On The Edge
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, it belongs to JK Rowling
This is Book V in my Gray series, if you have not read the others in the series then go back and read Book I Gray: Scorpius Malfoy and the Blood Runes, Book II Gray: Scorpius Malfoy and the Call of the Dark, Book III Gray: Scorpius Malfoy and the Werewolf Army and Book IV Gray: Scorpius Malfoy and the Scepter of Night first because otherwise this won't make much sense
Part 1: Ashes of Athens
The sky was dark but it wasn't night, there was light but it wasn't from the streetlamps. There were no streetlamps anymore, there were no streets in fact. They'd been glazed over with lava that had now hardened to dense, dark, lumpy rock. Streetlamps and anything else on the road or path had been drowned in the torrent of liquid fire, which also applied to anyone who had been unfortunate enough to be out when the attack had happened. It would be impossible to tell how many were dead and who the victims had even been, their remains were lost amongst the rock beneath her feet. Muggles had been hit worse than the magical community, anyone in the Ministry at the time - which had been a decent amount of people considering it had been a work day - had been alright due to it being underground and those in buildings could've used magic to protect themselves from being too badly hurt when they came crashing back down. Not that they were completely without injury and she had no doubts there had been some magical casualties too just like there were muggle survivors.
The buildings didn't even look like buildings anymore, the windows were blown out and the walls were cracked. They all stood crooked from being slammed back down onto the uneven frozen lava, if they were even still standing. Some had been too unbalanced and fallen, some lay there unrecognizably on their sides while others were leaning against its neighbor for support or to bring them both down like dominoes. Some were ablaze in places and some had massive chunks torn out by the dragons, like gaping wounds oozing rubble for blood. The dragons were still there, circling, clawing at or breathing fire on buildings at random although not attacking anyone directly. The fires were what were casting a bloody light on the survivors scrabbling through the streets. There were still a lot less people in Athens then there had been yesterday.
Leila Malika Akram trudged through the ruined city she'd loved, carrying her and Roman's son in her arms. Cyrus was five and a half now, he was blond like her but his skin was fairer like his father's and she thought he took after him more in terms of looks too. His eyes were like neither of theirs though, the iris, pupil and sclera were the same cloudy color. Cyrus had been blind since birth and for once in his life, she was glad. She'd been at work in the Ministry when the attack happened and knew for a fact that the Floo Network - at least in Athens - was down, that Portkeys were also not working and that anti-apparation spells were in effect. The Minister had surrendered to the Shadows - or Soul Eaters as they were also known - and they had poured in, teleporting using the Specters and taking over. They'd been allowed to go out and find their families, anyone who hadn't left had been herded outside anyway as the cloaked figures emblazoned with the blue Shadows' symbol were gathering the survivors. The same symbol hung in the sky, a giant skeletal snake of luminous azure light. Its body was twisted in a random pattern that constantly moved while in the center rested its head, a forked tongue flicking out.
They were killing anyone who offered resistance without hesitation so people had mostly stopped resisting by now, mostly people were complying and just crying or praying. The snatches of conversation she heard were mostly muggles trying to wrap their heads around magic being real or attempts at alternate explanations such as advanced technology, some massive publicity stunt or even a dream while others were severely regretting choosing Athens as a vacation spot. The initial panic, shock and terror had worn off now, people were still scared but capable of thinking as they dragged their tired, injured bodies through what had once been called streets. She had a plan to get her and Cyrus out though thanks to an artifact she had back at their apartment, Cyrus had been with a sitter not at home but they were on their way home now that she'd picked him up. Assuming she could find the building through the fallen rubble at least, the sound of screaming wasn't a good sign. She froze abruptly as one of the Shadows held up a hand and his wand to stop her.
"Muggles not magic go this way away," the man said to her in broken Greek.
"Excuse me?" Leila offered in English, the language she'd heard them talk to each other in and the man looked relieved.
"Muggles in this area are being led this way, witches and wizards are to gather at the Pantheon soon," the man explained to her in fluent English, clearly his native tongue.
"Why are muggle people going this way and not magical people?" Cyrus asked with genuine curiosity before she could shush him, she almost regretted making sure he knew English.
"Because those without magic are lesser beings, muggles will be slaves to those of us who are magical in the New World."
"How are things going to work in this New World?" Leila found herself asking with morbid curiosity before she could stop herself, the man was being rather amicable considering. She also wondered how he'd known she was magical, she wasn't carrying her wand in hand, "I just want to know what's to become of us."
"It's simple really, everyone magical - of any blood status too - of age will be given a choice to either comply with the New World or die while muggles become our slaves. Those underage will be seper- I- I mean- It'll be explained at the Pantheon soon enough, I'd recommend you go there. And don't resist, if you're not with us then there's no place for you in this new world. It would be a shame for someone as pretty as you to have no place here," the man told her and paused briefly to grab a teen turning down a side street, hauling her violently back and practically throwing her into the direction Leila had been trying to go. He jabbed his wand that way and the girl scrambled away in that direction with wide eyed terror before the man turned back to them and continued conversationally, "You'll still hear the message if you're not there but the Master's going to raise all the dead for the army of Inferi so I'd rather be at the Pantheon with a bunch of wizards then a bunch of living corpses if I were you."
"I will shortly, I'm just trying to find my sister. Her apartment's this way," Leila invented and feigned concern for her imaginary sister.
"She a witch too?"
"Yes," Leila snapped somewhat testily and the man gave her the ghost of a lopsided grin, "We're purebloods."
"The more the merrier then, eh? Go on, just head over to the Pantheon when you get her," the man offered and gestured for her to go on, she shifted Cyrus' position somewhat before carrying on as she didn't like the sound of what he'd started to say about those underage, "Assuming she's still alive that is."
"Mama, you don't have a sister," Cyrus pointed out after a few minutes as he switched back to Greek.
"He doesn't know that though, does he?" Leila said as she also switched to Greek to lessen the chance of Shadows understanding them.
"It's just a lie to get past him," Cyrus realized and in any other situation she'd have smiled at her son's intelligence or at least if she hadn't heard a scream, she tried to sound calm and optimistic for his sake regardless though.
"It's okay to lie to bad people taking over the world but I don't want to see you making a habit out of it, alright?"
"Alright," Cyrus nodded but still looked worried as he lowered his voice, "Mama, I hear screaming."
"So do I, I don't know where it's coming from though so try not worry about it."
"Is it coming from the living corpses that man said about?" Cyrus asked fearfully and she held him a little tighter to comfort him.
"I don't know," Leila admitted, she tried to be as honest with him as possible and she really didn't have an answer as she saw neither Inferi nor screaming people.
The screaming grew louder as the continued on before they came to an open area, Leila realized it had been the park near their apartment. The once beautiful landscape filled with laughing children was now a wasteland, like the streets it was now just black, frozen lava except filled with screaming muggles. The Shadows seemed to be splitting them into adults and children, crying children were torn from sobbing adults and she'd guess the bodies littering the ground was probably the reason there wasn't more resistance. It was what they were doing to them after separating them that was causing the screaming, with a flick of a wand they were branding huge crosses across the right cheeks of adults and children alike.
"What's happening to them? Are they dying?" Cyrus whispered quietly, his dusty face white with fear.
"No, they're just marking them as muggles," Leila explained as she started walking again, not wanting to be there and wanting her son to be there even less, "It hurts them to be marked."
"I'm scared, Mama," Cyrus whimpered and Leila sighed before kissing his head gently.
"We all are, sweetheart, we all are. But we'll be okay as long as we're together, I have a way to get us safely away from here."
Cyrus nodded weakly but said nothing as he buried his head back in the crook of her neck, Leila tried to pick up the pace to leave the poor muggles behind. There was nothing she could do for them, she was grossly outnumbered and trapped in any situation with magical transportation down. She didn't think the dragons would let anyone leave the city even if an attempt on foot or even by broom was made, she certainly wasn't going to risk Cyrus in a duel. Not unless she really had to anyway but she was hoping it didn't come to that. She actually had a theory that could help in general though, she'd studied Herpo's Scepter as part of her job after all. That wouldn't be of any help to anyone unless she got out of Athens though so it wasn't of immediate help, it might not be of any help at all really. It depended entirely on the Shadow Master's brother, assuming her theory about a brother was correct at all.
She let out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding when she saw her apartment building was still standing, it was slouching and the white brick was all cracked like the others but it was standing. She cautiously approached, the door had been thrown off its hinges so they slipped inside and headed up the stairs. The place creaked apprehensively with every step, maybe it was just her imagination but the walls also seemed to sway slightly. She drew her wand just in case the building started to give way or if debris started falling or whatever else could go wrong with an unstable structure. It was strange to think it had been normal when she'd left that morning, it was a wreck now with the walls bend and fractured, shards of glass littered the floor from smattered windows destroyed when it was dropped. And bodies. The lava had washed the initial victims away, the only dead were those resisting and the Killing Curse left no mark but here she saw mangled corpses of her muggle neighbors. They'd been knocked around like ragdolls as they tried to escape and she was sure there were more inside the apartments, most of the bodies were part in the broken doors or visible through the doorway. Limbs were twisted, bones jutted out of torn flesh, faces were mashed into a bloody mesh and some poor bastards were still alive as she heard occasional rattling rasps or guttural pleas for help coming from somewhere. She couldn't do anything for them though, she knew nothing about healing even if she dared risk time searching for survivors. She clutched her wand and her son closer, feeling guiltily grateful the babysitter had had the magical aptitude to spare him from that fate.
Leila gave a sigh of relief when she reached her own apartment, the door was hanging off its hinges like most of them as it had been knocked out of place. She went inside before finally putting Cyrus down, her apartment was no better off than the rest of Athens. Everything not bolted down was strewn across the floor, anything breakable was broken and buried in the graveyard of fragments across the floor, even furniture was smashed and upturned. It was somewhat painful to see her life in terms of material possessions turned upside down quite literally, she and Cyrus were still alive though and she'd rather have her son over even the most priceless artifacts any day. Thankfully the thing she was looking for was metallic and should be intact, it was also quite well put away.
"Just stay there, Cyrus," Leila told her son, afraid of him falling as she went further inside to search for the artifact, things crunching underfoot as she walked, "There's broken things all over the floor so be careful."
"Okay, Mama," Cyrus agreed sounding somewhat nervous but she'd rather he stay there than risk tripping and becoming impaled on a former table leg or slicing himself on the jagged things, she really was clueless on healing magic and his inability to see made uneven terrain especially treacherous for him, "Please be quick."
Leila hurried into her own room, which was just as devastated and she saw her bed was now propped up against the wall almost vertically but she headed for her closet. The damage was marginally better there, the enclosed area meant there wasn't so much space for things to be jostled but everything had still been spewed out of the boxes and the highest had tumbled, all of it was draped in clothes fallen from their hangers. She flicked her wand and the clothes went flying along with all the boxes on top of the one she wanted, she was glad she'd put it at the bottom now as everything was still inside even if it was in disarray. She scoured through it and felt her heart clench as painful memories resurfaced, a bracelet that had belonged to her dead mother, the engagement ring Roman had given her, the ancient healing ankh her father had acquired for her that she and Roman had solved the riddle for, photographs too of her family and Roman. Roman Rivers had been her fiancé until he'd left her pregnant with Cyrus, she'd kept the photographs in case Cyrus ever wondered about his father - before he'd been born blind rendering them useless of course - but had shoved them into the box out of the way because it depressed her to see them. She'd never gotten around to throwing them out.
