Chapter 1: Whose Woods These Are


It took a lot of scrubbing to get the blood off her hands. Long hours in triage under the flapping tarpaulin of this makeshift hospital had left them so stained that one spell alone wouldn’t clean. By the time Lily Potter ducked out of the stifling shade of the tent, her skin was raw, her fingers aching.

Sunlight was blinding absolution, spots in front of her eyes searing away the images of pain and suffering left behind. A gentle breeze made the heat less stifling. It didn’t make the draining dryness or the persistent dust more tolerable, though, and the moment she was back in the ruins of Aguilar, she had to cough.

‘Here.’ The bottle pressed into her hand was cold, the water refreshing as she drank, drank enough to drown the moans from the tent until she had to cough and choke. A hand clapped her back. ‘Yes. Kill yourself with it. That’s what I meant. This was all a cunning assassination ploy.’

She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. ‘Sorry. Thanks.’

Somehow, nothing ruffled Scorpius Malfoy. Even in the searing heat he was tanned, not sweating, golden hair bleached even brighter by the sun. The sleeves of his linen white shirt were rolled up, his sunglasses glinting in the brightness, his smile easy, unconcerned, but not inappropriate. ‘You’ve been in there a while. You alright?’

‘I’m a Healer,’ Lily said reflexively. ‘This is my job.’

‘Oh, you see settlements devastated by magical storm often in Saint Mungo’s? Or has a Saturday night down the Leaky Cauldron not calmed down at all?’

‘A little. Speaking of, are you going to actually return to Britain any time soon?’

‘I was going to after the party. Then this happened and Congress called us in and now, here we are. New Mexico.’ He gave a mock-sigh. ‘Americans. Can’t take care of their own crisis.’

‘That’s the price you pay for being good at what you do,’ Lily pointed out. She took a gentler sip of water and turned to the sandstone and shattered timber remains of Aguilar.

It was a small magical settlement in the middle of nowhere in New Mexico. There hadn’t been much time to learn about it between getting the deployment notice and grabbing a Portkey, so all Lily had gathered over the last twenty-four hours of travel, set-up, and work was that some strong local magical auras led to curious arcane phenomena. They kept Aguilar’s population small, but also drew in scholars and researchers trying to chart these changes, and what they did to the flora and fauna.

What they had lately done was turn a midsummer thunderstorm into a disaster that magical protections hadn’t been ready for. It was the sort of once-in-a-century mishap of arcane lightning and winds beyond all comprehension that tore through protections, walls, people, and left the population of a hundred or so witches and wizards with shattered homes and shattered lives.

A freak occurrence like this could be dealt with. But it meant MACUSA didn’t have the staff on hand to respond half so quickly as the Methuselah Jones Foundation. The charity had been set up in the War of Thorns, mostly helping magical settlements across the globe with the aftermath of war and other cruel acts of wizard. So Congress called in Scorpius Malfoy and his people, because sometimes an act of God and magic needed the same answers.

‘The death toll’s at twelve now,’ Lily continued once her mouth wasn’t as arid as the scrubland around Aguilar, stretching on far across rolling hills. The mountains in the distance, a grubby, deceptive brown, were where the storms had come from, where the tightest weaves of magic knotted. The devastation had ripped the town up, making it look now like it had been lost for fifty years instead of fifty hours, and everywhere she looked locals and charity workers picked through the wreckage, searching for belongings and starting the tidying and rebuilding process. At least they weren’t searching for bodies any more. ‘Hernando lost the woman who was at the epicentre; her body was just changing and he couldn’t stabilise her...’

Scorpius’ hand returned to her shoulder, reassuring, comforting. ‘That’s only one more in the last six hours. The rest?’

‘We’re out of the worst of it. I think they’ll be alright.’ A shrug. ‘I wouldn’t be able to take a break, otherwise.’

‘I guess not. You’ve done good work here.’

Lily drew a deep breath and looked again across Aguilar. ‘How’s the shelter coming?’

‘People have a place to sleep, if they’re not shipping out. A lot of those still standing want to help. We can get the rebuilding work done over the next forty-eight hours, though there’s nothing to be done for what’s been properly lost.’ Scorpius clicked his tongue. ‘This sort of stuff’s Albus’ strong point, not mine.’

‘Yeah, I thought you just sat at a desk and dealt with boring people and boring paperwork.’

‘I like to elevate the boring with my eternal wit and charm.’

‘Is that why you let Al take six months’ leave without any notice? To keep all of this exciting?’

