'Seriously?' Danny folded his arms and glared at Scorpius. 'I bare my soul to you, and you laugh at me?'

Scorpius rolled his eyes. 'I'm not laughing, and you're being overdramatic. As far as I can tell from what you just told me, nothing even happened, except that you did something nice for her and she didn't stab your eyes out, which, given that we're talking about Rose Weasley here, I'd say is a pretty positive sign.'

'Really fucking helpful,' Danny told him, flinging himself down on Scorpius's couch.

'Well, what d'you want me to say?' Scorpius demanded. 'I mean, Merlin, you could have chosen a less terrifying person to start fancying, but…' He dodged the cushion Danny threw at him and went on as if he hadn't been interrupted. 'But if you do like her, then maybe it's not a bad thing that you practically told her. Not like she reacted too badly, did she? So it could have been worse.'

Danny covered his eyes with a hand and groaned. 'Yeah, but what kind of dick waits until someone's in fucking traumatised shock, then swoops in to take advantage while they're down?'

'A total dick,' Scorpius told him. 'So it's good you didn't do that, isn't it? Because if that's what you call taking advantage, then I think you're…'

'But that's what she's going to think, isn't it?' Danny interrupted. 'And I don't want to be the guy who's nice to a girl, then tells her he fancies her, and expects her to like him back out of… out of gratitude or whatever. I wasn't even going to say anything to her. I mean, I didn't say anything, not really—but I know she guessed what I was thinking.'

Scorpius sighed. 'Okay, so, first of all, I really don't think Weasley is the type of person who likes people back out of gratitude. Second of all, if you actually want to do something about this, you should be telling her this stuff, not me. And third, it's Christmas Eve, and my family is expecting me for dinner. Just go and fucking ask her out if that's what you want.' He paused for a moment. The idea of Danny actually going out with Rose Weasley was so bizarre, it was hard to get his head around. 'I have no idea what she'd say,' he added at last. 'But there's only one way to find out.'

Danny sighed. 'She's not the kind of person you just ask out. And she's made it pretty clear she can't stand me when things are normal. But okay, okay, point taken,' he went on, as Scorpius gave him an exasperated glare. 'I'm leaving. Have a good Christmas.'

He got up again and grabbed his jacket.

'Cheers. You too. And good luck with the whole thing,' Scorpius said, feeling slightly bad for throwing Danny out. 'I mean, I hope it works out, one way or another.'

'You're coming out on Boxing Day, by the way,' Danny told him, halfway out of the door. 'Two evenings in a row with my parents is plenty, so I'll need an excuse to be somewhere else.'

Once he'd gone, Scorpius picked up the bag he'd packed for a few days at his own parents' and glanced over at the cat, which was glaring at him from the arm of the sofa.

'Look, I've left you food and water,' he said. 'And you can come and go when you want, and I'll be coming back to feed you again tomorrow.'

Its only response was an angry swish of the tail, and he scowled at it.

'You don't even technically live here!' he told it, and stepped hurriedly into the fire.

His parents' living room was decorated for Christmas, with a large tree in the window and garlands hung around. Nobody was there, but voices and clattering of dishes came from elsewhere in the house, so he dropped his bag on a chair and headed for the door.

'Hello! Where is everyone?' he called as he came out into the hallway.

'Scorp!' The dining room door was flung open, and Issie appeared, grinning broadly, and threw her arms around him. 'You're here!'

'Hey, you.' He hugged her back and ruffled her short, dark hair as he pulled back to look at her. 'Good term?'

'Yeah.' She looked slightly thoughtful. 'Weird term in some ways. But pretty good.'

Scorpius raised his eyebrows. 'Weird in ways I'm going to get to hear about?'

Issie grinned. 'If you're that interested. Didn't know you were into school gossip these days, though.'

'Oh, that sort of weird. Well, I'm interested if it's dirt on you, but less so otherwise,' he said, laughing at her.

'There's never any dirt on me, I make sure of that,' she told him. 'By the way, don't groan too loudly, but Grandma and Grandpa are coming for dinner.'

'What?' Scorpius groaned anyway. 'Why? I only just got here!'

'Well, they're coming here tonight instead of us going to them tomorrow—Mum negotiated it. So it could be worse.'

'Well, that explains the outfit, anyway' Scorpius said, looking down at the neat, navy blue dress and dark tights she was wearing in place of her usual jeans and trainers.

Issie stuck her tongue out at him, but before she could reply, their mother came down the stairs.

'Hello, love. I'm glad you could make it in time.'

Her last words were drowned out by thundering footsteps on the stairs behind her, and an excited yell, as Caelum flung himself into Scorpius's arms.

'Hey, Mum. Hey, Monster. Where's Dad?'

'Cooking,' his mother said. 'Your sister was talking about, what was it, Issie? 'Unequally gendered household chores', or something. He seemed to take it as a personal affront, and we've all been banished from the kitchen.'

'I wasn't even talking specifically about him,' Issie said, calmly. 'It's not my fault if he recognised himself.'

Scorpius grinned at Issie. 'Well, you're not wrong, but I'll pay you to talk more about unequally gendered household chores when Grandma and Grandpa get here.'

'And talking of that, is the table laid yet?' their mum asked Issie.

'Nope, but it will be in about five minutes. Come on, Caelum, you're on spoons!'