She found herself picking up the nearest one sadly, Roman's muddy brown eyes gazed up at her with a smile while his arm rested around her in the picture. She'd been so happy. She'd never thought he'd just abandon her and their unborn baby, he'd even gone as far as to pretend he didn't know her when they'd met again through work - they both studied magical artifacts for a living - which made it hurt even more. She pocketed the picture of them with a sigh despite everything, along with the nearest one of her dead parents and the ankh because that had a practical use before continuing digging through the box until she finally reached what she was looking for. It was another Ancient Egyptian artifact in fact, two long solid gold bracelets engraved with hieroglyphs that were something akin to a precursor to Portkeys. They'd been used mostly by spies or sometimes travelers to get out of a tight situation if the need arose as they were limited to one direction of travel, they'd only transport the person back to one location which was the location of the bracelet's creation. Using them required tracing the hieroglyphs in the correct order and direction after which it took a minute to warm up, it also needed a cooling off period after before it recharged to be used again. Not exactly like a Portkey but it was in the same family of magic, she still very much doubted whatever anti-Portkey magic was in effect would stop the millennia old magic from working.
"Mama!" Cyrus called abruptly, "I think something is happening!"
Leila scooped up the bracelets, slipping one onto each wrist as she went back out to where Cyrus was waiting. He'd turned to face the front door, she realized she could hear a thrum that grew in volume the closer she got to the door. The same kind of thrum she'd heard when the Scepter was in use. She peered out through the broken door to see wisps of black smoke, seeping through the corridor like a mist and into some of the other apartments. There was an abrupt thunderous crack, flashes of violet shot out like lightning from the mist to zap the dead. Leila jumped back in shock and clasped a hand over her mouth, she could make an educated guess what was happening. There was a chorus of groans and she watched in horror as the dead began to pull their mangled bodies to their feet, she slammed the door closed as best she could and pulled Cyrus away from the door while her heart beat frantically in fear. She didn't turn her back on the door, afraid of them coming in.
"What's happening, Mama?" Cyrus asked, echoing her fear as awkward footsteps started outside with accompanying shadows going by beneath the door as Inferi moved by.
"You don't want to know," Leila assured him as she started tracing her wand over the hieroglyphs, they were lighting up blue where her wand touched which she took as a good sign as it didn't light up at all if it wasn't working.
"It's the living corpses the man said about, isn't it?" Cyrus wondered as she finished tracing the symbols, they were now turning to purple. Yellow was the color it was when in motion though, it was still warming up. She hoped it didn't take long.
"Yes," Leila confirmed quietly as she lifted him back up into her arms, she kissed his head gently and glanced at the now red symbols, "But we'll be away from here safe and sound in just a minute, you'll see."
"And here I thought you were looking for your sister," a familiar voice taunted, she noticed the symbols shift to orange.
Leila spun in shock to see the Shadow from before behind her, she went to raise her wand but was distracted by a bang from behind her as the front door burst open. She turned instinctively back to the sound and saw the Inferi limping in, the distraction cost her as a spell struck them. Cyrus was wrenched from her grip as they were both thrown violently away from each other, she heard Cyrus cry out as she collided painfully with the wall. She got her bearings in time to see the Inferi grabbing her son with their broken bony fingers, she raised her wand to defend him and saw the symbols now yellow to her absolute horror.
"NO!" Leila screamed as she felt herself ripped from reality.
It was as if hooks had dug into her wrists and were pulling her forcefully through a whirl of incomprehensible colors, faster and faster... And then it was over. She was just slumped against a different wall. The chaos was replaced by silence, the ruined apartment replaced by a room in an Ancient Magical Egyptian city she'd studied with Roman. But she was alone. She hadn't been in contact with Cyrus when it activated. Her son was left there. And it was only a one way trip. The emptiness gnawed at her, this was where Cyrus should be. She wasn't usually much of a crier but the liquid was bubbling from her eyes before she could stop herself, she buried her face in her hands as silent shuddering sobs shook her.
She'd lost her son, her precious little son. She had no idea what they would do to him, being a pureblood wizard - he had accidentally used magic before, he was certainly a wizard - was probably something in his favor but being deaf was probably not. Would they kill him? Had they already killed him? Would they enslave him with the muggles? Would they do... whatever else they planned to do wizard children? She had to get him back, she had to save him. She wasn't someone who sat around crying, she was a doer. Her stepmother had thought her mad for choosing a career and making her own way in life instead of living off the family wealth but she had done it because she was a doer. She stood up on shaky legs and wiped her eyes, trying to think through her loss because crying wasn't going to help him. She needed to be strong, she had to be strong. But how to get him back? Returning to Athens would be just as hard as getting out and they may not even keep Cyrus in Athens - assuming he was alive, he was going to be alive until she saw a body - at all.
Even if she could get back in, no one could compete with the Shadow Master. He had dragons, Specters, soldiers, Inferi, slaves, maybe even werewolves if that army was still a thing. It was all too much for one person to take on and the wizarding world wasn't going to do anything, countries would be too busy focusing on preparing to help themselves and keeping it from the muggles instead of trying to help Greece. No, she was on her own and she couldn't get through an army to save her son. But that didn't mean it was hopeless, dark forces were - rather appropriately - like snakes with the leader being the head and their followers being the body. Cut off the head and the snake would die, someone need only look at Voldemort or Grindelwald as examples as their followers didn't know what to do without a leader. She needed to cut off the head to get to her son. The Shadow Master was a force to be reckoned with though, especially with Herpo's Scepter. It allowed the user to channel magic stolen from others, contained in the orb at the top. The Shadow Master showed no sign of struggling to control so much magic at once or that the Scepter didn't approve.
Which brought her back to her theory, she'd read the Shadow Master had used Polyjuice - or possibly was just a metamorphmagus - to disguise themselves as someone with an iron clad alibi at his last public appearance when he'd stolen the Scepter initially. Scepters also got attached to a wizard and - often - to the bloodline, the Scepter had been Herpo's so it made sense the Shadow Master was descended from him as the Scepter seemed to like him. Slytherin was descended from Herpo, Voldemort was descended from Slytherin and the Shadow Master was the son of Voldemort. The problem with that though was that using Polyjuice messed with your DNA, the Scepter should reject the Shadow Master if he was pretending to be someone not sharing the correct bloodline. In contrast, it also would reject him if he wasn't descended from Herpo and simply pretending to be someone who was of the correct bloodline. So for the Scepter to work for him while Polyjuiced, he'd have to be a descendant of Herpo and have Polyjuiced into a separate descendant of Herpo. Meaning Voldemort had two - or more - children and the Scepter would respond just as much if not more to the other son, the other son could take the Scepter from the Shadow Master and take away his power. If her theory was correct. She just needed to find out who the other son of Voldemort was, find the other son of Voldemort, convince him to turn on his brother and then hope he could compete with the Shadow Master. It also sounded rather impossible but she didn't have a lot of options.
Leila was jolted from her thoughts by the sounds of voices, she quickly cast a Disillusionment Charm on herself in fear the Shadows had found her somehow. She hugged the wall and kept her wand in hand, she couldn't help Cyrus if she was captured or killed after all. It was just a group of tourists though, Leila slipped past them and threw the tour guide a disgusted look as she pronounced Djehutimose's - the bracelet's inventor - name wrong. How difficult was it to pronounce Djehutimose really? Idiot. She almost froze mid-thought as she saw who was at the back of the tour group, a teenage boy with a Tiwaz rune scarred into his left palm. She'd read about it a few years back, it wasn't every day you heard about Blood Runes being used. She studied artifacts for a living so it was particularly interesting to her.
The rune looked like an arrow except his had a fainter diagonal scar going across it, that wrist also bore three more scars wrapping around it. The central one was a continuous line but the other two were disjointed, he was wearing some kind of threaded friendship bracelet that sort of covered it. His right hand and wrist were worse off, a disgusting scarred mass of lumps and bumps a shade paler then his flesh. She'd guess he'd been burned. He had an odd choice of jewelry too, a silver Thestral ring and what looked like a golden wedding band. He was a slender boy and pale despite the hot - as an Egyptian national she could attest to that- Egyptian weather, he had rather sharp, pointed features with a small scar on his chin. His eyes were a cold gray and his hair was a white-blond, it looked in need of a cut as his bangs were almost covering his eyes. The boy was Scorpius Malfoy. At eleven he'd managed to save his school from the Shadows using the Blood Runes, she also thought he might've been one of the students caught up in the attempt on the Scepter. He might know something, it was as good a place to start as any. Leila moved away from the group before removing the Disillusionment Charm from herself , she pocketed her wand and went back over to mingle with them.
"Hi," Leila greeted him in English, he blinked in surprise and gave her an odd look, "I know you, you're Scorpius Malfoy. I've read about you in the papers."
"You shouldn't believe everything you read in those things, the Ministry is not trustworthy," Scorpius told her dryly, she decided to just cut to the chase.
"I was wondering if you could tell me about the Shadows, maybe? I'm curious about what happened with the Scepter. You were involved, weren't you?"
"I'd rather not talk about it," Scorpius said firmly.
"Please, I need to know what happened," Leila pleaded but Scorpius' next word was a harsh denial.
"Is this woman bothering you, Scorpius?" the man beside Scorpius asked, he too had gray eyes and pale pointed features even sharper than Scorpius' which were exemplified further by his receding white-blind hair-line. She'd guess he was the boy's father.
"No," Leila commented at the same time as Scorpius, the elder man's eyes narrowed darkly.
"Leave my son alone," the man told her coldly as he put an arm around Scorpius and moved them further away from her, Leila was desperate though and she wasn't giving up that easily. She grabbed Scorpius' wrist and yanked him back.
"Look, the Shadows just attacked Athens. I barely got alive and I need to know what you know about the Scepter," Leila insisted urgently, capturing his eyes in the hopes he'd see her sincerity, "It's important, Scorpius."
"SHADOWS!" a shrill voice screamed, shattering any chance of further conversation.
Leila spun to see cloaked figures emblazoned with the skeletal snake symbol, a jet of green was already flying towards her. She threw herself out of the way, inadvertently taking Scorpius with her and it instead struck an elderly Asian man who fell lifelessly to the ground. She drew her wand again but Scorpius was surprisingly faster.
"Acuta!" Scorpius cried and slashed out with his wand, one of the closest assailants screamed as the spell sliced through his face and clutched at the bloody wound.
"What do you want?!" one of the tourists yelled in panic at the Shadows.
"Me," Leila realized unhappily as she noticed their wand direction and disapparated before anyone else could get hurt.
Part 2: Pretending
The son of Voldemort tossed and turned in his bed, waves of blue light gently rippling out across the room as sleep refused to come to him. Calderon sighed and rolled over away from the wall, reaching out to grab the pocket watch resting on the bedside table. Ticcy had given it to him as a gift for his thirty-ninth birthday in June, it was silver and engraved with a dragon. Calderon loved dragons. He flipped it open and used the blue lights to identify the time as quarter past four, he figured he might as well get up and get started on work. Not that there was really any work, it was still being debated whether Silvanus Elwood was to stay on as Headmaster or not so he technically had no boss to tell him what to do. It was actually pretty bad as things needed to be done, it was August already and the Hogwarts letters - except for muggle-born First Years who had their letters delivered in person - had yet to be released, the staff hadn't even been confirmed they were staying on or asked for booklists, OWL and NEWT results hadn't been sent out either and supplies - including food for the start of term - hadn't been ordered. He'd done as much as he could but he hadn't the authority to do things as he was just an assistant, not that the Ministry really cared.
Calderon got up, washed and dressed but couldn't resist pausing to look at the articles he'd gathered on the son of Voldemort and the recent attack on Athens. He didn't know why, he already knew them by heart by now and it just made him sad to read anyway. There was so much hate, so much focus on how evil the son must be just because of his parentage. They actually made it sound like being related to Voldemort was a worse crime then all the things that the Shadow Master had actually done. Killing, kidnapping, torture, theft, destruction but hey, being the son of such a notorious Dark Lord - which you had no control over - is where you crossed the line. It was his sister they were actually looking for, his twin was the Shadow Master and even then they were wrong. Sal wasn't heartless, she was certainly guilty of a lot of things but she wasn't incapable of empathy or emotion like they thought and neither was he. People still thought that though, even Scor last year had been adamant that any child of Voldemort must be just as bad. The world was guiltier then their father for making them what they were in his opinion though, they hadn't been born able to do powerful wandless magic and wanting to do bad things. The world had made them who they were a lot more than a man they'd met once and the world shunning them really wouldn't make Sal see the good in it. In the back of his mind he'd hoped everyone had been wrong, he'd hoped the world could accept Voldemort's children. He was stupid.
