Chapter 6: The Water Comes Ashore


The Horned God was a pub in centre of Muggle London that was far too run-down, far too grimy, and with far too little patronage to make any sense. This was exactly how its proprietors liked it, encircled as the establishment was with enough charms and enchantments to guarantee any Muggle would look at the front, shrug, and carry on with their day completely forgetting the forgettable place’s existence. But out here it was far enough away from Diagon Alley and the functions of the Ministry of Magic’s business to be left to its own devices, which Scorpius also suspected was the intent.

After all, he was coming here to find wanted criminal.

He was halfway through a sticky pint from a sticky tankard at the sticky bar before the bartender, a big, gruff, bearded fellow, leaned forward and muttered, ‘Room 2b, upstairs.’ Scorpius was frowned at when he tried to take his pint with him, but it gave him an excuse to not have to finish the acrid drink anyway.

This was a pub which took the privacy of its guests seriously. He’d had to slide a note across the bar on arrival to get a look in, had to sit and drink while he waited, and nothing had been confirmed that he was even in the right place until now. Or he was being sent to a room to be shanked in peace and quiet. But he’d been to murkier places in his work for the Foundation, had to rub elbows with those off the beaten track plenty to get help to those who needed it. He’d included coins with the note; not enough for special treatment, enough to be turned away without consequence if he was in the wrong place.

A knock on the door to one of the private rooms upstairs and it opened to show Eva Saida, gaze cautious as she looked past him, up and down the corridor. ‘I know how to not be followed,’ he assured her.

‘You stand out,’ was her only greeting as she ushered him into the small room, with its cramped desk and bunk.

‘People honestly don’t care too much who I am -’

‘They care that your jacket costs more than they earn in a week.’

‘Walking through the dark underbelly of London is no excuse to let fashion slide.’ He looked her up and down. ‘Long time, no see.’

‘It’s been two weeks.’

‘It’s been a long two weeks,’ he pointed out. ‘How sure are you?’

Eva Saida was not a very expressive woman, so he knew the world was ending because her eyebrow twitched at his question. ‘I’m sure.’

Scorpius sagged, moving to slump against the wall. ‘Holy shit. How?’

‘I don’t know. But Prometheus spent years, even before he and I parted ways, sticking his nose into all manner of mysterious magics and secrets. And then there’s all the work he did to bring you back…’

‘You think he had an ace up his sleeve?’

She shook her head and perched on the bunk. The windows were unshuttered, spring light crawling into the tiny room, but still the place felt drained of colour. ‘If there is one thing I knew for sure about Prometheus Thane, it’s to never underestimate him.’

He stared at nothing. ‘It makes sense he’d be the one to get the group together. Tackleton and Faust and Argyris - I’d assumed Loganach would be behind it, somewhere -’

‘Griogair’s dead.’ Eva’s voice was low, bland. ‘Fight with Australian law enforcement maybe a year ago.’

‘Oh.’ Something swirled in Scorpius’ gut, and he was horrified to realise it was grief. ‘He was always - you know, he was always kind to me.’

‘He didn’t have the petty malice of some of them. He was smarter than most of them. I never knew for sure if he was pleasant because it was easier and more effective to be, but he was Prometheus’ second for a reason.’ Her gaze switched to her hands, brow furrowing an iota. ‘I almost envied him, but being Prometheus’ second meant he was sent away a lot, given independence a lot. I was his dog. It kept me close to hand.’

‘Why do I care,’ he said, numb. ‘Griogair was a criminal and a killer; he was part of the Hogwarts team, I saw him kill people, he killed people with me -’

‘They were a team. Your team.’ He heard her hesitate. ‘Prometheus’ team. And you endured a lot together; it forms a bond.’ Something made him look at her, and he found her dark eyes searching. ‘Did it occur to you that you were with Prometheus’ team as long as you were with the Five?’

The grief in his gut swirled again, and became that to which he realised it had always been so close: disgust, a rising bile that surged to his throat to choke him. ‘It’s not the same.’

