The march back through the jungle had happened without words, but not in silence. Not as the jungle night came alive, insects chirping all around, low sounds on the wind of animal life stirring as the sun dipped beneath the horizon and the stars and moons reigned above.
By then they could see nothing in the dark, so Albus watched as Eva stopped at the first open patch they found after dusk. A little camping tent was put up with ease, and they both ducked inside to the space much larger on the inside, though it was still only twelve square feet of space. She stalked to the desk, unslung her pack – and then all but collapsed onto the stool beside it. He stood, helpless, as she stared at the ground and croaked, ‘This isn’t possible.’
He drew a deep breath. ‘There are explanations. You might have been wrong –‘
Her scoff reeked of as much mockery of herself as him. ‘I know his face.’
‘An illusion, then! Polyjuice! Something!’
‘Polyjuice requires reagents from the body at the time of brewing. Anything from Prometheus would have degraded by now.’ Her voice went calm, disconnected, reeling off her knowledge. ‘There are variants on a Polyjuice to look older, younger, different, but still the same, original person.’
‘Then illusions –‘
Eva lifted her head, face screwed into more anguish than he’d seen openly from her. ‘You saw him down there. He shook hands, he interacted with his environment, he moved. Illusions aren’t that complicated. Besides.’ Her gaze dropped. ‘I saw how he moved, walked, talked.’
‘You might know him on sight,’ said Albus, stalking to the desk, ‘but you and I both know there are magics in this world which make it hard to say anything is impossible –‘
‘Like people coming back from the dead?’ Her shoulders hunched up. ‘I killed him, Al. I cast the spell and I held him as he died and then I left him on that mountaintop. But I always found myself wondering if it was a dream; if I was even capable of striking against him like that…
He hunkered down next to her, reached out – and put his hand on the desk beside them cautiously. ‘You killed him and he died. I know, because I found his body. We checked, it was him. We took the body back to England and he had a burial and hardly anyone gave a damn.’
She glanced up, looking at nothing, and he saw fear shine into her eyes. ‘They’ll blame me,’ she whispered. ‘They’ll say I helped him fake his death, that we left Niemandhorn on the run together, that I was always loyal to him –‘
Words tumbled from her like the pebbles before an avalanche, like every piece of her was about to come crashing down, so in a heartbeat his hand was on her shoulder like he could hold up the mountain. ‘Stop. They won’t think that, because they’ll be too busy figuring out if or how he’s alive. And you are not without allies.’
‘I’m not without enemies, either; Castillo was already circling the wagons and she’ll use this however she can to discredit me. Roux can only protect me so far, only spend so much political capital to shelter me, and the more people who suspect I’ve lied and tricked everyone about Thane, the harder it’ll be –‘
His hands came to her face, tilting her to look at him, though he could see the shuddering panic setting in and that was enough to leave him almost as scared. ‘Then don’t turn to Roux. Give him your report and then go.’
She tensed under his touch. ‘Run, again?’
‘No. Come with me.’
Eva jerked back at that as if his hands stung, as if the promise of closeness stung, and she stumbled to her feet. ‘How is Britain going to be better? If SADOM can’t help me – the one place where I did something good in this world, if they won’t protect me, why will Britain…’
‘I can keep you sheltered. Protected. Call in my family, call in my favours.’ He stood, determination steeling in him like a wall against the oncoming waves he would not let falter. ‘With the GWA forming, nobody wants to rock the boat too hard. And none of your crimes were in British territory, and Britain still won’t extradite you anywhere you’ll get the Kiss, and extradition treaties have gone to shit anyway since the Thorn War!’
She reeled back, and he realised half his words were washing over her, meeting the barrier of her fear and uncertainty. ‘I can’t ask you…’
‘You’re not asking,’ he said with a stubborn set to his jaw. ‘It’s happening. We take the Portkey tomorrow, report to Roux, and then we leave.’
He watched her as she hesitated, then slumped, stood in the middle of this tiny tent and still looking as if she was adrift in a vast sea. At last she gave a stiff, unsure nod, and when she spoke again it was clear her thoughts had circled back around in the vortex sucking and swirling through her heart and mind. ‘I thought he was dead, gone. I thought I was… free.’