It was only a matter of time now before the world found out who he was, he wasn't even sure who he was anymore. He'd been Tom - or Tommy as he preferred - Riddle for half his life and Marius Calderon for half his life, he felt like he was neither now or both. After years of embracing his alias and turning away from his lineage, he found himself oddly sick of it. He didn't want to hide who he was anymore, he wanted to scream at the world that he was the son of Voldemort but it didn't make him evil dammit! Because it didn't. He didn't want to follow in his father's or sister's footsteps, he didn't want to destroy the world, he didn't want to hurt anyone at all, he was even a vegetarian because he couldn't bring himself to eat living things. It wasn't fair he was pre-judged to be evil, why should he have to pretend to be someone else? It wasn't fair. He knew it was insane to feel like that, revealing his identity would damn him to imprisonment and everyone he knew would turn on him. Although, sanity wasn't his strongest point admittedly. It didn't help Sal had branded his chest with that creepy symbol or that he was keeping information about her secret. But as much as he really did want her to stop what she was doing, he couldn't bring himself to turn on her. She was his sister after all, his twin sister and his instinct was still to protect her despite the things she'd done. The awful, awful things she'd done. Maybe he was evil for that but he still loved his sister.
He tore himself away from the articles and headed out into the deserted castle, conjuring cleaning supplies and magically making mops start on the Grand Staircase. He technically also had no obligation to clean without a clear boss but he still did, he wasn't going to let the castle he loved become a filthy wreck. Normally he liked to listen to music while he worked but due to the early hour, he was afraid of waking Ticcy and his kids. They were the only living ones in the castle unless you counted Ruby in his hut outside, staff tended to go home until nearer the end of August. He settled for humming songs and amused himself making patterns of lights that he thought suited the music as well as moving the mops magically in time with it, it took his mind off things although relaxing made his tiredness resurface. Maybe he should've tried harder to sleep. He stopped abruptly when he reached the Third Floor and noticed a light coming from the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom that wasn't by him, meaning at least one of the Ashains was awake. He abandoned his cleaning to investigate, poking his head in to see Ticcy sitting at his desk with a bottle of Firewhiskey. Ticcy – or Atticus Ashain – was the Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor, he had extremely dark auburn hair – as Ashains tended to – with a closely shaven beard.
"Happy Birthday, Ticcy," Calderon offered cheerfully as he went over to him, "If I'd known you'd be up then I would've brought your gift."
"Up? I haven't even gotten to bed yet," Ticcy said with a slight slur to his words, the bottle was mostly gone, "Is it past midnight already?"
"We passed midnight a while ago, we're nearing dawn now," Calderon pointed out and Ticcy grunted unhappily before downing what remained in the glass, grimacing as if it tasted terrible before pouring some more. Calderon cocked his head to one side curiously, wondering why someone would drink something they didn't like the taste of and why Ticcy would be drinking in the first place.
"Y'know, the problem with growing up rich is that you get used to finer stuff and this poor stuff tastes like crap."
"I take it things didn't go well with Skye?" Calderon guessed and Ticcy sighed sadly as he nodded, Calderon flicked his wrist and the nearest chair hovered over for him to sit opposite.
"She still doesn't want the kids to go back and live with her, although I thought I was getting somewhere with convincing her to at least have contact with them. Before her boyfriend came to see who she was talking to anyway," Ticcy explained as his expression darkened before he took another gulp from his glass, his words became more slurred as he continued bitterly, "Did you know she has a boyfriend now? A boyfriend. Carl from her work Carl. I don't know if that's Carl with a C or Karl with a K. What kind of stupid name is Carl anyway? It sounds like how a drunk person would say car."
"Yeah it does," Calderon commented, he repressed the urge to giggle but yellow lights flickering at his mild amusement at how similar Ticcy saying 'car' was to how he said 'Carl' while he was drunk.
"Y'know we should have been celebrating our tenth wedding anniversary this year? But instead we got divorced and she has a boyfriend," Ticcy continued unhappily and obliviously to his amusement, "I still keep think of her as my wife and she has a boyfriend. I've not looked at another woman and she has a boyfriend. I've not thought of even dating and she has a boyfriend. I still love her and she has a boyfriend. Stupid Carl from her work Carl."
"How much have you had to drink?"
"I don't know, I'm not using a measuring cup," Ticcy snapped as he took another gulp, "But y'know, it's not even the worst thing that she has a boyfriend. Do you know she has a boyfriend? Carl from-"
"You've covered that already!" Calderon protested, talking to drunk people was hard, "Focus, Ticcy."
"The worst part is that I thought that even if she did react badly to magic that it wouldn't affect the kids. I mean if you're upset with your partner, your reaction isn't to sever all ties to your children. At least it's not my reaction, I'd think it would be everyone's reaction. At least most people's. At least Skye's. But no," Ticcy rambled with slightly more focus, "Kids need their mothers, fathers are... fathers are useless. Mothers are the important ones, fathers are just an unnecessary spare part in any family."
"I think a lot of families would disagree with you there."
"Well those families are idiots," Ticcy insisted as he downed the last of his glass, "Read any muggle book about babies or children, mothers are all that matter and fathers are an afterthought. Fathers are bad as single parents, fathers just suck."
"I've delivered a lot of Hogwarts letters to muggle families for the first time, there's been decent single fathers over the years. And for the record, I met my father only once and I still wound up a lunatic."
"Well me and Brutus had no mother for most or all of our lives and look how brilliantly we turned out!" Ticcy countered and threw out his arms, causing him to almost fall of his chair but Calderon magically righted him. Ticcy glanced briefly back to the steps that led to his quarters as if to make sure the noise hadn't woken his children before continued seriously, "I'm just scared that history's going to repeat itself, that Cassia and Antonius are going to wind up like me and Brutus. I'm scared that in forty years they'll be on opposite sides of the next wizarding war, one divorced living at Hogwarts and the other will be sitting watching the world burn."
"That's not going to happen," Calderon assured him gently but Ticcy didn't look convinced.
"Isn't it? It's already happening, Calderon. My Father was a single Father, I'm a single Father. I was tortured by Death Eaters when I was six, Cassia was tortured by Soul Eaters when she was seven and Antonius had the magic ripped out of his soul and put back when he was six," Ticcy explained anxiously, "Coincidess-Consudentally-Consuence- Coincidence? Right, coincidence. Coincidence?! I think not!"
"You're right! And they're magical and you're magical, they're going to go Hogwarts someday and you went to Hogwarts, they breathe air and you breathe air... It's eerie!" Calderon gasped sarcastically and Ticcy scowled at him irritably, "C'mon, Ticcy, you have to see you're overreacting slightly."
"They're not even ten yet and they've already been traumatized, they've already almost died on several occasions, they've already killed. I just... I just want them to be safe and happy, you know?" Ticcy sighed becoming solemn once more and began pouring himself some more Firewhiskey, filling the glass right up to the top to finish the bottle, "Not screwed up like me, it's the last thing I wanted. They've having a harder time of it then they let on and I just worry about them. And I worry even more that I'm raising them alone. I feel like my father, I can relate to what my kids are going through and I still have no idea what to say to them or how to help them through it. I'm scared they're going to wind up suicidally depressed like me."
"I'm confused, which one is supposed to be Brutus and which one is supposed to be you in this analogy?" Calderon wondered in both confusion and genuine curiosity as Ticcy took another swig, he paused and an expression of absolute concentration came over him before he reverted back to scowling.
"I don't know, don't ask me to think. I think that I think I might be drunk, I think. How much have I had to drink?"
"If you don't remember then you've probably had enough."
"Probably, I just needed a drink after finding out that Skye has a boyfriend," Ticcy concurred as he eyed the glass with his dark chestnut eyes before looking back up to him with a sour expression, "Did you know that Skye has a boyfriend now? Carl from her work Carl."
"Yes, you may have mentioned that one or twice," Calderon pointed out as patiently as he could before deciding now was the appropriate time to pry the glass from his fingers, Ticcy allowed it and smiled.
"Try it, Calderon."
"I don't drink."
"You're thirty-nine, live a little," Ticcy chided him as he withdrew another glass from his desk before taking the filled one back, pouring half it into the empty one and starting to hand it back to Calderon. He paused and instead handed Calderon the fresh glass, "Y'can have the clean one."
"I really can't."
"You're well past the drinking age, Dementors aren't going to drag you to Azkaban for having a sip."
"That's not it! I... I... Y'know, I'm me," Calderon offered hesitantly, his lights flickering orange in panic, "I'm unstable, remember? If my magic is like this sober, think of what I could do drunk."
"Calderon, there's not enough in that glass to make you drunk."
"There's not?" Calderon wondered in surprise and Ticcy laughed.
"Of course not, you don't get drunk from a sip and you don't have to drink it all anyway," Ticcy insisted, "C'mon, Calderon, it's my forty-seventh birthday. Can't I just have a drink with my friend?"
"You consider me a friend?" Calderon repeated, feeling even more surprised and somewhat honored that someone would consider him a friend.
"Yes, I do," Ticcy confirmed with a nod, sounding serious, "In fact, you're one of the few people I trusting right now."
"You know I'm me, right?"
"No, I'm sorry. You're right, I've gotten you confused with the other Marius Calderon who lives here and works on the castle, has all these crazy lights and a weirdly high laugh," Ticcy offered sarcastically, "Yes! I know it's you, I'm not that drunk."
"Okay," Calderon nodded with a faint smile at the thought of having a friend and Ticcy raised his glass, Calderon clinked his own glass against it before taking a sip. He choked and cringed at the awful taste, he felt as if he'd swallowed acid. No wonder Ticcy grimaced earlier, "It tastes like burning!"
"That's how you know its alcohol," Ticcy pointed out and took his own swig easily, "Y'get used to it."
"Why? Does it burn off your taste buds?" Calderon wondered, having the urge to wash his throat somehow. Ticcy seemed lost in thought for a moment, staring off into nothing before giving him a sad smile when he'd found the thought.
"Do you know the last time I was with Brutus before all the... the Eater stuff with Death, we were drinking?" Ticcy told him, his elder brother Brutus had been a Death Eater and now a Soul Eater while Ticcy had been an Auror. And Calderon had known his brother, Brutus had always been kind to him. In fact, he probably wouldn't have gotten Ticcy the job and ended up befriending him if not out of loyalty to Brutus' wish to protect his little brother. Ticcy wouldn't be his friend if he knew that or who Calderon really was either so were they friends at all really when it was all built on lies?
"I didn't know that," Calderon commented, realizing Ticcy had probably been waiting for a reply.
"The next day the Aurors came for him and I... I let him go. I let my brother go. And now Brutus is helping destroy the world," Ticcy continued unhappily, "Its torturous to know someone you love is out there doing such horrible things, it'd be better if he was like Grandfather. If he'd just always been flat out evil and I hated him, I don't care about that psychotic bastard being dead. I fucking hate him. But Brutus... Brutus has flaws sure but he's always decent at heart, y'know? He always looked out for me, even now. I try to hate him but I can't, I can't even regret letting him go or wish I had killed him after all. I still love my brother despite what he's done. Does that make a bad person?"
"I don't think so," Calderon said, biting the urge to say he knew exactly what he meant.
"It's painful to remember the good times and then think about how we ended up. We were close once, y'know? We were close… Like my kids are now... You're lucky to not have that, Calderon. There's nothing worse than looking back on the times you were happy and knowing that they're all gone now, all the good is gone, long gone away," Ticcy sighed solemnly and Calderon downed the rest of his acid to stop himself from admitting he could relate, his lights flared green as he resisted the urge to gag at the burning. Firewhiskey was certainly an appropriate name, he would admit. He would also admit whoever had thought fire would make a good beverage was crazier than him, "Do you have any siblings?"