‘It’s similar. A group united in cause, with the whole world against them. I was never very good at being a team player, but I saw it. I spent a very long time set apart even in the group, but I would be lying if I pretended they all meant nothing to me.’ He saw her clench and unclench her fists, saw her look away. ‘I lied a lot.’

‘And him. Thane. Prometheus.’ Rose had pointed out he’d once called the man by his first name, and then stopped the moment he’d been found alive. It had not been an intentional deception.

‘He had… has a talent for finding the best of you, and bringing it to the forefront. For his own purposes, of course, and in many ways he then used it and corrupted it. But he only wanted the best. And he made us the best.’ She stood, and when he dragged his eyes up to meet hers he hated the mirror he found. ‘No, they won’t understand.’

‘I haven’t hidden it,’ Scorpius croaked, and heard his own lie. ‘I didn’t know how to talk about it. Think about it.’

‘You stood a good chance of never having to again.’ There was no judgement in Eva’s voice, only a hint of regret. ‘I’m sorry for my part in bringing it up. You deserved, more than me, to get out.’

‘No.’ His gaze snapped up again. ‘I knew some of this would come up if you returned. That was a price I am more than willing to pay, for Albus’ sake.’

It was her turn to flinch away in this exchange of unwelcome truths and stumbling understanding. ‘I wouldn’t have come back if I knew this was going to happen.’ She faltered. ‘How has he been?’

‘In truth?’ Scorpius shrugged. ‘Seeing him angry and upset about this is the most alive I’ve seen him in a long time. He’s been - I think “going through the motions” is the term for it. At first it did him good for us to work together, for him to spend more time with me, with his family; that was badly needed after his time away, after the war. But for the last couple of years…’ He sighed. ‘It’s like he’s been in a holding pattern, waiting for or figuring out how to make his life move forward.’

‘I never wanted that for him. I never wanted him to wait -’

‘I don’t know that he has,’ he admitted. ‘He’s not been a celibate monk the last five years; he’s dated, there were some nice girls he kept finding he had nothing in common with. Oh, and that one Russian girl he did get on swimmingly with, but she also worked internationally and they parted ways before it could be anything serious. But I think the reasons they got on were the reasons they fell apart: a life outside the ordinary. For all his efforts, “ordinary” is nothing describing Albus.’

‘I didn’t think it would be anything describing you.’ Eva shrugged. ‘Married man, heading up his own organisation.’

Scorpius winced. ‘Which possibly lends evidence that there is no such thing as ordinary. Perhaps I should say there aren’t many people who share Albus’ ordinary. You came back to him. He followed you halfway across the world just for more time. Does it need to be more complicated than that?’

‘With the Manticores out there, regardless of Prometheus, my chances of a life not spent on the run have halved. Which puts me back exactly where I was five years ago.’

‘You can’t run again,’ he found himself blurting before he meant to. ‘I understand why you would, but Al, he wouldn’t…’

‘I am going to see this situation with Thane through,’ said Eva, low and steady, ‘but I don’t know what I can do beyond that except ruin his life.’ She let out a slow breath. ‘And I’ve done that enough already for three lifetimes.’

§


The Auror Office in the Ministry of Magic always made Albus’ skin crawl, like the chairs were too small and the walls too close and every eye was on him. It was reminiscent of his youth, when he was forever apprehensive of being stared at as Harry Potter’s son, except even if he’d come to see his father the gazes felt more like judgemental law enforcement than star-struck bystanders. Maybe he’d skirted the law too many times to be happy about this place. It felt like everyone knew it.

‘Tagging you in,’ said Ron as he slid out of Harry’s office. ‘Got to be straight with you; he’s in a funny mood.’

‘Oh, good. Dad and I do our best thinking in funny moods.’ Al stood, shoulders heavy under the burden of dark knowledge. Did his father already know about Thane, or was there something else afoot? Neither was promising.