‘You are free,’ Albus said, stalking to her and bringing his hands again to her shoulders. ‘You’ve been free since you fought him in Portugal. You freed yourself then, you freed yourself killing Downing, fleeing him in Venice, breaking us out in Ager Sanguinis.’
‘It’s not that simple,’ she creaked, desperate gaze meeting his. ‘You never understood because I never explained it before; he lifted me up, he gave me purpose. I thought…’ She almost looked away, and he saw the effort it took for her to stand her ground. ‘I thought it was over.’
‘A lot of us did,’ he said softly. ‘And we’ll find out the truth, too. Whatever trick or magic this is, whatever the consequence, Eva, you’re not alone.’
He felt her hands curl in his jacket for a moment, but when she pulled away it wasn’t with a sudden jerk. There was a deliberate flex to her fingers, a deliberate steel as her hands dropped, and he knew her well enough by now to know she teetered at the edge of her vulnerability. She had never been a woman to succumb to it easily, and he did not imagine five years on her own had made that easier.
When she spoke, her voice dropped along with her gaze. ‘Thank you.’ She stepped away, slid from his grasp, though he felt a reluctance in her fingertips as they trailed down his arm before breaking contact. ‘There’s a second camp-bed in here we can put up.’
He watched her pull away, watched the veils of control fall back across her eyes, and while he wanted to follow, brush aside the barriers, he knew it had been too long to push on scars reopened this violently. So he let his bag slide to the floor, and turned away.
‘Then I guess,’ Albus rumbled, ‘it’s time for me to try to turn ration packs into something edible.’
They ate without much ceremony or enjoyment, and collapsed into their bunks not long after, lulled to sleep by exhaustion and the chirruping of the wilderness beyond the tent, magics of the canvas keeping them protected from sight and wildlife. He had almost drifted off before he heard her, tossing and turning in the camp bed feet away from his, low words he couldn’t make out or understand slipping past her lips.
He didn’t dare wake her. But he couldn’t lie here and sleep and ignore her torment, so Albus dragged his camp bed nearer, lay down, and reached across the space for her hand. He felt her twitch under his touch, but she didn’t stir, didn’t wake.
It did not stop her agitated sleep, not fully. But the squeeze of a hand was all he could give, and in the long night in the middle of nowhere in the shadow of the rising past, it was something.
‘Liquid lunch, truly the finest of inventions,’ sighed Selena, leaning back on her high chair and sipping her glass of prosecco as sun oozed through the bar’s tall windows to drape them and their table in warmth and gold.
‘Speak for yourself.’ Rose sipped her coffee and helped herself to one of the little sandwiches on the high tea tray. ‘Some of us have to be back at work this afternoon.’
‘I’m working, too. It’s a piece on the best placed to get respectably sozzled at lunchtime in Diagon Alley.’
Selena arched an eyebrow as she put her glass down. ‘Of course not. You think I can still work in this country?’
Rose glanced about the quiet, classy establishment she’d used for a few business meetings in her time with White Wands. The other patrons were much like them, young professionals stepping out of the office able to enjoy a more luxurious break than scoffing a sandwich at their desk. ‘Nobody cares. Your name was on the table booking and nobody cared.’
‘And still I’m always the one who has to go through the extra security checks with international Portkeys. It’s like everyone forgot my mother tried to take over the world through a veneer of respectability. What do they think, that I’ve got explosive runes in my handbag? If I used them it’d be in protest of the waiting room snacks, not in protest of unchecked magical globalism.’
‘Ironically we have the opposite problem.’
‘I know.’ Selena sipped her drink again. ‘It’s like we’re in the bloody Dark Ages. Hours to skip even across Europe. There are times I wonder if I could travel more efficiently by Muggle means. Let’s hope the brand-new GWA manages to fix all of that without spooking people too badly, hmm?’
‘And if it does,’ said Rose levelly, ‘would you come back?’