"A twin," Calderon blurted out before he could stop himself and digest the question, he heard rather then saw Ticcy's head snap to look at him in shock. He wanted to tell someone, he was fed of lying, "We... We used to be close to. But we chose different paths."
"Really?" Ticcy wondered and Calderon raised his head to see the surprise on the professor's face, his lights were swirling crazily in his panic as he tried to work up the courage to say yes if that was even a wise idea but he lost his nerve.
"No," Calderon scoffed and a pained laugh escaped him that he fought to stop it turning to tears, most people seemed to think his laugh was too pitched for some reason, "Could you imagine two of me running around?"
"I guess not," Ticcy agreed and managed a smile as he shook his head before downing the last of his own glass, not noticing the raining blue lights. Calderon didn't want to lie, he didn't want to lie anymore. He didn't want to pretend to be something he was not, "Hey Calderon, did you know that Skye has a boyfriend now? A boyfriend. Carl from work Carl."
"I just put Bertie down to bed but check on him because he keeps getting these horrible night terrors, Ivy and Flynn go up at half eight but Agnes can stay up until nine. Make sure they all brush their teeth, especially Ivy and Flynn," Crystal Sanford recounted and Jack nodded to indicate he comprehended her instruction, "Michael's in his room, he's already turned but just sit with him when he turns back in the morning to make sure he doesn't hurt himself like he keeps doing. He'll be pretty wiped, just make sure he gets into bed okay and I give him a glass of water in case he gets thirsty but can't get up. I'll be back soon after that, okay?"
"Okay," Jack Thorne nodded in understanding and Crystal gave him a grateful smile that lit up her face, she was still as beautiful as the day he'd met her.
She had dazzling hazel eyes set in soft, delicate features and framed by wavy locks of light auburn hair, flecked with blond, brown, red and - he was surprised to realize - gray. She was only thirty, then again their son wasn't fifteen yet and he was the same. He supposed it was stress as it wasn't like either of them had had easy lives, her clothes hid scars as did her tired eyes. It was for that reason that he couldn't bring himself to stay away even though he knew he should, that and he really wanted to be a better father to his son while he had the chance. He'd killed... he'd killed so many people a few months ago and it terrified him. He considered it justified but it still chilled him through his soul to think what he was capable of now he'd merged his soul to a creature of pure darkness, a Shadow of a Dementor or Specter as they were known. But he continued helping her whenever and however he could, it was the least he could do after everything she'd been through and how lousy a father he'd been. His son still hated him but Crystal was grateful, he also kept hoping focusing on them would make One - the Specter he shared his soul with – off his back. It didn't help hunger was starting to gnaw at him, Specters fed of pain and now so did Jack, minor things weren't helping much again.
"Thank you, Jack," Crystal offered with sincerity, "I can't tell you enough how much it means to me that you're willing to do this. I couldn't exactly tell my boss I had to stay home because it's a full moon and my eldest son is a werewolf, I couldn't exactly hire anyone for the same reason."
"It's no problem, I'm happy to help," Jack countered and returned her smile gently, "Michael's my son too and the little ones are good kids."
"Thanks," Crystal repeated as she moved past him, "Bye now, I really have to go. Bye kids!"
"Bye, have fun... taking care of those old people."
"How is it fun to take care of old people?" one of the little ones wondered as Crystal left, the little girl - Ivy - wrinkling her nose in disgust.
Crystal had had four children from her abusive - Jack had no regrets over killing him - ex-husband, two sons and two daughters . Ivy and Flynn were the middle two, aged six and five who were both fair-haired but had inherited their father's cold blue eyes and neither was magical. Agnes was the eldest of the little ones at eight, she had dark hair like her father as well as the blue eyes. Bertie was the youngest at three, he also had dark hair but was the only one to also have Crystal's hazel eyes. All four had scars from being attacked by a Fenrir Greyback over a year ago now but only Agnes and Bertie were magical. It made it harder to be around them as One wanted the magic from their souls, Bertie especially as he'd also witnessed Jack killing his grandmother. A side effect of merging his soul meant he could see the colors of others souls like an aura and since magic was part of the soul, he could also tell by looking who was magical as they had a pulsating orb of light around their heart.
"It's just one of those things people say," Jack brushed it off as he went over to the table, Ivy was drawing something that looked like a tree while Agnes and Flynn were on the couch watching TV, "Hey Ivy, what'cha drawing there?"
"A turkey," Ivy told him cheerfully and Jack was glad to have gone with asking instead of guessing because he would've been wrong.
"I thought it looked like a sheep," One spoke through Jack's voice before he could stop it, One was what the Specter he'd merged his soul with called itself. Jack hated sharing his body with One, unfortunately he had no idea how to get rid of him.
"What kind of a sheep is brown?" Ivy complained with a scowl.
"One that's been rolling in mud," One commented icily and Ivy giggled in response while Jack regained control, "It's just because I'm looking at it upside down and it's not finished yet, from your angle it absolutely looks like an awesome turkey."
"Jack!" Flynn called out desperately, "We was watching a movie but it stopped, help! I have to know what happens to Simba!"
"Its important news," Agnes pointed out as Jack turned around to look at the TV where, sure enough, a news report was airing.
Can we kill the girl? Her pain will quench out thirst and her magic will make us stronger, One pleaded with him inside her mind but he tried to ignore it, It's been months, we need to kill. Kill the girl
"Shut up, I'm trying to listen," Jack snapped at it but the kids mistook it as referring to them.
"No one's talking, Jack," Agnes told him but he ignored her for focus on the report.
"Breaking News on the Civil War raging in Greece," the news woman was saying in the businesslike way those people spoke, "After an initial devastating attack on Athens on July 31st this year by the terrorist group known as the Soul Eaters, the Greek Capital was subjugated by the Soul Eaters and Greece was placed under Martial Law. All attempts to open a line of communication with the Soul Eaters has failed, all attempts by the Greek military to seize control back has failed while the further eight attacks by Soul Eaters on Greek cities have been a hundred percent effective. The President of Greece, Sotiris Megalos, was in Athens at the time of its invasion but mysteriously appeared hundreds of miles away in Thessaloniki. The city is located in the Northern part of Greece, the opposite part of Greece to Athens in the South. The Soul Eaters apparently let him go."
The news caster paused briefly while the TV screen came up with a bedraggled man at a press conference, he was old-ish and olive skinned with curly silver hair matted with dirt. He was wearing a suit but it was disheveled, the white shirt was a grayish-yellow, one side of the collar was sticking up, his tie was undone, the jacket sleeve was tearing off. His whole outfit was filthy, torn in places and stained in others with dark patches of crimson that looked like blood. The stand out thing about him though, was a huge and deep 'X' shaped wound across his cheek, it seemed to be healing into a scar somewhat but it was still only a few weeks old at most. The man looked terrified, his brown eyes couldn't get any wider and he was shaking uncontrollably while babbling rapidly in a language Jack didn't understand but guessed was Greek.
It is Greek, One confirmed in his mind while on screen two Aurors led the muggle president away from it all. It then cut back to the woman in the studio, she continued.
"President Megalos offers a full surrender of the country to the Soul Eater insurrection and desperately urges the respective leaders of the thirteen self-governing regions of Greece to do the same, before the Soul Eaters take further action. He claims they have no idea what 'The Shadow Master' - revealed to be the alias the apparent leader of the terrorist group is using - and Soul Eaters are capable of, warning resistance will only lead to further devastation like the nine successful attacks so far. Shortly after his press conference, the president slipped into a coma believed to be the result of injuries he suffered while captive and is currently being treated in a private, secure facility. The extent of his injuries and odds of recovery is not publically known at this time but his cheek wound was new and noticeable.
"President Megalos also provided photographic images taken by the Soul Eaters to show the state of the city, trying to spread fear to encourage Greece to yield. After initial circulation on local news in Thessaloniki, the images were pulled from the air and confiscated by the Greek government. They insist the authenticity of the images is questionable and urge the public to not take them as solid fact, they say it's likely the images were tampered with to make the situation seem direr. All outside attempts to capture visual images or footage has fallen flat, even satellite has been unable to see anything as a result of what is believed to be as yet unknown technology the Soul Eaters have access to. This led to much speculation that the Soul Eaters are a rebelling branch of the Greek military or government, one with access to the unknown technology the Greeks may have been developing. However, the Greek military has denied this on multiple occasions and insists they have no technology close to what the Soul Eaters could be using or any idea of the origin of the terrorist group. The long-term goals of the Soul Eaters continue to remain unknown at this time. While the Soul Eaters have committed crimes in every country, the knowledge of whether the civil dispute will leave the Greek borders also remains unknown. More on this story as it develops. I've been Trina Meadows, Channel Five News."
"Why were the Aurors taking that man away, Jack?" Flynn asked as the TV cut back to the movie.
"Why doesn't the Aurors tell the muggles that they're fighting wizards?" Ivy wondered.
"Why don't the Aurors just step in and fight the Shadows?" Agnes questioned.
"Since when did kids care about current world events?" Jack scoffed, not wanting the little ones to worry about it.
Probably because they know about the Shadows. Children know more than the muggle population, isn't that shameful? One commented in his mind, You know, killing them would stop them worrying
"Just enjoy your movie, okay? We're not in Greece so we're fine," Jack told them.
"Shadows aren't just in Greece though," Agnes pointed out seriously, running a hand seemingly subconsciously over the side of her face gorged by Greyback and glancing in the direction of Michael's door. Greyback had been a Shadow, he'd been the one to turn Michael to a werewolf but it had backfired when Michael killed him once transformed.
"Well they seem to be right now so relax, I might let you have ice cream if you do," Jack offered with a wink and the younger too started beaming, Shadows forgotten while Agnes kept her concerned expression but still went silent, "I'm going to check on your brother and then I'll see what selection of ice creams we have today."
"Chocolate!" Flynn called eagerly as Jack turned away to go upstairs.
"Chocolate chip!" Ivy countered with equal enthusiasm as Jack started climbing the spindly staircase.
"Chocolate with chocolate chip."
"Oooh," Ivy said with interest before Jack was out of earshot upstairs, he sighed.
"I want pain flavor," One stated with Jack's voice again, "We need to feed, Jack."
"We fed off the whole of PAW a few months ago! Isn't that enough?!" Jack hissed irritably as he paused outside the door to the room Bertie and Flynn shared. The people they'd killed in mass had been People Against Werewolves, a group targeting werewolves like his son.
"Even if you eat a lot in one sitting, you'll still digest it and need more eventually. This isn't any different, we can feel the hunger starting to take hold and it won't just go away by itself. We need to kill again," One insisted.
They could feed off any kind of pain - whether they caused it or not - without the victim realizing, however the pain someone suffered from having their soul destroyed was the most painful thing anyone could go through. That was the only thing that really satisfied them for long, destroying the soul resulted in the physical death of the person as well as taking away any chance of an afterlife. Jack hated it. But he also loved it, it felt good. Jack hated that he loved it even more. Most of all though, Jack hated how much he wanted to give in to One. It terrified him that he wanted to destroy souls just as much as he didn't, he resisted because it was wrong but damn, he wanted it. He didn't want to hurt anyone who didn't deserve it though regardless, unfortunately that wasn't an endless list. One wrenched the door open while he was momentarily lost in thought.
Bertie was lying in his little bed, hazel eyes wide as he stared at them while gripping his blankets up to his nose tightly. Jack would've bet he'd heard at least some of his conversation with One. He made an attempt at a kind smile regardless as he strode over to the toddler, Jack couldn't help but be reminded of Bob whenever he saw him. His chubby little cheeks reminded him of Bob's obesity, the hair was so patchy he looked like Bob's balding head and his very name even as Bob and Bertie were both nicknames for Robert. He didn't regret killing Bob, just thinking about him reignited his anger at the man who'd hurt his son and his... Crystal. He still hated Bob, he hated him so much.
