he said, eyes shining, ‘enough that I’m even okay for you to move in with that bloody cat.’
‘Artemis is lovely -’
‘If she steals my breakfasts -’
Which was when she cut off his protests with another kiss, this one deeper, more demanding - and he was only too happy to surrender, to sink into her arms, and to take all the time in the world to savour the embrace, the moment.
Because they had, at last, all the time in the world.
A/N: I ain't gonna say nothing... I'll get emotional. There's still an epilogue to come anyway, due Sunday. I'll make the end of the Stygian Trilogy my Christmas present to y'all.
Not even done yet.