Ron caught his arm as he went to pass. ‘Thought everything was alright with you guys?’

‘It is.’ Albus felt his face crease, even if he wasn’t lying. ‘It’s just been a long week.’

‘Uh-huh. So much for your holiday.’ Ron looked him up and down, gaze holding every inch of scrutiny a veteran Auror could muster. ‘If you’re starting another war, you need to tell me. So I can get ahead of the curve on early retirement.’

‘No wars!’ said Al with a grin and laugh he didn’t feel, and he slipped past Ron and into his father’s office.

Harry sat behind his desk with a cup of tea that looked like it had been left to go cold. Age gave his father a distinguished weathering; silver temples, crow’s feet crawling out the corners of his eyes, a gauntness to his cheeks that all made him look far more severe. This did not help Albus’ nerves as he looked up and his eyes, too, were piercing. ‘I was surprised to hear you were back in the country. I thought you were going nomad again.’

Again. Every time Albus thought peace was made with the past, it hissed in the corner. ‘Something made me come back.’ He pulled up a chair and looked his father in the eye. ‘I was in South Africa and I have some contacts there, and I heard certain bits of news that either you already know, or you really need to know.’

They watched each other for long moments, before Harry flipped open a folder. ‘You shouldn’t jump at rumour. A second-hand report that -’

‘It’s not a second-hand report.’ Al took a deep breath. ‘Because I made the report.’

‘What?’

‘I was part of the expedition to DR Congo to observe the Red Manticore’s goods exchange which caught sight of Prometheus Thane -’

‘Under what authority is SADOM sending -’

‘Dad, you know as well as I do that there was nothing sanctioned about any expedition into DR Congo; I wasn’t sent, I volunteered for this entirely deniable operation, and let me tell you, you need to take this seriously. Prometheus Thane is alive. I saw him with my own eyes, and more pertinently his identity was confirmed by someone who knows him.’

The folder was slowly and deliberately shut. ‘How long have you been in contact with Eva Saida?’

It sounded like he’d just pieced it together, not that he’d known all along, but Albus had to force himself to unclench his fists by his side. ‘Only this week.’

‘You took leave from the Foundation, stopped doing good work for good people and instead to disappear off into the world with -’

‘This wasn’t the plan, Dad!’ Al threw his hands in the air. ‘Are you going to listen to me, trust me this time?’

That stopped Harry short, like he’d started a tumble into old habits and had to catch himself. At last Al saw the tension flicker in his face, a hint of shame in there, and he sat back. ‘I’m sorry. Please explain.’

‘She’s been working with SADOM for a lot of the last few years. She thought she was going to get a pardon, or at least political protection, and that it was almost over, but then the Red Manticore situation sprung up, and Thane. I wasn’t planning on disappearing with her to fight another secret war. I thought I was getting time off so I could figure out my life.’ Our life, perhaps. Who knows, now.

When Harry made a small noise of frustration, it didn’t sound like it was directed at him. ‘Of course she’s been working for SADOM,’ he muttered. ‘Roux lied to my face…’

‘You’ve been hunting her?’

Now Harry scowled. ‘I’ve been keeping an eye out for her since she disappeared. Unofficially. For you. But she’s kept out of my sight.’

Al faltered. ‘I’m sorry.’

A sigh. ‘I thought you and I were better at this.’

‘I think you and I are doing a really good job of assuming the worst about each other,’ Al admitted. ‘But you need to know, Dad, I’m not starting a shadow war or my own personal vendetta against Prometheus Thane. The others know, they deserved warning, but Rose smacked sense into us all. Reminded us that we don’t need to fall back into old habits.’

‘It would be a terrible idea in some cases,’ said Harry. ‘There are officials out there who will explode if it looks like Scorpius is going near Prometheus Thane again; a lot of people were unhappy he slipped away from prosecution at the end of the Thorn War, but Draco’s evidence against Lillian was too valuable. If he so much as sneezes the wrong way, someone is going to accuse him of having always been a loyalist to Thane. And as for Selena…’

‘Much the same, I know. I’m here to show things are different this time, Dad. To make sure you knew about Thane, to make sure you knew it was serious. Transparency.’