"Bob was a despicable person," One said when Jack opened his mouth to address Bertie, a mental image of Bob flickered over the boy's face, "A horrible, horrible person and this piece of shit is just the same, just as cruel, just as evil. By killing him you'd really be doing the world a favor, sparing his future wife and kids from suffering like Michael and Crystal did. It would be easy, so easy and would help us in the process. Go on, kill it. Kill it now."
"He's... He's Crystal's son," Jack tried to protest, it came out weaker than usual as seeing Bob's face was distracting.
"She'd never know, it's not your fault if his little black heart gives out. We killed Bob and Ruth the same, Crystal was born with a heart defect so it's not going to seem that unusual really. They'd write it off as a weak heart failing from the stress he's experienced so far in his short, meaningless life."
Jack wasn't sure if it was he or One who raised their hand, holding out their palm to the boy. One was right, it wasn't like anyone would know. No one had caught him yet for his previous kills yet. Bob's son was bound to be bad, he'd be a selfish, sadistic brute before too long. Killing him now saved his future victims and ensured Bertie could never tell on them, his hand started to tremble as he readied himself. But he paused, focusing on the boy's pure white aura indicating his innocent soul and he stopped seeing Bob's face.
Hazel eyes were welling with thick, watery droplets on a face white with fear. Eyes just like Crystal and their son. Bertie was shaking too, his tiny body trembling with terror as he continued clinging on to his blankets with white knuckles. What was he doing? He wasn't going to hurt a child. Especially not Crystal's child, not his son's half-brother. Jack lowered his arm and silent tears rolled down Bertie's cheeks, he backed away guiltily.
"Oh come on!" One protested angrily, "Just kill him, damn it! We need to feed! We need to ensure he won't talk! We need to get as much power as we can with the Scepter in action!"
"Not him," Jack whispered, shaking himself in shock at how close he'd gone to ending Bertie's existence.
"If not him then who? Your sister?"
"Not my sister," Jack protested, one advantage of her being gone… wherever the hell she was these days, was that One had stopped wanting him to kill her. He thought for a moment on who, he'd have to go with someone to shut One up, "The man who killed Crystal's grandmother. I know where he is in prison, we'll kill him."
Part 3: Families
Scorpius Hyperion Malfoy dragged his heels back through the doors to Malfoy Manor in tired relief, a bag slung over one shoulder and his baby brother, Sol, on one hip. He'd started to doubt he'd ever get to go home again, the attack on Greece had caused a halt to all magical inter-continental travel which had stranded them in Egypt. He had actually managed to enjoy his vacation for the most part for the first month, like his mother he'd thought it was quite interesting to sight-see and learn about Ancient History – much more interesting than History of Magic - but like his father he'd disliked the sand and heat. The second month though, had crawled along agonizingly slowly and it hadn't helped non-governmental owls had been banned from flying intercontinentally so he'd had no contact with his friends or gotten his Hogwarts letter. He just worried about war. It had only just been deemed acceptable to travel and so they returned home on the morning of the last day of August, one more day and he'd have missed the return to Hogwarts.
"Home at last, eh?" Scorpius commented to his brother, Sol gurgled and drooled onto his shoulder in reply while the Malfoys moved back into their home, "Thanks for that."
"You can put that down, the house-elves are getting the bags now," his father told him and Scorpius shrugged off the bag, one of the house-elves caught it and vanished with a pop to presumably put it away.
"Oh dear, are you drooling again?" his mother sighed and took Sol back from him, Astoria was the sole brunette of the household as Sol now had downy blond hair, "Draco, do you have a wipe?"
"Sure," his father confirmed and patted himself down before apparently realizing he had none so instead took out his wand to conjure it from somewhere, "And Scorpius, check the kitchen for mail because we're going to have to get your Hogwarts stuff today."
"It hasn't arrived yet," his grandmother called from the kitchen.
"Why hasn't it arrived yet?" Scorpius tried to ask but it came out more like a demand, feeling suddenly suspicious about no letter when his parents weren't keen on him attending school.
"Sometimes they arrive really late, I'm sure Hogwarts has been busy not being attacked by Soul Eaters," his father said dryly as they headed into the kitchen after his grandmother.
It was a big kitchen with a flagged stone floor and dark walls, there was a large oak table a bit away from the counters that they tended to take breakfast at as the room was easiest for owls to get into to deliver things. House-elves were already setting to making them breakfast by the looks of things, the mail was sorted neatly into three piles on the table already. One was newspapers arranged chronologically, one was letters for him, one was letters for his father, one was letters for his mother and one was letters for his grandmother. Scorpius was noticeably the most popular in terms of letters, his mother second and the other two had barely anything. His grandmother was standing by the mail, looking through the top paper.
"The Ministry were still torn on who to let run the school, whether to let Elwood stay or cave to the negative backlash Nott has been bringing up for him over the kidnapped students," his grandmother informed them as her eyes skimmed the article.
"Can I see?" his father asked and his grandmother removed the page she was reading to hand him the rest of it.
"I passed it in there somewhere," his grandmother told him and moved on to the next paper.
"Erm... Mother, what are you doing?"
"I only care about the articles on Voldemort's son, I told you."
"You're back to that again?" his father wondered worriedly, his grandmother had apparently developed a habit of hoarding articles on that development since it had been revealed in June. His parents were concerned, she had also been quite withdrawn.
"I never stopped," his grandmother admitted, his father opened his mouth to say something but their conversation was interrupted by a businesslike barn owl flying in. It flew over to Scorpius and dropped its cargo before departing, he recognized the Hogwarts seal before he'd even picked it up, "About bloody time."
"Well go on, open it up," his father urged him with an odd amount of enthusiasm.
Scorpius frowned again for entirely different reasons as he opened the letter, it was the standard letter informing him he was returning for another year with a book list. Including a Charms book by Wynston Grant, the Charms Professor he despised and he couldn't help but feel annoyance that he would be essentially giving Grant money from royalties. No wonder he had them use his crappy books, he was a greedy prick on top of everything else. Silvanus Elwood was also still listed as Headmaster so he supposed Elwood had won the war against his reputation. Scorpius looked back up and saw his family was all staring at him.
"What?" Scorpius questioned in confusion, it was just a standard Hogwarts letter.
"Anything else in the envelope?" his grandmother prompted and it dawned on him why the interest.
"I didn't make Prefect, Albus must've got it."
"That's blatant favoritism that is."
"I don't mind," Scorpius assured them, if anything he thought he was better off with more free time although he would miss out spending time with his girlfriend. He was dating Molly Weasley and had been for over a year now, she was a Seventh Year prefect herself. He wondered idly if she'd made Head Girl.
"It's alright, now you'll have even more time to buckle down and study for you OWLs," his mother offered cheerfully, "There's always Head Boy and Quidditch Captain for you to get anyway."
"It's an important year," his father added, "You want to do as well as possible on your OWLs to keep the choices for your NEWTs open."
"But don't stress yourself out."
"I'm not stressed," Scorpius insisted, in truth he hadn't given them a second's thought.
Mostly he wondered about that woman who claimed to have escaped from Athens, he hadn't heard from her since. He didn't know who she was, he didn't even know if she was still alive with the Shadows after her. He'd guess they were after her because they didn't want her to reveal anything about what happened, which meant she may know something of use. She'd known about the Scepter somehow and had wanted more information on it for some reason, that was also odd. He wanted to talk to Varanian about it, something else he hadn't been unable to do in Egypt. Varanian was a former Headmaster of Hogwarts, he'd been framed for Soul Eater crimes and become a fugitive seeking to bring down the Shadows. Scorpius had found something of an ally in him and they were fighting the Shadows together, along with an increasing number of others. Varanian really should give their group a name already.
"Scorpius, are you even listening to me?!" his father snapped abruptly, drawing Scorpius back from his thoughts.
"Yeah, of course I was," Scorpius lied, he hadn't even realized his father had been speaking.
"Then what was I saying?"
"You were saying 'Scorpius, are you even listening to me?'"
"Oh, lay off the boy," his grandmother complained as she tucked the stack of newspapers under her arm, "I'll being these back after I've gone through them for articles."
"Try pace yourself," his mother offered worriedly as the elder woman left, his father looked after her anxiously for a minute before turning back to him and continuing.
"I was trying to impress upon you how important this is for your future," his father began seriously, "You need good OWLs to get good NEWTs and you need both of them to get a good job."
"A good job?" Scorpius wondered incredulously, "Now you're worried about my future career path?"
"If every Malfoy lived off the family fund then it would run out, our name was mud when I left Hogwarts so I couldn't work but you... You've done things to restore dignity to the family name, a career is possible for you. You have a bright future, Scorpius, you can do anything you set your mind to."
"There's a war going on."
"We noticed, you keep getting mixed up in it. We can't even go to Egypt without you being attacked, you've pissed off some powerful people."
"I didn't piss them off, they pissed me off," Scorpius muttered truthfully, he wanted to kill that son of a Voldemort, "They were after that woman."
"The one who sought you out because she knew you were involved," his father pointed out, "Besides, we don't know they were after her for sure."
"They left when she disapparated."
"What your father means is there's no reason for you to not plan for your future," his mother interjected, "The First Wizarding War ended, the Second Wizarding War ended and this war will run its course too. It'll probably be over by the time you graduate, I know that it must be stressful to think about your future with the war going on but you should."
"Yes, you can do great," his father spoke up again and gave him a thin smile, "You've proven to have a talent for Quidditch, you could have a real shot at playing professionally like you wanted."
"I'm not five years old anymore, I don't want to play Quidditch professionally," Scorpius protested and his father looked oddly saddened.
"Well, you could always get a job in the Ministry, you're a smart boy and if you keep your grades up then you could get a really good job," his mother added, "They pay well too."
"I don't want to work at the Ministry, they're a bunch of idiots even if they weren't infiltrated by the enemy."
"Well then what do you want to be?"
"I don't want to be anything," Scorpius told them seriously, "There won't be a future if we don't win the war against the Shadows, that's more important than OWLs or careers that will die with life as we know it if they win. I should be fighting not studying, the Ministries of the world should've united the second Athens was attacked and drove the Shadows out."
"I hear what you're saying," his mother said slowly and Scorpius breathed a sigh of relief.
"You want to be an Auror," his mother deduced wrongly and Scorpius slapped a hand to his face.
"Astoria! Don't encourage him to do that!" his father hissed, "He's in enough danger without facing it for a living."
"Draco, we should be supportive of his career goals."
"I don't want to be an Auror!" Scorpius interrupted in frustration and it was his father's turn to look relieved, "They're part of the Ministry and just as useless."
"Well good, you definitely should go with a career that's nice and safe. If you don't want something in the Ministry then become a Potioneer, perhaps? Potion-making is both enjoyable and profitable, inventing potions that have great use can make you a fortune."
"He prefers spell work to potion-making," his mother pointed out before Scorpius could insist he didn't want to be a Potioneer, "Maybe inventing spells would be more your speed, dear? It can be quite tricky but you're smart and skilled enough, I think."
"I need to lie down," Scorpius groaned, putting his face in his hands and turning to leave.
"You get some rest. And think about what jobs you'd be interested in!"
"We'll get your Hogwarts things, just keep an eye on your grandmother from time to time," his father offered and Scorpius paused briefly in surprise, "What is it?"
"You have no problem with me going to Hogwarts this year?" Scorpius wondered, last year they'd outright banned him and he'd had to run away to get there in the first place.
"Of course," his mother said seriously.
"Your OWL year is very important," his father added and Scorpius groaned again as he left, hearing Sol gurgle on his way out.
"I pity you in fifteen years," Scorpius muttered to his brother even though he was well out of earshot and the baby was incapable of understanding him anyway.
He trudged up to his room, the old oak floorboards creaking familiarly underfoot in contrast to the slapping steps of his feet against stone in Hogwarts although he spent so little time in his room now that it barely felt like his room anymore. There was a wardrobe, desk with chair, a chest of drawers and bedside tables littered with photographs, all in the same dark wood that matched the floorboards, his bed frame, the door and half the wood-covered walls. The top half of the walls was an incredibly dark navy that matched his neatly made double bed, it was meticulously clean.