It didn’t make much difference to her work if it was Al calling the shots out here or Scorpius. In truth, it was easier with Scorpius; she hadn’t worked for him long, but he was less likely to coddle her than Al, more likely to let her get on with her job and trust her to be a responsible adult. But it still wasn’t like her big brother to take off without warning.

Or, it wasn’t supposed to be like him any more.

Scorpius hesitated, and she kept her gaze locked on him. ‘I didn’t know this crisis was going to happen. He needs the time off.’

‘Oh. Great. Can I have six months’ paid leave?’

‘When you’ve worked for me for five years and jumped across the world for every bloody project, sure, Omega Potter, you can.’

‘No thanks,’ she sighed. ‘I’d like to have a life instead of ram my face into your work or my family’s every mishaps. Is that why you let him go? So he can go find himself instead of sleep-walking through life?’

Scorpius clicked his tongue again. ‘Something like that.’

She narrowed her eyes. ‘You’re up to something. Both of you. There’s another one of your schemes -’

He took a step back. ‘I am doing nothing wrong -’

‘Does Rose know?’

‘You make it sound like I’m an untrustworthy fellow, keeping sordid secrets from his beloved wife -’

‘That’s a no.’

‘I would have talked to her,’ he said defiantly, ‘except I had a fancy party in the Caribbean and then the very next morning had to come rushing out here with all you bastards because some mountain blew itself up.’

‘So there is something to talk about.’

He stared at her, then folded his arms across his chest. ‘I thought the Potter branch of the clan was meant to be the nice bit.’

‘No, that’s just Al. You do remember Dad’s in charge of the Auror department? Mum was famed for her aggressive take-downs on the Quidditch pitch? You’ve met James?’

‘Unfortunately.’ He brushed his hair out of his face. ‘So you’re also absolutely bad news. I’ll let the American contingent know; that Castillo looks like she should be warned about you.’

Lily’s stomach did a loop-the-loop. ‘That’s not fair.’

His beam was almost bright enough to reflect the sunlight. ‘A rough-and-tough American Auror shouldn’t underestimate you if you’re trouble, and I reckon she’s got you pegged as sugar and spice and all things nice - ow!’ He laughed as she kicked him in the shins, reeling back. ‘I can dock your pay, you know!’

‘I just pulled an eighteen-hour shift,’ Lily warned. ‘I have had my arm inside someone up to my elbow. I could not be in less of a chirpy Little Potter mood, so don’t you dare start teasing me about Auror - who for the record, I haven’t even paid attention to!’

‘So I’ll make sure she knows you’re not interested next time she oh-so-casually asks me what your story is when we’re checking the perimeter?’

Lily stepped back, glowering. ‘I’m too sleepy for this shit,’ she muttered, then paused. ‘Did she say that?’

Scorpius shrugged. ‘I thought you didn’t care?’

She waved a cranky hand at him and turned away. ‘I’m hitting my bunk. I’ve had enough of you.’

He laughed as she left, and she felt a little better for it, a little like the long hours in the stifling heat amongst the injured and dying of Aguilar in a makeshift hospital that couldn’t do quite enough for any of them were fading away.

Several big tents had been set up on the edge of town for the relief workers. There weren’t enough bunks for all of them, but that was less of a problem when everyone worked more hours than they rested. Only two of the beds in the tent she picked were occupied, a Healer colleagues and one of the American Enforcers here to help with security snatching a little sleep. The Enforcer was flat on his back and snoring, and she cursed as she picked a free bunk and took off her boots.

In the end, she passed out more or less the moment her head hit the pillow.

She wasn’t sure what woke her. Dusk was gathering outside, so perhaps she was getting colder. Perhaps the pressure in the atmosphere was changing, or perhaps there was only so long she could be this oblivious. It certainly wasn’t a sound, because when her eyes fluttered open and she glanced around the bunkroom, she jumped when she saw Auror Castillo in the doorway.

‘Shit -’

Castillo raised her hands, grinning apologetically. ‘Sorry, Potter. Just stuck my head in lookin’ for Stanislavski. Didn’t mean to wake you.’

‘You didn’t.’ Lily sat up. A quick glance around showed she was the only person inside, and she rubbed her eyes. ‘He was here when I fell asleep. What time is it?’

With a flip of the wrist, Castillo checked her pocket-watch. It shone differently to the silver-plated watches of British wizards; looked simpler, hardier. She suspected titanium. ‘Nine. It’ll get dark soon.’

‘Shit,’ Lily hissed again, and stood. ‘I’ve been asleep six hours.’