‘I appreciate that.’ Harry grimaced. ‘How is Saida?’

Al’s expression twitched. ‘I don’t know. It feels like the same things happening again; nothing can be properly considered until the crisis is over, and yet again a chance has been snatched from her hands. Our hands.’

‘She’s in the country? You don’t need to tell me where…’

He bobbed his head. ‘She snuck in. I’m sorry.’

‘Al, you need to stop acting like I couldn’t possibly understand how or why you’d break the law to do what you felt was right. Remember all the stories about me, and remember that five years ago I might have believed we were all better until yet another crackpot turned the law into their own weapon.’ His father’s eyes went distant. ‘I have not made the changes to the world I wished I had.’

Al wasn’t sure what to say to that. ‘I know you’ve not been as involved with the GWA security council. You probably should be. The Red Manticores, Thane…’

‘Thane is still a British citizen. Even if this is a trick or a ghost - I know, I know, more things in heaven and earth, but I will find out for myself, Al.’ Harry lifted a hand. ‘What’s Saida’s next plan?’

‘I don’t know,’ Al admitted. ‘My plan is to stop her from disappearing just yet.’

‘That’s a good plan. Even if this thing with Thane is a trick, she knows the Red Manticores’ upper echelons better than most.’ Harry stood, moving to one of the filing cabinets along the wall, and began rummaging in a drawer. ‘Am I going to get calls to bring her in and extradite her?’

‘If people realise where she is? Probably.’ Al winced. ‘I would hope you -’

‘That woman lost her chance at a pardon because of politics,’ Harry said flatly. ‘So far as I’m concerned, your forgiveness is my forgiveness. I’ll look into my options, okay?’

He slumped. ‘Thanks, Dad.’

‘Can I ask you to sit tight for a bit while I try to get to the bottom of all of this? If we’re going to do things differently, Al, we can start with both of us being open with each other.’

Al nodded, answer cut short by the chime from his pocket magic mirror, and he pulled it out with an apologetic glance. Only words spun through the misty mirror surface as he snapped the lid open, and he squinted. ‘It’s Lily. She must have realised I’m back in the country.’

She had a hell of a time in New Mexico, too. Not just Scorpius,’ said Harry gently.

‘You’re right. Truth be told, the whole New Mexico thing… got away for me.’ Al stood with a grimace. ‘I should go see her.’

‘I’m due proper meetings with the security council; I’ve got representatives from MACUSA in the country for briefings and sit-downs. I have the power to invoke the lead if this is Thane. With Tackleton involved, too, it gives Britain more relevance than the Yanks.’ Harry pulled a folder from his cabinet, holding it so Al couldn’t see the header. ‘We’ll talk later.’

It was a better meeting on matters of life and death than Al had had with his father in a long time, so he left it there. Lily kept a house near St. Mungo’s with a couple of her friends from Healer training, paying nominal rent even if these days she spent more time abroad with the Foundation. The two of them had been making a good team, which surprised even Al himself, used to being the third wheel of the Potter siblings.

So it was without apprehension that he Floo’d himself from the Ministry, without the hint of guilt that had yet to leave him in matters of his family. He burst out of the fireplace in Lily’s small living room, the house every inch the picture of student digs, and wrapped his sister in a warm hug. ‘Sorry I didn’t come sooner.’

Lily returned the hug tightly. ‘You’re always rocking around being busy and adventurous, big brother. I understand.’ She pulled back and gave him an odd smile. ‘I would have waited, but there’s someone I think you should meet.’

Her grip had been a bit too firm, and while her smile wasn’t insincere there was something under the surface, something he couldn’t place until he looked across the living room and saw someone else there. For a heartbeat he didn’t recognise her, then Lily said, ‘This is Isabella Castillo.’