He sighed and went over to his bed, throwing himself down onto the blissfully soft fabric. It wasn't a lie to say he was tired from his journey, however he wasn't going to sleep or think about potential careers like his parents wanted. As soon as his parents left, he was going to see Varanian. There was no future unless they beat the Shadows, what was the point in even thinking about it when he should be focusing on that? Ignoring the war wasn't going to make it go away, he had to fight, he had to make things right. It had consumed his thoughts since the attack on Athens, did it really not bother his parents? His grandmother? Did no one care the Shadows were taking over a country and no one was trying to stop them? From what he gathered in the papers, the Egyptian Ministry was more concerned with keeping the magical involvement from the muggles and had even volunteered Obliviators if it became necessary to start wiping memories in mass. They'd had a close scare with the muggle leader being given photographs depicting magic, it was almost like the papers were more freaked out by that then the war itself. It made no sense to him. Maybe the world just didn't make sense anymore.
Albus Severus Potter woke early the morning of the last day of summer, forcing his groggy eyes open. He had gotten into the habit of waking early to make time to practice Quidditch but no matter how hard he tried, he still couldn't wake without sleepiness fogging his mind like everyone else seemed able to easily. It was his last chance for a lie-in before Hogwarts - assuming the letters ever came - but he rejected it in determination to keep his commitment and sat up instead, sighing as he rubbed his eyes. He wished he had no chance for a lie-in actually, he was desperate to be back in Hogwarts as he was at odds with most people in his family which made the sunny summer days long and uncomfortable.
His dad was unwavering in his beliefs that Varanian had to be arrested but Albus knew the man was innocent and that arrest would result in his death at the Shadow Aurors hands, neither could convince the other although Albus had tried many, many times. Even if their conversations didn't end in an argument, the issue still hung over their heads like a dark cloud which resulted in extremely short, overly civil communication. It didn't help his dad seemed to be making a real effort to be at home more, he'd wished it for years but now they felt further apart than ever. His mum was wholly on his dad's side and thought he was being unreasonable so their relationship had similar - albeit less severe - ramifications, he wasn't angry but just hurt to feel like his parents weren't on his side anymore. There was nothing he could do about it though as Varanian's innocence wasn't opinion, it was fact. Honestly, sometimes he thought his dad was just angry that he'd gone with Varanian willingly in the first place which was just hypocritical. What did he expect him to do when his sister and friends had been abducted and he could help save them? Did he really think Albus should do nothing because it might be dangerous? When had that stopped his dad - or his mum for that matter - ever?
He was angry at James though, his brother had helped bully his friend Latimer into attempting suicide and the worst part was that he had no remorse. Albus refused to even consider forgiveness until James apologized, naturally James hadn't. He and Lily were okay though, he'd actually tried to be nicer to Vern but his cousin was being oddly withdrawn. Vern Dursley was the only magical child of his Uncle Dudley, Uncle Dudley and his wife had been murdered by Greyback a few years prior and the orphaned Vern had come to live with them while his muggle siblings lived with Great Aunt Petunia. Vern was the year below him and - unlike him - was a Hufflepuff, they'd managed to end up with the same friends though so he wound up seeing more of his cousin then he'd wanted. Despite initially disliking him for being a Dursley, he'd actually come to respect Vern. Albus felt stupid disliking him after his actions a few months previously, although he did still miss having his own room. Vern was already up though, he hadn't been sleeping the best that summer as a few months previously he'd also nearly died and was in more pain then he liked to let on. It kept him up sometimes although instances of that were decreasing, he'd thought so anyway.
Albus hauled himself out of bed to get dressed, pausing to check himself in the mirror. One too many people had referred to him as 'pudgy' for his liking, he thought he'd lost weight from practicing Quidditch and trying not to snack but he wasn't sure and he was too embarrassed to ask for scales to weigh himself to be certain. Being 'pudgy' might be the reason girls didn't seem interested in him after all, he'd never had a girlfriend or had his first kiss and he considered that incredibly embarrassing at fifteen, almost sixteen because of his October birthday. This year was the year though, he was going to get a girlfriend like everyone else in the world had. He was hoping he was in better shape and that he might make prefect, girls thought prefects were cool... right? If his deaf, scarred, war-obsessed and sometimes scarily psychotic friend could get a pretty girl - even if she was an evil Slytherin - to like him then surely he could... right? He couldn't be that unlikable, surely?
He headed down the stairs of 12 Grimmauld Place regardless where he was greeted by the succulent scent of sausage cooking, which was a welcome surprise even if it would delay his Quidditch practice. The arguing was a not-so welcome surprise though, he entered the kitchen to see everyone but his father and Vern in attendance. His little sister, the thirteen year old Lily, was sitting at the table - which was set for breakfast already - and seemed to be doodling something. She did mostly take after their mum in looks and had the same bright brown eyes, however she was the only one of the Potter children who needed glasses and wore rounded ones like their father. Her hair wasn't quite shoulder-length and kept back with a hair clip, it had the Weasley red color but the Potter unrelenting unruliness. His mum was standing beside James, which was the source of the arguing. James had the same untidy black hair as Albus and their dad but had freckles and brown eyes like their mum, Albus was quite proud of being taller than his elder brother. James was a year older then him and had just gotten his OWL results back by the sound of it, hence the sound.
"JAMES SIRIUS POTTER, YOU EXPLAIN TO ME HOW YOU GOT THREE TROLLS!" his mum was screaming at her eldest and waving a piece of paper that presumably had the results, James pouting irritably, "THREE TROLLS?! REALLY?! THREE, JAMES?!"
"I passed in everything else!" James protested angrily while Vern came into the room, he was almost as tall as James now but being stick-thin still made him seem scrawny. His shadowed emerald eyes were pink and puffy today though, it was as if he'd been crying for some reason, "I got two Outstandings in Charms and Defense Against the Dark the Arts!"
"YOU FAILED A THIRD OF YOUR CLASSES, JAMES! A THIRD!" his mum continued her tirade but Vern paid them no mind as he came over to the table, brushing his stringy brown hair from his eyes before starting to pour himself some of the waiting orange juice.
"History's crap, Astronomy's dull as shit and Potions is impossibly difficult! They barely even count as classes!"
"HOW COULD YOU LET YOURSELF DO SO BADLY?!"
"I don't know, maybe it's because my brother and sister were missing!" James yelled back, starting to look upset as well as angry.
"And Vern was injured," Albus spoke up.
"NO ONE GIVES A DAMN ABOUT VERN!"
"Yeah, Albus, no one gives a damn about Vern," Vern commented expressionlessly as he took his filled glass of orange juice to drink elsewhere, Albus stared after him for a minute and wondered whether he should go talk to him.
"YOU COULD STILL HAVE DONE BETTER!" his mum continued furiously as if no one had spoken in between.
"I GOT FOUR Es AND TWO Os!" James shouted back, matching her volume now.
"TROLL IS THE WORST GRADE YOU CAN GET AND YOU GOT THREE!"
"WELL THEY ARE CRAPPY SUBJECTS!"
"I EXPECTED MORE!"
"YOU JUST HATE ME BECAUSE I MIGHT BE GAY!" James blurted out in a scream.
Albus' head shot back to his brother and mother so fast he heard a snap. James slapped both hands over his mouth but it was far too late to stop his words, mother and son's identical eyes both bulged in shock. His mum gaped at him so widely that her jaw looked like it was about to become unhinged, apparently at a loss for words while tears bubbled in James' eyes. Then James bolted, tearing out of the room like his life depended on it. Loud banging footsteps followed as he thumped up the stairs, ending with the sound of a door slamming shut which finally seemed to pop the balloon of silence and free his mother from her frozen state.
"James, wait!" his mum called after him, throwing the paper onto the counter and racing after her son with admittedly less thunderous footsteps. Albus instead turned to his sister, wanting to share his surprise.
"Lily, did you just hear that?" Albus asked of her, she was still engrossed in whatever she was drawing.
"Hear what?" Lily wondered disinterestedly without looking up.
"Hear what James just screamed!" Albus explained with a scowl while Vern came back into the room, still holding his now less full glass.
"Nah, I zoned out from all that yelling a while ago."
"Vern, did you hear that?" Albus turned to him instead.
"Hear what?" Vern wondered with an equal amount of disinterest to Lily, Albus rolled his eyes.
"Hear what James yelled across the room!"
"No, I wasn't paying attention and I was in the other room," Vern pointed out before tossing him a letter, "Your Hogwarts letter by the way, soon as we have breakfast we're going to Diagon Alley to get our supplies."
"Thanks," Albus said dryly and Vern left again, Albus groaned at the lack of interest for James' life before tearing into his letter. He took out the paper and peered into the envelope, he didn't see a prefect badge. He proceeded to shake the envelope out upside down but nothing came out, he sighed, "I didn't make Prefect, Scorpius must've got it."
He looked to Lily for her reaction but she didn't seem to be paying attention, she was still focused on what she was doing. Fed up with her ignoring him, Albus snatched the paper away from her. That got a reaction, she leaped up to try snatch it back but Albus had the advantage of the table in the way as he simply stepped back from it while she was stuck sitting. He glanced down at the page while she was scrambling to get to him and was stunned by what he saw, the entire page was filled with heart shapes with an arrow through them. Each one reading 'Orous + Lily' in differently decorated lettering, Lily snatched it back while his jaw was hanging open.
"You like Orous?!" Albus burst out in shock while his sister scowled at him darkly.
"Yes," Lily confirmed, hugging the paper to herself.
"Why would you possibly like Orous?!"
"That's a jerk thing to say about your friend," Lily complained at him snippily.
"He's an albino! His eyes are red! His hair is white! His skin looks like the sun bleached the color out of it! How can you possibly think he's attractive?! What do you see in him?!"
"I happen to think he's cute," Lily insisted before giving a saccharine smile while one hand started twirling her hair, "And kind. And brave. And gentle. And heroic. And loyal. And sweet. And-"
"You can't like Orous!" Albus interrupted angrily, disgusted the thought of his little sister liking someone at her age. Or worse, dating. Or worse, holding hands with a boy. Or worse… kissing with a boy.
"Why not?" Lily pouted.
"Because he's an albino!"
"I don't care about that."
"He's a Hufflepuff!"
"I don't care about that either."
"He's been through a lot, you don't want someone damaged!"
"Now you just sound like a jerk."
"He's... gay!" Albus invented and Lily's expression flickered briefly with surprise.
"VERN!" Lily called and Albus slapped his face, of course she'd ask Orous' closest friend.
"What?" Vern wondered as he poked his head back into the room. And of course, Vern would tell her.
"Is Orous gay?"
"No. Not unless you know something I don't."
"I didn't mean gay," Albus interrupted, "I said it by mistake, I meant he has a girlfriend."
"No he doesn't."
"Vern! Would you shut up?!" Albus hissed irritably and Vern retreated back into the other room.
"Looks like he's straight and single and I can like him if I want to," Lily announced determinedly and stalked off, Albus sighed. The return to Hogwarts was looking less appealing now.
Part 4: Group
Scorpius waited until his parents and Sol were gone before leaving, Varanian had given him a Portkey Ring he'd created - and somewhat invented - that was activated by vocal command. It could also be used to communicate short messages, it came in handy. The golden ring transported him to a field close to where Varanian's hideout was, he still remembered the way easily and started out through the long tendrils of green. It was a hot day, despite being the last day of summer the sky was the same brilliant blue as his girlfriend's eyes and the golden orb hung along in the sky. He was kind of fed up with heat after being in Egypt for so long, it was probably going to be a frustratingly sweltering September.
"Expelliarmus!" a woman's voice cried.