‘Oh, darling, I’m far too busy with my work and -’
‘And it’s been five years. Five years.’ Rose set down her coffee cup and met her gaze. ‘I understand why you felt you had to leave after the Thorn War. I don’t pretend to comprehend what went down between you and your mother, but I get that there was scrutiny to avoid. Is this going to be your life, though? Roaming the world, writing under a pseudonym, dragging Matt -’
Selena stiffened. ‘I’m not dragging Matt,’ she said with a heat that made Rose wonder if, for the first time ever, she’d actually found a weak spot. ‘He suggested this and he wanted to come with me, he can do all of his bloody research and writing anywhere or he benefits from the travel. Lots of people travel for a living.’
‘Okay, okay!’ Rose lifted a hand. ‘I’m sorry. You two are alright, though? I mean - I know we don’t talk much about him -’
‘Really, I should be asking about you and him. You know, I’ve always asked him if he wants to come whenever I’ve been coming to see you. I never wanted to assume he wouldn’t, or make him feel like he couldn’t. But it had honestly become habit by now. I didn’t expect him to agree to come to the party.’
Rose stirred her coffee. It didn’t need it, but fiddling with the spoon gave her something to do with her hands, meant she didn’t have to look Selena in the eye. She knew she was being diverted; Selena was the master of turning a conversation she didn’t like back around on the other person, but such was her talent that even being aware of it didn’t mean she could wriggle out. ‘I was surprised. We honestly hadn’t talked since you guys left the country; if it weren’t for you I’d never have known how he was. That and his career and books. He’s done well for himself.’
‘He has,’ said Selena with a small smile of undisguised pride.
‘He really didn’t say anything to you about it before the party?’
She shrugged. ‘I was sort of breezing through the formality of telling him I was going and asking if he wanted me to book him in with the Portkey and hotel, too, and he just said… well, he said yes, and when I asked him if he was dying or something he just said it was about time. He’d got his brooding face on so I thought I’d talk to him about it later, but, well. It’ll have to be next week now.’
‘It wasn’t anything earth-shattering at the party,’ Rose confessed, ‘except for that he came and spoke to me, which in itself was earth-shattering. Like he told you, he said it was about time. That we’d been apart for a while and a lot had changed and maybe it was time for us to talk again. He didn’t actually mention the ritual or - or de Sablé, or forgiveness. It felt more like the opening of a door and I didn’t want to press him. I mean, has anything happened with you two to make -’
‘What, make him suddenly about-face on being determined to walk away from you forever? No, nothing comes to mind.’
Rose watched her, heard the words intended on striking a blow, on driving her off, and sighed. Selena Rourke used so many twists and turns to hide her true thoughts and feelings from others that it was enough to put off all but the most determined; worse, Rose suspected Selena sometimes lost herself down the winding paths. And she couldn’t lie; wondering about Selena and Matt meant she didn’t have to worry about her own looming issues.
But she was saved from diving into Selena’s woes or dissembling about her own by the chime from the locket in her pocket, and with a sigh she pulled it out. ‘That’ll be work, it’s -’ Only she flipped the locket open to see not Marius Smedley or one of her clients, but Scorpius. Even in miniature form, enchantments sending his face through their magical lockets for instantaneous communication, she could see the cold, sombre glint in his eye.
‘You should probably take a long lunch or the afternoon off, dear,’ he said. ‘Albus is at the flat and he wants to talk to us. It’s important.’
She glanced across the table then back. ‘I’m with Selena -’
‘He says bring her too.’
Selena arched an eyebrow as Rose snapped the locket shut. ‘All’s well?’ she said, not having picked up Scorpius’ side.
‘I don’t know. Albus is back, and he wants to see us. Including you.’
They paid up, abandoning half-finished sandwiches and almost a whole glass of prosecco before Selena gulped the lot down, and left. On Diagon Alley they were within walking distance to the flat, so emerged into the bright spring sun. Despite her best efforts, Rose found herself storming along at a pace almost a jog, Selena wobbling beside her.
‘Let me digest, Weasely, Merlin alive.’ She grabbed her elbow to force her to slow. ‘Besides, you have to brief me. Did what I think was going on happen at the party with Al? Scorpius was cagey.’