…you saw that witch who just walked in, the late arrival trying way too hard to be intimidating in a lot of leather?

Auror Castillo got to her feet and stuck out a hand. ‘We didn’t get properly introduced in South Africa, Mister Potter.’

‘Yeah,’ said Lily with a hint of nervous laughter. ‘It was kind of weird to hear you two had run into each other on a business trip.’

Al found his spine locking up as he shook the hand. Both of them gripped far too tight. ‘I know of you by reputation, Auror Castillo.’

‘Isa was with me in New Mexico. Us. With us - with the MACUSA security sent down,’ Lily babbled. ‘She was a big help when everything went to hell, especially in the evac; I’d have had hell treating Scorpius if she hadn’t got us to a proper facility as quickly as she did. We didn’t get much chance to catch up before she had this meeting in South Africa…’

‘And now you’re here,’ said Al blandly.

‘My boss has got meetings with the DMLE,’ said Castillo. ‘Probably with your father. I get to play aide and info source, seeing as I’m something of an expert on the situation.’ She made him let go first, kept her gaze on him. There was something in her eyes which reminded Al uncomfortably of Eva; that same cool control, level temperament, that same intensity. He suspected neither woman would thank him for the comparison.

‘Oh, yeah, there’s a situation,’ said Lily too quickly. ‘Situations need tea; if people need tea?’

Castillo’s expression softened as she looked over. ‘Coffee?’

Lily relaxed at last with an eye-roll. ‘Yanks.’ But she squeezed Al’s arm before she left for the kitchen.

‘You know, I’m from Kentucky -’

Castillo was cut off not just by the door shutting behind Lily. For the moment his sister was gone, Al had grabbed her by the lapels of her leather jacket and half-hauled her off her feet, dragging her nose-to-nose with him. ‘You’re going after my sister because of me?’ The anger was an old friend, ancient embers in his belly firing up, and the warmth was welcome.

‘I’m in the country for work,’ said the Auror, voice flat and calm. ‘Figured I’d check in on Lily since I left in a hurry. I ain’t going after nobody.’

The heat in Al’s gut flared up, and he glanced down to see not just a wand prodded into his belly, but one with a gleaming tip, the warning of a promise of magics. He did not let go. ‘You’re not just here for coffee, and I wasn’t brought here for a nice chat.’

‘You’re right there. But I’m here to talk. Are you, or do you want to try posturing some more before I blast you across this room? I mean, I doubt Lily’d like that but I ain’t normally so tolerant of folks in my face like this, so you can only push a girl so far.’

He let go with a shove, but Castillo was steady on her feet, the wand disappearing up her sleeve before he could keep track of it. ‘Then talk.’

‘Sheer chance I met your sister in New Mexico right before we passed each other in Cape Town,’ she said. ‘I didn’t know you were still running with Saida at the time.’

‘Before last week I hadn’t seen her in five years,’ Al growled.

‘Maybe. Maybe not. Fact is, your sister’s a good person and her brother’s in cahoots with a known crook and murderer. That alone’s enough to get my attention.’

‘You’re actually implying you’re here for my sister’s protection; that I’m endangering her -’

‘That your associations are endangering her. You got a fascinating reputation and record, Mister Potter. But nothing so fascinating as your constant defence and protection of that woman.’

‘That woman is a good person -’

‘That woman murdered my partner and three other US citizens for the sake of the magical drug trade; it don’t take a hero to want to stand against world domination -’

Coffee.’ Lily near-kicked the kitchen door open, clutching a tray of hot drinks. ‘Also that door is super thin, just so you know.’ The two exchanged a guilty glance as she put the tray on the coffee table. ‘Isa, I trust my brother and I trust his judgement, at least when it comes to keeping me safe. I am not about to be murdered in my sleep by Eva Saida because Al turned a blind eye to her. Al, Isa isn’t using me to get to you. We were friends before this came up.’