Scorpius drew his wand with practiced ease and speed, ready for attack as he ran towards the source of the sound. He still felt uncomfortable holding his wand though, he'd burned his hand pulling Varanian out of the fire and even after the arduous process of healing it didn't feel right. Holding or touching anything made him acutely aware of the mass of scar that was his hand now, feeling where all the ridges, lumps, bumps and grooves were. He came to an abrupt halt as he saw the source of the spell. There wasn't an attack, there was some kind of training session going on with Varanian, Roman and Annie.
Roman Rivers and Wyatt Grant were also both staying with Varanian, they were wanted dead by the Shadows and Roman was also wanted by the Ministry for Shadow crimes he'd been forced to do. Annie Thorne - his friend Michael's aunt - was a muggle paramedic or had been, she'd got mixed up with them when Scorpius had had to take her and Michael there to avoid being killed by the anti-werewolf group PAW. They'd gone to her out of desperation when Varanian and Wyatt had been injured a few months ago, she'd either been staying with them or just spending a lot of time there to help. Annie was also a witch, a muggle-born who'd missed out on finding out about magic and Hogwarts due to Voldemort banning muggle-borns from Hogwarts during the Second Wizarding War. The Ministry hadn't managed to track down all the muggle-borns who should've attended during that time, Annie had missed out big time.
"That was better," Varanian was saying as Scorpius approached the trio near the tree line, not far from the massive dilapidated lump of a hideout.
"Glad it's better, can I stop being a target dummy now?" Roman complained, he was standing in front of a tree holding a wand loosely by his side. A tree that was missing half a branch, it was lying a few feet away.
He'd never thought he'd been glad to hear Roman complain but it was a good sign, Roman had seemed like some kind of zombie last time he'd seen him. He'd had the magic ripped out of his soul and put back, it scrambled your mind for a while apparently. He wasn't dressed in his usual preferred meticulous way though, looking rougher and his muddy brown eyes looked so hopeless they reminded him of Orous or Antonius. Roman was also the father of two of his friends, twins Maurice Rivers and Orous Knox, they lived their muggle stepfather though. They didn't take after Roman much in terms of looks, Maurice was the spitting image of his Shadow mother and Orous was an albino. Roman had short jet-black hair, neater then Harry Potter's but messier then Calderon's. He was also the uncle of his girlfriend.
"No," Varanian shot him down immediately as he limped over to Annie, who was standing facing Roman with a wand outstretched.
He was shocked to see Varanian was using a walking stick and limping in the first place, although he supposed after being burned alive that he needed to recover. Scorpius had had to take potions to repair the damage and do exercises to strengthen his healing muscles, it had barely been usable at first so Varanian probably had it the same if not worse as he'd been cinderized from the neck down. And for the second time in his life, Varanian had suffered the same fate years before at the hands of the Death Eaters who'd murdered his wife and kids. His scars were still visible, as a metamorphmagus he could - and tended to - hide them although Scorpius supposed he might need to heal more to do that... He didn't really know how it worked. Any visible part of Varanian's flesh not his face - except for a bit on his chin and lower cheeks, almost like a 'V' shape - was scarred, the same pale assortment of blotchy lumps and pits of scarred flesh as Scorpius' hand. He didn't even have fingernails. His hair was his preferred short, scruffy tawny color with the first flecks of gray and his ever piercing eyes were silver today, he tended to bounce between that and a cold blue.
"You just need to relax your grip a bit more," Varanian told her.
"Maybe you're just a lousy teacher," Annie grumbled, she was pretty and in her thirties like Roman. She hadn't changed. Her reddish-brown hair was tied back and up as usual with a hair clip, cobalt blue eyes shadowed with fatigue, a trait she shared with Varanian. All of them were dressed in muggle clothes and long sleeves despite the weather.
"Maybe you're just a lousy pupil," Varanian countered easily as he shakily stood unaided to correct her grip.
"Okay, I'll give you that. Every teacher I ever had would agree with you there."
"Just try it again like that and don't tense up, stand relaxed like you are now. If you're tense then the slight spell recoil will jerk the spell way off where you want it go, if you're relaxed then there's some give and you have more control. Got it?"
"Got it," Annie confirmed with a nod as Varanian hobbled back with his walking stick, "Expelliarmus!"
This time, the red jet shot out perfectly and struck Roman square in the chest. His wand went flying, Annie gave a triumphant whoop of delight and jumped, punching the air. Roman's expression was somewhere between annoyed and bored and he went to retrieve his wand.
"Do you have to do that every time you successfully cast a spell?" Varanian chided, "It's like you have ADHD or something."
"Huh, well now you just sound like my shrink."
"My point is that in a real duel, your opponent isn't going to wait around for you to celebrate."
"Well it's not like they'd have anything better to do when their wand is halfway across the room."
"What's to celebrate? You can only do like five spells," Roman grumbled as he came back over to them.
"Hey," Scorpius called out as he got close enough to feel like he should make his presence noticed.
"Hey Scorpius," Varanian greeted him as their attention turned to him, "Long time, no see."
"I was stuck in Egypt, they-"
"Banned inter-continental travel, we know."
"You were in Egypt?!" Roman burst out abruptly and loudly, "I've been to Egypt!"
"When?" Annie wondered and Roman's expression became a scowl.
"I don't... I don't remember. But... But I was there, I'm sure I've been there. I can remember a bit..."
"Don't strain yourself," Annie offered and clapped in on the back before heading towards the hideout, "Let's get back inside, I need a drink."
"You just drink too much," Roman griped as they followed, Roman walking much faster than the struggling Varanian. Scorpius hung back to walk with him.
"You're teaching Annie to do magic?" Scorpius asked, deciding to go to the most recent thing now on his mind and Varanian nodded.
"And brushing up on Roman's dueling skills, the more he does the more he remembers," Varanian told him and Scorpius couldn't help but notice how awkwardly and shakily Varanian's legs moved, , "They both need it, Roman's wanted by the Shadows and Aurors so he needs to be able to defend himself and get away. Even if he can't be killed with the Killing Curse, there's other ways to kill. And Annie needs to know magic, it's not healthy to not know even if she wasn't caught up in the war. Not like I really have anything better to do while I'm recovering, not able to spy on anyone like this. Wyatt's on his own for now."
"You will get better though, right?" Scorpius wondered worriedly, not liking the thought of Varanian hobbling around for the rest of his life.
"Yes, I will get better. Unfortunately these things just take time," Varanian confirmed and Scorpius nodded in understanding, "How's your hand?"
"Better, I guess. It works. Feels weird though," Scorpius admitted and Varanian inclined his head as if in agreement, "How are you doing?"
"Great. Aside from wishing I'd heal faster anyway," Varanian told him, much to Scorpius' surprise as they reached the doorway left open for them. Varanian stopped and reached out with the hand not holding his walking stick to stroke the door frame, "See?"
"No pain. It doesn't feel like I'm running my fingers across jagged steel," Varanian explained as he moved his hand away, "Wood feels more like wood, soft things feel softer, smooth things feel smoother. And it doesn't hurt to touch things anymore."
"Well that's good."
"I guess it does sound weird... Sometimes you just don't realize how much pain you're in until you're not anymore. Hello Wyatt."
Scorpius blinked in surprise and noticed a small winged lizard gliding near them just in time before it transformed into a person, Wyatt Grant. He was the son of his Charms professor and infinitely more likeable, he was wanted dead by the Shadows for witnessing them killing his roommate. He was in hiding as a result, although he was widely believed to be dead, and also trying to fight the Shadows now. He was an unregistered - he couldn't register without risking death going into the corrupted Ministry - animagus, which came in useful. He was the youngest of the bunch, only in his early twenties with bright azure eyes and bouncy hair that seemed unable to decide whether it was blond or brown.
"Hey," Wyatt greeted them and flashed a smile, "And Scorpius, my friend, it's good to see you again! How was Egypt?"
"Sandy and hot," Scorpius pointed out as the woman came back to mind, "Actually something happened there - Shadow related - that I really want to talk to you about."
"Weird. I didn't think they were after you," Wyatt said with a scowl.
"Good," Varanian offered as he headed inside and gestured for them to follow.
The place had come a long way since Scorpius had first seen it, it had been buried in layers of dirt, smothered in dust and falling apart. Now it had been cleaned up though, he'd never have guessed the walls would have been orange or that the floorboards could have a warm shine to them. There were doors leading off to the sides and he knew there was a trapdoor to Varanian's basement room where he also kept all his information, the staircase was opposite them and the kitchen right beside that. Annie was waiting for them, leaning lazily against the wall and sipping a bottle of beer. She headed into the kitchen once she saw them, Varanian followed instead of going down into his basement to talk to him as he would've expected.
"They'll find out anyway," Varanian explained, apparently noticing the look on his face, "I can't do much right now."
"I got information too," Wyatt added excitedly as they went into the kitchen after Annie.
It was a decent sized kitchen although not as big as the one at Malfoy manor, there was a similarly sized wooden table but everything looked different. The floorboards continued into the room and the walls were small tiles of oranges, reds and yellows. The cupboards had rounded wooden handles and were white, matching the white speckled counter top. Annie pulled out one of the chairs for Varanian to sit on and left a glass of water by him before going over to the other side and taking one for herself, leaning back and plonking her feet down onto the table. Scorpius and Wyatt took a seat either side of Varanian, Roman scowled at Annie's feet as if offended but she made no move to put her feet down and instead took another gulp of her beer. Roman dragged the end chair into the corner to drink his chipped cup of tea, continuing to eye her darkly.
"So what happened with the Shadows?" Varanian asked of him immediately and Scorpius launched into an explanation of what had happened in the ancient magical city with the woman. Roman and Annie continued sipping their respective drinks throughout while Wyatt took out a bag of gummy worms to start munching on, however they all did seem to be paying attention.
"And she said she was from Athens, Greece when it was attacked-"
"NOT GREECE!" Roman screamed abruptly and lurched forward, interrupting Scorpius' account and drawing the confused eyes of the rest of them.
"Why not Greece?" Wyatt wondered while Roman looked absolutely horrorstruck, his expression became puzzled though at Wyatt's question and he frowned.
"I don't... I don't know," Roman admitted as he leaned back, looking very much like he was desperately trying to remember something, "Do I... Do I know anyone in Greece? A woman maybe? A girlfriend?"
"You?" Wyatt questioned before he, Scorpius and Annie all burst out laughing. Roman had been brutally opposed to dating and had had some odd beliefs about woman before, including thinking the Shadow Master was a woman. Roman now though, only scowled more at their laughter, "C'mon, Romeo, you were fiercely opposed to that sort of thing, I have more chance of having an ex-girlfriend then you!"
"And you hate women, Roman,," Annie added.
"And you're terrified of women," Scorpius agreed.
"And you hate being around people."
"And you're terrified of people."
"Well fine, maybe it wasn't a person," Roman spat out irritably, "Maybe it was an artifact."
"Much more likely," Wyatt offered while Roman sat there sulkily, Wyatt offered him the bag, "Here, have a gummy worm. They're gummy. And wormy."
"Really? I would never have got that from the name!" Roman snapped sarcastically while Varanian just turned back to him, "You'll get fat if you keep eating them and all your teeth with fall out.
"You were saying, Scorpius?" Varanian prompted and Scorpius continued his explanation without further interruption.
"Well that is most interesting," Wyatt mused when he was done, "Because I found out today that Soul Eatery Shadows in England have to be on the lookout for some blond woman who managed to escape Athens after the attack, they think she's headed here if she's not here already. I also heard they were keeping an eye on you while you were in Egypt, probably why they found her so fast when she tried to talk to you."
"On the bright side, at least we know she's probably still alive. If she's here then we can try to find her and find out what she knows, I wonder why the interest in the Scepter though. It's not something everyone knows. They didn't happen to mention her name, did they?"
"No. I honestly don't think they know it, they might have narrowed it down to witches unaccounted for but I doubt they'd find and identify all the dead to know for sure which missing name is hers. Assuming they're even that organized about it."
"Any other news about the Shadows?" Scorpius asked curiously.