‘What do you think was -’ Rose sighed. ‘It was Eva, yes. Scorpius didn’t tell me much; I knew nothing beforehand and we talked only a little that evening, and then… well, then everything happened.’
‘So, days after Scorpius is attacked by one of Thane’s old goons, Albus returns from time with she who was once Thane’s most loyal disciple and grim news. Coincidence?’
‘It never is.’
The look on Albus’ face when they got to the flat made it clear they were right. He stood near the windows, bathed in the warm sunshine that still could not lighten the frown on his face. Scorpius stood across the room, hands on the back of the sofa, too agitated to sit, but by his expression Rose surmised he knew little more than them.
‘Oh,’ she said, closing the door behind Selena. ‘I’ve got that “just like old times” feeling.’ They stood there for a moment, the four of them who had been together longest, through Phlegethon and the Chalice hunt and the final Lethe crisis, and nothing was said for a long moment as all eyes fell on Albus.
His gaze turned to the window, but his voice was a low rumble that only made the tension shudder. ‘I’ve come directly from South Africa. After a deployment to DR Congo.’
Scorpius looked fit to burst with all his waiting. ‘Deployment?’
‘I volunteered to help Eva with a surveillance job. A meeting between a smuggler’s ring and their buyers. The smugglers are called the Red Manticores, and their core is made up of - of people who used to work for Prometheus Thane.’ There was something thick in Albus’ voice. ‘Leofric Tackleton, Gisila Faust, and -’
‘Niko Argyris.’ Scorpius shrugged as Albus looked at him, surprised. ‘You go first.’
‘We made it to the meeting point. Our objectives were merely to gather intel, learn more on who -’ Albus cut himself off, and Rose realised he’d been meandering. He was stalling, and the look on his face as he at last turned to them said he knew it. ‘Prometheus Thane was there. Or someone who looked a lot like him to the extent it’s fooled Eva.’
Rose saw the colour drain from Scorpius’ face, and she rushed to him only to find her hands hanging by her side, useless, unable to reach out. Behind her, Selena said in a voice far too deliberately flat, ‘Assume the obligatory “that’s impossible” has been said.’
Albus scowled. ‘I know. That’s what I said. And she pointed out the number of impossibilities we’ve faced and done.’
‘Okay, so your girlfriend is either super keen or super damaged to quickly believe something looking like Thane is Thane.’ Selena stalked to the middle of the room, gaze as ardent as Rose remembered seeing it. ‘Way to jump to conclusions because we’ve done all kinds of crazy shit.’
‘It’s not the same,’ agreed Rose.
‘I know.’ Scorpius’ voice started almost too soft to hear, but then he lifted his head, corners of his eyes creased. ‘Coming back from the dead’s impossible, right?’
‘That was different,’ she said swiftly. ‘You - there was the Chalice, you weren’t really brought back, it was -’
‘And that was considered impossible, and yet it was done by Prometheus Thane.’ He looked at Albus. ‘Where’s Eva?’
Albus’ shoulders stiffened. ‘She should be in the country by now; she took her own route and is laying low.’
‘Okay,’ said Selena, raising a finger. ‘Are we going to talk about that?’
He scowled at her. ‘What that?’
‘She just happens to resurface the same time at least all her old buddies are putting the band back together?’
‘I’m not going through this dance again,’ said Albus firmly. ‘I trust her.’
‘Al,’ said Rose swiftly, cutting off Selena, ‘we shouldn’t jump to any conclusions, but bear in mind that it’s been five years. Five years.’
‘Five years since her chance of a pardon was destroyed by Lillian’s conspiracy, a conspiracy she helped bring down. Five years since she killed Prometheus Thane, five years since she saved lives in Cape Town and five years since she helped rescue you.’ Al stabbed a finger at Selena. ‘I didn’t come back here for this.’
A cold memory slithered into Rose’s gut, a reminder of how far Al could be pushed before he’d break, but at last Scorpius spoke again. ‘You’re right, Al. This isn’t about her.’ He straightened and looked across the room. ‘I found her in South Africa the other week. I’m the reason she resurfaced. And if I trust her judgement on anything, it’s Prometheus Thane.’