Al watched his sister fight to hide her expression behind a sip of her tea, but he could spot the hint of blush on her cheeks, and tried to not roll his eyes. Oh, like this needed to be more complicated. ‘Then why am I here?’

‘I wanted the measure of you,’ said Castillo. ‘Because you had to be stupid, complicit, or ignorant.’

Lily winced. ‘Isa -’

‘I did my reading.’ She reached into her jacket and pulled out a folder that could only have fit inside a magically enlarged pocket. ‘Saw your history with Saida, saw how much you protected her. You’re the only reason she didn’t get locked away for good right after the Lethe outbreak.’

‘She has changed -’

‘Perhaps.’ Castillo did not sound convinced, and tossed the folder on the coffee table. ‘I shouldn’t even be showing you this. Whole world of trouble. But turning over a new leaf don’t stop the old side from being black as night. Changing her behaviour don’t count as justice.’

Al glanced down. ‘What is this?’

‘It were funny,’ said Castillo, not sounding in the slightest bit amused, ‘that not a single one of her victims were called to Niemandhorn for her pardon hearing. Not a single investigator who worked her old cases. Not a single person who could account for her crimes before the Thorn War. But they were going to see if she deserved to be pardoned for them crimes. Does that sound fair to you? Balanced to you?’

‘I am not an idiot,’ said Al slowly. ‘I don’t pretend she was just misguided, or just manipulated by Thane -’

‘Oh, I know full well what happens when you get a kid in a bad situation and raise them to think only of your version of right and wrong, and there’s a whole mess of debate on what to do with offences committed as a heavily-influenced minor. But everything that went down between her and me on US soil happened when she were over seventeen. Open the folder.’

He glanced at Lily. ‘Why did you bring my sister into this?’

‘Because I think it’ll do you good to have a second pair of eyes to look at this, a second pair of eyes you trust but who ain’t been wrapped up in your history. So you can’t just walk away and say I’m being a bitch, or manipulative, or that it don’t matter. I ain’t doing this to hurt you, Mister Potter. I’m trying to show you the truth.’

Al put down his tea and flipped the folder open with a veneer of indifference. He’d half-expected a horrific photograph first, some memory of evil, but instead he was greeted by a picture of Eva herself. She looked closer to how she did when they’d met seven years ago, though the image was grainy and looked like a blown up picture from some surveillance photography. She stood at a door, glancing to her left, that intense frown on her face, unaware of whoever had snapped the shot. The document it was paper-clipped to was a simple record, whatever basic information MACUSA had gathered on her, followed by a list of offences. It was not short.

He looked at one entry. ‘Jefferson Munro. That was your partner?’

‘We’d got word ahead of time on a run to the border town where their smuggler’s Portkey was waiting, set up an ambush, killed all Disapparition. But Thane was a smart son of a bitch; their arrival came with a big old blast of stunning magic that turned it into chaos. People scattered, it went mad, Jeff got her cornered in a side-alley. Backup - me - were real close, hot on their heels, so when she got the better of him in the fight she didn’t just Stun him, she slit his throat with dark magic. Left him bleeding out on the alley so I had to stop to help him, so I didn’t chase her.’ Castillo’s expression didn’t shift as she spoke. ‘It were effective. She slipped away and Jeff died on me before I could get him to the evac Portkey.’

Lily looked at Albus, aghast. ‘That can’t be how it went down -’

‘I believe you,’ said Albus, failing to swallow the ashen taste in his mouth. ‘She would have done that. Not to be vicious, but to slow you down and help herself escape.’

‘And not care who she killed in the process.’ Castillo rolled a shoulders. ‘Two of the other murders were a rival drugs-running squad. Nobody ain’t gonna weep for them, but it still ain’t justice.’

‘Locking her up now wouldn’t be justice.’

He watched as the Auror tensed. ‘I don’t think that’s for you to decide, Mister Potter.’

‘It’s not for you to decide, either.’ He straightened, his own shoulders squaring. ‘So I ask again, Auror Castillo; why are you here? Hoping I’ll break and hand her over?’