"Not really," Varanian sighed, "Shadow spies are really the only ones left in England right now, the Shadow Master, Brutus and Rabastan are all in Greece. All the focus is on Greece. Unless they have something important to report or that they need to know, they keep their heads down and aren't privy to things regarding Greece or the Scepter. The spy lieutenant is the only important person left and we don't know who he is so we can't spy on his communication with the others, he's great at covering his tracks."
"Any news about the Ministry then? Things happening in England generally aren't covered in the Egyptian news."
"That we do know stuff about. The Ministry just wants to save themselves, they've lowered the standards for accepting Aurors and are urging everyone able to join. They need to replenish their numbers after those who died defending the Scepter, they want Aurors ready to defend themselves if and when the Shadows turn on England. There are public service announcements every hour on the wireless and every day in the paper, they're encouraging teenagers to drop out of Hogwarts as soon as they come of age to sign up and are giving criminals a pardon if they agree to sign up. Your mental state no longer matters, as long as you can use a wand then you can be an Auror and they've altered the training. Instead of years of work, you go on an intense training course for a few months and are deemed ready. Those already in the old training get to stick with it though."
"Quantity over quality," Roman offered with a shrug.
"I don't think Potter agrees with it to be honest. He wants them to reach out to other countries and work on a united defense, the Minister however thinks they should only look out for themselves not spread themselves too thin trying to help the rest of the world and will be unable to help themselves. Most countries tend to be doing the same, they're either far enough from Greece that they think the war won't get to them or they're close enough to only be concerned with protecting themselves in case they're next. And then there's keeping the magical secret, the devote more time worrying about how to keep it all under wraps then they do about the actual threat."
"In fact, they're almost abandoning Greece for that very reason," Annie spoke up, "They've had the Greek muggle government sever their connection to the internet, stopped all cell phone usage and limited only government phone lines to be able to call out of the country. They're cutting them off so it's harder for word of magic to spread if it does get out, all those things are ways muggles communicate by the way. Maybe they think letting the Shadow Master have Greece will satisfy him enough to leave the rest of the world alone."
"No one really knows what to do you see, something like this hasn't happened before. Dark Wizards in the recent past mostly terrorized the wizarding population, wanting to dominant that before taking on the larger muggle population. Those further back didn't have to worry about it as it was much harder for muggles to stay in touch long distance so only the immediate targets would have learned of magic. The Shadow Master is going after both though, taking both the muggle and magical populations in one sweep. The magical governments don't know what to do, they're afraid of having to deal with the statute of secrecy being broken. It would cause absolute chaos, life as we know it would crumble around us. The muggle world would be in so much turmoil that it would almost be like the Ministry would be facing a war on two fronts, the Shadows and the backlash from muggles. This is probably what the Shadow Master wants, the Ministries are so concerned with keeping things hidden to prevent that they aren't dedicating the time or resources to stopping the Shadows. So the Shadows thrive."
"By the time they turn their attention to the Shadows, they won't have to worry about the muggles freaking out because the world will already be in the Shadow Master's control," Wyatt tried to joke but it struck them more like a serious outcome, if a little exaggerated.
"Don't you think we're getting ahead of ourselves?" Roman interjected, "The Shadows aren't that powerful, they'd never really get that far."
"They have control of three of the thirteen regions of Greece already, the more they take the more they have to throw back at the world."
"How can we stop it?" Scorpius asked seriously, feeling the gravity of the situation weighing heavily down upon him.
"We stop the Shadow Master before it gets that far, stop them before it escalates anymore," Varanian answered with equal solemnity, "This is the Shadow Master's show, take him away and his followers will crumble."
"How do we stop him?"
"Get the Scepter back somehow, it'll strip him back down to being human and slow the speed of his destruction."
"How do we do that?"
"I don't know, that's why I said somehow instead of something specific. Maybe that woman knows something that could be useful."
"How do we find her?"
"I don't know, Scorpius!" Varanian protested somewhat testily, "I don't know everything in the world."
"You don't know everything in the world? You, really?" Annie wondered in a tone laden with sarcasm and Varanian threw her a look, "For shame."
"You know, I was thinking," Scorpius spoke up, "My friend Latimer has a father."
"Your friend has a father? I would never have expected a person to have a father, that's a strange thing that is."
"Annie," Varanian said warningly.
"Pip," Annie countered.
"Are you done?" Varanian complained of her and Annie gestured for Scorpius to continue, settling back and sipping her beer again.
"Latimer's father, Austin, is also wanted dead by the Shadows as he rejected joining them," Scorpius continued, "He wouldn't join them and he's running for his life, I don't know if he'd help you but in exchange for safety here and a wand - he's desperate to have a wand, he lost his when he was expelled - then he'd probably help. It's another person for our group, you really should think of a name for us yet."
"Not you too," Varanian growled and rolled his eyes, "There is no name because there is no group! And we're not gathering extra people."
"Look around, Pip," Annie prompted and gestured to the five people in the room, "There's a group whether you want there to be or not. Unless wizards define 'group' differently to normal people."
"We don't," Wyatt confirmed and grinned, "Since we're talking about names for our group, I'd like to vote for Lizards."
"I'd like to vote for anything except that."
"I'd like to vote for Varanian's Group of Lunatics," Roman offered.
"I'd like to vote for anything except that," Wyatt stated.
"There's no vote!" Varanian insisted, "There's no vote because there's no name, there's no because there's no group."
"We need people if we're going to take down the Shadow Master," Scorpius pointed out, "Worked out well for Dumbledore and his Order of the Phoenix or Harry Potter and his Dumbledore's Army."
"You'd think they'd be called the other way round, huh?" Annie mused thoughtfully.
"There's no group," Varanian repeated forcefully, "There's just me and... and you people are just sort of here and not obligated to stay or anything."
"I think it's a good think wizards don't have English, you'd have complete flunked forming coherent sentences and identifying the difference between a group and not a group."
"There's no group."
"Saying the exact same thing over and over absolutely makes it more true."
"Can we just move on?" Roman sighed tiredly, "You're both stubborn enough to be at this for hours."
"I was also thinking," Scorpius spoke up again, "That I could drop out of Hogwarts and just stay here to help out with the war."
"No," Varanian shot him down immediately.
"But nothing, you're bound by the Trace even if we ignore everything else. You need to be able to defend yourself without bringing the wrath of the Ministry down upon you."
"Isn't there a way to remove it?" Scorpius wondered, knowing he sounded almost pleading, "You're smart, you could figure it out."
"No, I couldn't. I don't know enough about how it works to even begin to figure it out. Besides, it's important you stay at Hogwarts."
"Because this is my stupid OWL year?" Scorpius snapped harsher then he intended, "I should be helping fight in this war not studying or thinking about stupid careers or the stupid future."
"No," Varanian said simply, "Because of you what you need to learn, not for grades or OWLs but for knowledge and experience. Useful spells, useful potions and being able to succeed at both of those. A basic knowledge of herbs and creatures comes in handy, knowledge behind how magic works, knowing Runic can be useful. Non-verbal magic and apparation are a must. There's things you need to know and Hogwarts is the best place to learn them, you don't need to study but just pay attention."
"I think OWLs are important if I remember," Roman whispered quietly, his expression strained as if he was trying to remember things, "I don't think I did well...? Maybe? Did I get yelled at?"
"I wish I'd studied more for my OWLs," Wyatt sighed, "My Dad told me they were super important and I kind of didn't study just because I wanted to do the opposite of what he said. Rudy got straight O's though, he was a Ravenclaw though so what do you expect?"
"My parents were nagging me about them too," Scorpius admitted, still thinking they were pointless although he could see where Varanian was coming from in terms of learning, "What did your parents think of OWLs, Varanian"
"My Mum died when I was seven, my Dad when I was eleven," Varanian told him with a shrug, "They didn't live long enough to give me their opinion on OWLs."
"Ha, I win on the Mum but you win on the Dad," Annie pointed out and Varanian frowned in confusion, "I was six when my Mum died so I win being the youngest when Mum dies but I was twelve when my Dad died so you win being the youngest for when Dad dies."
"My parents both died when I was nine," Roman added, "Unless you lied to me."
"Haha, I beat you all," Wyatt commented with a smirk, "My Mum died when I was only two weeks old, beat that."
"It's not a competition," Varanian insisted and Scorpius felt oddly less annoyed with his parents, at least they were alive to bother him.
"But if it was then I'd win," Wyatt reiterated and Varanian rolled his eyes, "Study, Scor, it's better to have the grades and not need them then to not have them and need them if that makes sense. If the world falls apart then oh well but if it doesn't and we win then you might need them for the future."
"Don't study too much, I think I got sick?" Roman said, sounding much more like he was guessing while Wyatt sighed.
"I gotta go, one of the spies should be leaving for lunch now and sometimes he meets up with another and they discuss things."
"Be careful," Varanian offered as Wyatt stood to leave.
"Be careful?" Wyatt repeated with sarcastic undertones and slapped his hand to his head, "And all this time I thought I was supposed to be reckless!"
"Oh just go already," Varanian complained and Wyatt left with a grin, Varanian instead turned to Annie, "He wasn't this sarcastic before he met you, I blame you."
"You're welcome," Annie commented with a grin, "Anything to make your life easier."
"How did your OWL year go?" Scorpius asked of Varanian curiously while Annie went to get another beer, Roman seemed to have decided the conversation was no longer important and also left.
"Erm... It was different," Varanian admitted and scratched his chin thoughtfully, "My grandfather died and I got landed in foster care which I ran away from, Ethel got prefect and I didn't so we always seemed to have less time together, Ethel and Brutus wanted to study but I didn't-"
"I thought you hated Brutus?"
"I did but I still enjoyed dueling him and taunting him, which he wouldn't do when he was studying and he just ignored me," Varanian explained and cringed slightly, "One time Ethel was desperate to study as did everyone else whose names I forget, I was desperate to duel Brutus but no matter what I said he refused to take the bait and stop studying. I got so pissed off that I blew up the table he was studying at and Ethel's, quite literally I exploded them into shards. I was in so much trouble, quite rightly. I spent much more time in detention that year then I did studying to be honest. I was a bit of a bastard, really. Once I actually stormed off right when we were about to walk onto the pitch for an actual match, just because Charlie Weasley mentioning being excited to play on the new broom his family had gotten him for his birthday."
"You were jealous he got a new broomstick?" Annie wondered as she sat back down with a raised eyebrow.
"No, I was jealous he had a family to buy him a new broomstick, I was even convinced he was rubbing it in my face. Which was completely unjustified. We lost the match and the Captain... whatever his name was, kicked me off the team. I was so angry that I... I blew up his broom," Varanian explained and put a hand over his face, his cheeks tinging scarlet with embarrassment while Annie laughed, "It was a brand new model as well... I think my Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher sorely regretted teaching me the Blasting Curse before the year was up."
"You sure liked blowing shit up, huh? And that poor Captain Whatever-His-Name-Was."
"I never really paid that much attention to my classmates, I knew them by sight but not by name. You should learn the Blasting Curse this year, Scorpius, that's also good to know. It's better than the Blasting Spell from Third Year, just... don't blow up tables or broomsticks or desks-"
"Whose desk did you blow up?" Scorpius blurted out, failing not to be amused at the thought of Varanian blowing up a teacher's desk. Varanian buried his face further into his hand.
"McGonagall's. She said metamorphmagi often went through tumultuous mood swings, especially during adolescence so I... I blew up her desk," Varanian admitted and Scorpius joined Annie in laughing.
"Way to prove her wrong!" Annie congratulated him mockingly as he lowered his hand, still looking embarrassed as he shook his head.
"Ironically though, despite all that. I still did great on my OWLs," Varanian told him, "So you don't have to study to do well, just make sure you pay attention in class and learn the things they're trying to teach you. OWLs are just a way to prove what you know after all, I figured if I didn't know it then I hadn't been paying attention so I didn't deserve the OWL in the first place."
"That makes sense," Scorpius agreed.