Rose was keenly aware she was the only person in the room whose past wasn’t coming back for a haunting, and lifted her hands. ‘Also, before we all regress too wildly, what’s being done about this, Al?’
Albus’ head snapped to her, as if she’d snatched his attention from something unseen, and he let out a slow breath. ‘Judge Roux has been briefed so SADOM knows. That means what’s going to turn into the GWA Security Council in a month knows or will know.’
‘Which means,’ said Rose pointedly, ‘the world’s forces are on this. So we can all stop looking like we’re about to saddle up, right?’ She saw the dissatisfaction as they shifted their feet. ‘My compromise is this: we all of us have resources to find out more. Al can tap Harry, Scorpius and Selena your connections, and I have contacts through the company. You can guarantee the world’s law enforcement is going to be asking the same questions we are. So let’s not go and do something stupid on our own; let’s find out what they know.’
‘My,’ drawled Selena after an obvious effort to steel herself, ‘that sounds halfway healthy. Haven’t you realised that’s not how we work?’ But she shrugged. ‘I have friends in several governments. I’ll put my ear to the ground.’
Albus nodded, looking mollified. ‘I need to talk to Dad anyway.’
Rose frowned. Yeah, with Eva smuggled into the country, I bet you do. ‘My security clearance should get me a lot once I start asking the right questions.’
Scorpius only gave a sullen nod. ‘I’ll look into things on my end. But if the GWA is rattled by this and the Manticores, this explains a few things.’ He shrugged at their glances. ‘Magical Cooperation and Law Enforcement have asked me to notify them if I’m travelling anywhere. They sometimes get twitchy about me, still.’
‘Well,’ sighed Selena. ‘I should go and do some Flooing, then. Here we go again!’
Not, thought Rose as they all said their swift, tense goodbyes, if I have anything to say about it. She turned to Albus once Selena had left, lips thin. ‘I’m sorry.’
He slumped against the wall, and only now did Rose see how truly tired he looked. ‘You’re not wrong. But I’m not doing this dance again. Please trust my judgement, Rose.’
She looked at Scorpius, stood as if tension had crammed into every muscle and left him immovable, and realised she was going to have enough on her plate without borrowing trouble. Her eyes flickered back to Albus. ‘I do,’ she said, and not only because she had to. ‘What’s her status? Legally, I mean?’
‘Awkward. She’s got deals with South Africa, and most of what will become the GWA probably won’t piss off SADOM by locking her up. But she’s still officially wanted and will get arrested in enough places if she shows her face. And then it becomes a question of who wants to fight to save her, and who wants to fight to condemn her, and who fights hardest.’
She bit her lip. ‘Are you okay?’
‘Yeah.’ Albus sighed and straightened. ‘I thought it was over. I thought she was back and it wasn’t…’
‘I don’t think it’ll ever stop.’ Scorpius’ voice came low and hollow, and was enough to send a chill down her spine.
Albus met her gaze, the unspoken exchange clear enough for him to straighten his robes. ‘I’m going to go see Dad. Even if he hasn’t heard, he’ll need to.’
‘Good luck.’ Rose watched him head to the Floo, disappear in a puff of green smoke, and grabbed Scorpius’ arm. ‘Talk to me.’
He stared at her hand like he didn’t understand it. ‘What am I supposed to say?’
‘Scorp, we have talked so little about the war…’
‘Because nothing good comes of it.’ He pulled his arm free, and her fingertips tingled with cold at his absence. ‘What’ll we discuss? What I did? What you did?’
That was quicker than I expected. ‘Not to put too fine a point on it, but I had no idea who Argyris and the others were. Now it might be very relevant.’
‘Not as relevant as him.’