Castillo arched an eyebrow. She was tall and graceful and, Lily hadn’t helped but notice, muscular, comfortable in hard-wearing boots and dragonhide trousers even in this heat and a sleeveless shirt showing off her arms. Lily, for her part, felt like a pint-sized mess of scruffy Healer garb and wild red hair and a freckled complexion threatening to let her burn under the sun. ‘What, they don’t let Healers sleep in England?’

‘I need to get back in the hospital -’

‘Most of the rest of you are sleeping in the other tent. Four of you still on duty in hospital, most patients’re still unconscious, too. It’s waiting time, Potter. Use it to rest.’

Lily ignored her and pulled on her boots. ‘You’re not resting, you’re running around,’ she babbled. ‘Beating the bounds or patrolling the perimeter or whatever it is you Aurors do -’

‘Guarding,’ Castillo supplied helpfully.

‘Yes, well, I could tell you to get some sleep.’ Lily stood, hands on her hips, wild hair she knew not helping her cause. ‘And I could order that. As a doctor. Order you into bed.’

The world did not do her the favour of opening up under her and dragging her into hell. So the words decided to, instead, lie fat and heavy between them, leering and looming and enough to send heat flying to her cheeks, doubtless turning her face as red as her hair.

Then Castillo grinned. ‘Is that an order, or an offer?’

Which, of course, was when the explosion happened.

It came from the west, a solid boom that made the ground shake, and both of them burst out of the tent in time to see the eruption of energy, dirt and masonry shattering upward from the edge of town. It was the side nearest the mountain, and came with a wave of shouts and screams breaking the first placid evening Aguilar had had since the storm.

Lily stopped and stared, even as stone continued to catapult upward, even as there was a high-pitched whine of more magical energy gathering -

Castillo tackled her to the ground as the next arcane explosion brought with it a wave of energy that rippled across the town, just over their heads, and set all the hairs on the back of her neck upright.

‘Stay down!’ Gone was the casual, easy-going flirting, and in its place an urgency that would brook no opposition. ‘And stay here!’

Castillo shoved herself to her feet, wand already in hand, but Lily scrambled up after. ‘Stay here? People are going to be hurt in that -’

You’ll be hurt in that!’

‘I’m a Healer!’ Lily whipped out her wand. ‘That’s my job.’

A muscle twitched in the corner of Castillo’s jaw, but then she nodded and the two women set off at a run.

The west side, Lily realised with a tightening in the chest, was where they’d put the temporary shelters for Aguilar’s healthy survivors, and while it looked like these were buildings being magically exploded, that still meant a lot more innocent people in someone’s line of fire.

‘What is this?’ she panted as they ducked between ruins, as masonry rained down around them and magic energy hummed in the air. ‘Another storm?’

‘That’s a spell,’ Castillo said, leading the way and gaining ground. ‘We got company.’

In the end, the Auror was faster than Lily, so she was left behind as Castillo disappeared around a corner and then there was nothing but her, her wand, the blood rushing in her ears, and the sounds of panic and pain drawing closer.

When she got to the edge of town, to the scarred black ground and the blinding dust and the air that hummed with power, it was the fallen she saw first. All still moving, nobody dead, looking like they’d been blasted by an explosion and sent flying, but it was still more than the people of this town needed. She rushed to them, first, a young man not much older than her flat on his back and clutching at a burn along his gut but otherwise paralysed with shock, and instinct took over.

So it was only absently that she realised much else that was going on. Raised voices and spells yelled and the dust settling to show two groups facing off, the MACUSA security forces against others. By the time she’d made it to the third fallen wizard, she looked up to see the Americans weren’t getting the best of it. Only Castillo and one other were still on their feet against a half-dozen witches and wizards, all in long robes despite the sweltering heat, magic of curses and shields crackling between them. But even as Lily’s heart lunged into her throat, that was when the attackers paused, one stepping forward, wand ready.

‘Stand down!’ he called out. ‘Nobody needs to die here. We take what we want, then we go. You can’t win.’ His was a deep, rumbling voice, edged with an accent Lily couldn’t place, and strong enough to break through the haze and dust and force them all to a halt.

She watched as Castillo shifted her stance, a pure defensive technique she remembered dimly from a Defence NEWT, but all that felt like a very, very long time ago, ‘We’re here to protect these people! Not surrender!’ Castillo yelled.

‘Protect them by standing down.’

One of the attackers, at a curt nod, turned their wand to the side blasted at one of the few houses left standing on this side of town. The world again became dust and shrieks as masonry went flying, by sheer chance not striking any of the huddled townsfolk who hadn’t had the chance to flee. Lily hurled herself over the wizard she was tending to and threw up a Shield spell to block fist-sized chunks of stone.

‘Castillo!’ called a new voice from the town, breathless and desperate. ‘You heard him! Stand down! We can talk about this!’