‘I know she left South Africa, and she were last seen in your company; she’s gotta be in the UK -’

‘You’re in the country for a briefing, Auror,’ Al snapped. ‘You’re here to inform British law enforcement of important matters, not to conduct your own off-the-books investigation and witch hunt! A title and a badge might work on the average wizard, but you have no jurisdiction here, you have no means of compelling me to assist you!’

Castillo’s lip curled. ‘I ain’t throwing the book at you, Potter. I’m trying to make you see, trying to make you do the decent thing -’

‘I am sorry for your loss. But the decent thing to do is not to betray a woman who has saved my life countless time; who saved dozens of lives in the Thorn War -’

‘And who hasn’t answered for all the lives she took!’

‘Stop it!’ That was Lily, slamming her mug of tea on the table so hard it spilt. ‘Al, I don’t know how you can be on your high horse -’

‘I am not -’

‘And Isa!’ Here she rounded on the Auror, hands on her hips. ‘I believe you came to see me, but don’t pretend you’re not hoping I’ll put pressure on Al. You can cut that shit out right now, or you can go and you can stay gone.’

Castillo’s jaw clenched, but after a moment she lifted her hands. ‘I meant what I said. But fine. I said my piece.’ She looked to Lily. ‘We’re staying at the Luminas Hotel. I still got a few days in the country. If you want to - I’ll be there. Find me, leave a message, I’ll be around.’ The tension switched as she spoke, faltering and hesitant, then she straightened her jacket. ‘I’m gonna go. You can keep that file, Mister Potter, if you’ll do me the kindness of not telling my boss I handed it over.’

Al almost threw it at her, but he found himself frozen as Auror Castillo disappeared through the Floo.

Lily tossed her hands in the air. ‘Well, that was five kinds of fucked up.’

He slumped onto an armchair, suddenly exhausted. ‘I’m sorry, Lil.’

‘For the record, I think you’re both being arseholes.’ She perched on the armrest next to him, and gingerly reached for the folder. ‘This was a long time ago.’

‘It doesn’t make people less dead.’ He scrubbed his face with his hands. ‘It doesn’t say anything I didn’t sort of know, though I never knew the specifics…’

‘It’s a bit different.’ She pulled her hand back as if the folder was something odious, and squeezed his shoulder. ‘I trust you, Al. And I know you’ve not got me in danger or anything like that -’

‘I would never have supported her pardoning, would never have had her for lunch at the Burrow if I thought she was still dangerous, and I didn’t reach that level of trust easily -’

‘I know.’ She gave an awkward, lopsided smile. ‘I didn’t realise you’d seen her again. She’s why Scorpius gave you the time off, isn’t she?’

He nodded stiffly. ‘I thought it was over.’

‘With someone like her, is it ever over? I care most of all about you being happy, big brother.’

‘I’m not sure I remember what that is any more.’ Al winced. ‘That came out melodramatic. I have been satisfied, I have been content for a long time. But -’

‘But everyone else made a life after the war. I’ve loved having you with us again, Al, and even James has got over what happened. But it’s like you’re not comfortable in your own skin, and I don’t think that’s just about not having the right girl be around. What are you going to do, wander the Earth forever looking for wrongs to right? Because that’s all you’ve done for seven years, one way or another.’

He didn’t answer for a while, and when he did it was with a rough clearing of the throat and a wry smile. ‘Why did you have to flirt with the girl who’s my ex’s sworn enemy?’

Lily gave an impish smirk. ‘I guess I just followed my big brother’s example on not letting anything in my love life be easy.’

Before he could snipe back, his enchanted mirror chirruped in his pocket, and with a sigh Al pulled it out to be greeted with the grim eyes of Scorpius Malfoy. He frowned. ‘What’s wrong?’

‘Shit on top of shit, mate,’ came Scorpius’ muffled voice. ‘It’s Doyle. He’s in trouble.’

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