‘We don’t know that, we don’t know anything about that. Yes, Eva knew him best, but Prometheus Thane had a prodigious talent for getting under people’s skin; she is hardly the most level-headed when it comes to him, and neither are you!’ He looked apprehensive, wounded, and she pressed on before he fell into old habits of lashing out to keep her at bay when scared. They had not been in such a situation for a long time. ‘When we found you in Rotterdam, when we camped afterwards and then in Saint Annard, you called him by his first name. You believed he’d backed your plan to hunt Selena. You two fought together like you were used to it. I noticed the about-face after he was captured, the pushing him away.’
‘Are you saying I lied -’
‘I’m saying that Thane has always meant something to you, Scorpius. And we never talked about it. But it might be very relevant. And stop pushing me away; I’m on your side!’ She stepped closer again, slid a hand across his back. ‘Where you go, I go, remember?’
His hands made fists in the throw over the back of the sofa, shoulders hunched in. ‘This - this is exactly why I’ve been… distant.’
‘Thane?’ She tried to scour the dubious tone from her voice.
‘The past.’ His gaze lifted to rake across the walls, across the cosy home they’d built for themselves these five years, and never let shadows of history encroach on. Much. ‘There are so many things standing in the way of the future, and it’s all what came before.’ At last he turned to her, grabbed both her hands in his, and clutched like she’d be swept away if he didn’t. ‘I went to Malfoy Manor. I mean, you guessed that, you sent Selena…’
‘I had an inkling.’
‘I’ve ignored the place the last years. Ignored my father, ignored my ancestry. But then you told me - I mean - we’re having a kid.’ Finally the news seemed to do something to his face other than cause more furrows; finally she saw something open up in his expression. It wasn’t yet joy or excitement, but it was, perhaps, a hint of awe. She wondered if she’d ever get past her gut-wrenching terror and to that point. ‘A little - I mean, there, see, I was going to say a little Malfoy, but we’ve not talked about that sort of thing ever, and you never took my name, and you know I don’t have a problem with that -’
‘Scorpius.’ She tightened her grip on his hands. ‘There is time to talk about that.’
‘I know, and the name isn’t the point, it’s a symptom. I have to decide, and maybe some day help this child decide, what comes next for the Malfoy family. In name, in prestige, in identity. I’m handing any child of mine a legacy of - of exploitation, of superiority -’
‘No, any child of yours is going to have a hero for a father, who fought to save Hogwarts, to save the world. Whose family tree includes a man who died to stop great power from falling into the hands of great evil -’
‘Whose family home was the site of the imprisonment and torture of their maternal grandparents, whose father killed his way across the world believing like an idiot that it was for a greater good instead of propping up that evil -’
There it is. ‘Prometheus Thane,’ said Rose in a sharp, clear voice, ‘lied to and manipulated you. If he’s back or if he isn’t back is no reflection on you, on what you’ve done, on who you are.’
He slumped at that, but she could see the tension still ebbing from him, like he cast a longer shadow to make all the dark corners of the flat curl and warp in around them. ‘I know,’ lied Scorpius. ‘I guess we just spent so much time thinking about only the present. Not the future, and not the past.’
‘We earned that.’
His gaze lifted to hers, greyer-eyed than usual, more Malfoy than usual, as he always was when at his most serious or sorrowful. ‘Maybe we ran out of credit.’
The only noise in the small, gloomy room was the chink of coin on coin as Gaspar counted and the sound of Matt’s blood rushing in his ears. Beyond these paper-thin walls was the shouts of the streets, the rumble of cars, though all of it some distance away. None of it would draw closer; people didn’t come to this hovel in the favelas of Rio if they didn’t have to.
Gaspar placed the last coin down with a clink of finality. ‘Eight hundred.’
Matt fought to keep his expression level, as if he’d done this a thousand times before. ‘As agreed.’ It was difficult to not sweat; the streets outside were sun-soaked and while he’d dressed for the weather and the area, even in his short-sleeved shirt he felt the back of his neck swelter under his hair.
‘As agreed,’ confirmed Gaspar. He didn’t look much of a wizard, in vest and headscarf, but in these parts of Rio the line between magic and Muggle was thinner so long as it came to crime and money. Everyone was equally screwed, and while Matt knew they didn’t break the international statutes, they certainly bent them.