Lily’s head whipped around to see Scorpius Malfoy sprinting out into the devastation. His wand was in his hand, but as she watched he shifted his grip to a useless one and opened his arms wide as he approached the attackers. Chest heaving, hair wild, he advanced on half a dozen wands locked right on his chest, and gone were any of the easy smiles.

Fading sunlight made floating crystals of the settling dust, casting a glow all around him, but when he spoke there was no more of his flounce and attention grabbing. ‘Nobody needs to get hurt any more. What’re you after? Money? I can sort out money.’

The wizard who’d yelled at Castillo turned to Scorpius, and Lily saw them both freeze. ‘You,’ said the wizard, wand not lowering. ‘Didn’t expect you out here.’

Argyris?’ Scorpius’ expression twisted. ‘What do you want?’

The wizard called Argyris, short and stocky, with almost remarkably unremarkable, plain features, gave a stiff shrug. ‘I’ve got the wands. I don’t answer that. You keep your people out the way so I can send someone into town.’

Castillo side-stepped closer to Scorpius, wand levelled on the attackers. ‘Mister Malfoy, you should go back inside -’

‘No.’ Argyris jerked his wand. ‘Stay there, Auror.’

Scorpius lifted a hand to Castillo. ‘It’s alright. It’s fine. I know what I’m doing.’

Sir -’

‘He knows this situation better than you,’ Argyris agreed. ‘We go back some way.’

‘Old friends,’ said Scorpius through gritted teeth, not looking away from the attackers. ‘So I thought you were better than this, Argyris. Doing over a messed up town for what little money they’ve got?’

Argyris snorted. ‘Give me a little credit, Malfoy. I’m not rising to that bait. He taught us better.’

He’s dead. I thought you and the rest would have the sense to go to ground.’

‘You thought that would last forever?’ As Scorpius frowned, he continued. ‘Step aside. This is the last warning.’

Scorpius, shoulders tense, raised his hands, and did indeed step out of the way to the road leading deeper into the town. ‘So long as nobody is hurt, Argyris. Let’s be professionals.’

‘Nobody will get hurt, so long as someone comes with us.’ Argyris nodded to one of his lackeys, and a witch in long, dark robes tromped towards the huddled townsfolk. ‘We need a guide and security.’

Lily leaned back, trying to keep her and her patient, some distance away and still flat on the dusty, scorched ground, as unobtrusive as possible. Guilt surged in her alongside the relief when the witch emerged from the crowd dragging a middle-aged wizard by the arm.

That didn’t stop Scorpius. ‘Hey, Argyris, there’s no need for this. You need security? Take me. Everyone here works for me, they won’t risk my head -’

Perhaps he just meant to step forward to make a point. Perhaps he’d shifted his grip on his wand, looked like he was making ready to use it. But either rattled or correct, Argyris snapped out his wand, quicker, more ready, and blasted out a spell that hit Scorpius in the chest.

The screaming started again. The spells started flying again, Castillo and the other Auror bursting into action. Argyris’ men returned fire, some of the townsfolk started to run while others started to fight, but again the outside world rushed away from Lily.

Maybe this was some dose of useful professionalism, letting her block out distractions so she could act. Maybe it was intentionally stupid, making her ignore dangers as she rushed through a firefight to get to someone injured.

But the spells didn’t hit her, the fighters didn’t hit her, so it didn’t matter; meant she could duck under magic rippling overhead and skid to her knees next to Scorpius Malfoy, plant her hands on his chest, already pumping out healing spells she knew better than, in this chaos and panic, her own name.
Not just because she was a Healer. But because she knew, after all that had been lost and suffered by so many of her family, she couldn’t possibly let her cousin’s husband and brother’s best friend die.



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A/N: So. Um. This happened.

I know I swore I wouldn't come back to these characters, but then ideas came about, themes and issues I felt I'd not properly put to bed, and I need a bit of break from writing Not Fade Away over NaNo. I don't anticipate this to interfere with its posting schedule, and do not expect this story to be posted at a similar rate to past Stygian stories.

This is a continuation of the characters whose stories needed finishing, of the themes which were not resolved, of the questions which were left unanswered. Because sometimes not answering questions is just a cop-out. Obviously this picks up very shortly after Oblivion's epilogue, and will continue from there. Do not assume this will deal with every single character Stygian handled; some are very much done. But evidently there will be some new focuses, too - just see the introduction of Lily as a more significant figure.

Also the Cursed Child upset me in some ways and it drove me to finish this damned first chapter off.

So, some day, onward! Back to old friends and fun times.

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