But he had what Matt wanted, and slid the bulky brown envelope over the sticky table. Somewhere across the room, the gaudy neon-lit wall clock, resplendent with a pair of flickering green-bulbed breasts, ticked far too loudly and with irregularity enough to give him a headache. Still, he snatched up the envelope and cracked it open, tugging out the sheaf of papers inside with care.
‘You of course can check,’ said Gaspar as if offended, as if he hadn’t counted every single coin, and pushed his chair back to tilt on two legs, hands behind his head. ‘You knew my reputation.’
‘We agreed that I would be paying for specific content. If the sketches of Euryleon’s tomb aren’t in the bundle then you’re down one hundred galleons.’
‘We have a -’
‘And I will pay good money for the rest,’ said Matt with a curt confidence he didn’t feel. ‘But I’m after Catalina’s complete works on Euryleon. Or as complete as can be. And they’re not here.’
Gaspar grimaced. ‘I will look. Perhaps stored separately.’
‘Or perhaps I get my hundred galleons back.’
‘I will look!’ Gaspar stood, hands raised, and skulked for the back door.
Matt slipped the package in his satchel. How the writings of a 16th century Italian wizard on the mysteries of a magical scholar of ancient Greece had ended up in Rio was beyond him, but magical Rio boasted a black market unlike any other in the world. If anyone wanted anything and was prepared to give lots in money and little in questions, they would not come away disappointed. Except here he was, in a squat favela of a relatively reputable fence, who had first tried to con him out of a hundred galleons and now claimed that a section of ancient writings had been left ‘in the back.’ One of those he could believe.
The other was a problem.
‘Shit.’ He moved quickly for the front door, the way he’d arrived, only to find it not budge. ‘Shit,’ he hissed again, and drew his wand just as the the back door creaked open.
‘Sorry, friend.’ Gaspar’s wand was pointed at him, but he wasn’t alone. A short, well-built, plain-faced wizard had emerged from the door, armed, and there were silhouettes behind him in the corridor still. ‘Your money was good, but theirs was better.’
Matt’s right hand, the enchanted and runed prosthetic of living steel, reached around his back for metal to meet metal. He did not look away from Gaspar. ‘For what? If you wanted to sell to someone else, why am I here?’
‘You wouldn’t be after the writings of Catalina if you didn’t have something already,’ said the squat wizard. ‘And my boss respects your work, so he’d like to see what you got so far.’
‘Hate to disappoint your employer,’ Matt drawled. The door behind him wouldn’t just be locked, he knew; it’d be enchanted, and beyond what an Alohomora could contend with. This didn’t stop him from whipping his wand down, a silent incantation sparking magic forth for a gout of smoke to come billowing out, filling the room to blind him, blind them, and burn eyes and lungs. It kept him hidden, kept them startled, and was a terrible tactic when confined in a tight space.
When the adamantine sword was in his hand, crashing down on the lock to send the door bursting open, sunlight tumbled in as smoke tumbled out and he was no longer in a confined space. Matt bolted into the street, sputtering from his own distraction, and had no time to think about his destination as broke into a sprint.
And ran flat into a ghost.
The man who looked like Prometheus Thane had been waiting in the street, and when Matt bolted into him Thane flipped him over his hip as if he weighed nothing, knocking him on his back. Stars exploded in front of Matt’s face, vision spinning, and he gasped out of shock and to scrabble for the air knocked out of his lungs.
‘Don’t worry, Mister Doyle.’ The tall, aristocratic figure of Prometheus Thane, the sun shining behind him to blur out his high cheekbones and sharp features, leaned down at him. ‘You never do disappoint.’
Matt felt his jaw drop, felt the pounding in his ears get louder. ‘That’s impossible,’ he croaked. ‘You’re dead.’
‘And now I’m not; must we dance that dance again? It gets ever so tiresome. As would the dance of me chasing you for old secrets, so hand over what you have and we can skip to the end.’
‘Skipping to the end sounds rather bad for me, though,’ Matt pointed out.
‘As you say. We can do this the hard way,’ said the man who looked like Thane, who raised his wand into Matt’s face - and then darkness consumed him.
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