Caelum wriggled out of Scorpius's arms, and Scorpius laughed as he watched his brother and sister disappear into the dining room. He kissed his mother on the cheek, and she gave him a slightly harassed smile.

'Sorry to do this the first evening of your holiday, Scorpius. But they're going to be here in about ten minutes, and…' She gestured apologetically at his clothes, which consisted of trousers that could probably do with a wash, and the same jumper that had offended Calypso's tastes the other week.

Scorpius sighed. 'I'll go and get changed.'

He heard his grandparents arrive in the living room as he came downstairs again—he refused to wear robes just for dinner at his parents', but he'd put on a smart shirt and clean trousers—and stuck his head into the dining room, where Issie and Caelum were enacting a dramatic duel with a pair of spoons.

'Oi, they're here,' he said, and withdrew, pasting a smile onto his face as he walked into the living room.

'Scorpius!' his grandmother exclaimed, as soon as she saw him. 'It's been far too long since we've seen you.'

She swept in on him, embraced him briefly, then moved swiftly on to Issie and Caelum, who had come in behind him. Scorpius was left to shake hands with his grandfather.

'Good to see you here for once, Scorpius,' his grandfather said. 'Your parents keep telling us how busy you are with work. I'm glad your career seems to be taking off at last—you'll have to tell us all about it. Your father's been very vague about what it is you're actually doing.'

'Yeah, it's been pretty full-on,' Scorpius said, as casually as he could. 'But I've got a few days off now.'

He had no real intention of telling his grandfather much about what he was doing. He'd have given a lot to know whether Lucius Malfoy had any involvement or connection with the League, but part of him also didn't want to know, and he certainly didn't dare to ask. The thought made him feel slightly sick—especially since Jasper Parker's death the other week. Scorpius had never liked Parker that much, but still. They'd shared a common room for six years, and a Quidditch team for three. Now Parker was dead. Surely Scorpius's own grandfather couldn't have any part in the organisation that had killed him?

Behind him, he heard his grandmother, having greeted Caelum with fond hugs and kisses, starting in on her usual crusade with Issie.

'My dear, I wish you'd grow your hair a little longer. It was different when you were a child, but now you're older…'

Scorpius turned around in time to see Issie smile brightly at their grandmother.

'Well, maybe I will, Grandma—you never know,' she said.

Scorpius hid a grin. Issie considered her hair too long if it was touching her shoulders, and he didn't think she had any intention of doing what Grandma suggested. He suspected that his grandmother knew it too, although she made no sign of it.

'Well, I think it would look very nice a little longer,' Grandma said. 'And perhaps, while you're at it, a bit more attention to your wardrobe?'

Issie's smile grew more fixed, and their mother cleared her throat.

'Dinner's just ready, I think. Shall we go through?'

'So, you're growing your hair now?' Scorpius murmured to Issie, with a smirk, as he passed her.

She flipped him off silently and marched out of the room.

'I hear you had a Yule Ball at school this term, Iseult?' their grandmother said, as the meal got underway.

'Yes,' Issie said, neutrally, putting a forkful of food in her mouth and chewing slowly.

Their grandmother raised her eyebrows.

'And may I ask who you attended with?'

Issie sighed, and Scorpius could sense her patience slipping. He sympathised; it was only a matter of time before they started in on him too, although they'd backed off about his relationships recently. Grandpa had hit the roof about the very public rumours regarding Scorpius and Lily, but, since those rumours had proved to be nothing, the topic of a girlfriend had been quietly dropped. Maybe they were so relieved that they'd decided anybody or nobody would be better than a Potter, or maybe, he thought with amusement, they were worried that if they pushed too hard, he'd go and get together with Lily out of spite. His career was still fair game, though, and he knew his grandfather wouldn't let the matter drop.

'I just went with my friends, Grandma,' Issie said, when she'd swallowed her mouthful. 'Nobody special.'

Their grandmother sniffed. 'Oh, you mean that Longbottom girl, and the boy—what's his name?'

'His name's Jake. But no, actually, he went with his girlfriend, so I was there with Alice and some of the others.' She still managed to sound more or less polite, but Scorpius could tell that she was losing the battle with her temper. She usually did if they got onto the topic of her friends.

'Oh, he's got a girlfriend?' There was only the faintest hint of significant inflection in their grandmother's voice, and her face showed nothing as she continued to eat.

However, their grandfather took up the cudgels. 'Well, that's a relief,' he remarked.

Issie's fork dropped onto her plate with a clatter. 'Why is it a relief? Because, if he's got a girlfriend, he can't start going out with me, is that what you mean?'

'Issie, please,' their mother said.

Their grandfather fixed Issie with a grim look. 'Do not take that tone with me, young lady. I have great concerns about the people you've chosen to be friends with, and you know it.'

'What concerns?' Issie demanded. 'I mean, what concerns you about Jake specifically, Grandpa?'

Their grandfather's eyes hardened, but their grandmother laid a hand on his arm.

'Lucius,' she said, warningly.

'No, Grandma, I want to hear him say it,' Issie said. 'I want to know what he's got against Jake…'

'Iseult, that's enough,' Dad broke in.

She turned a fierce glare on him, but he frowned at her.

'No, I mean it. I would like to enjoy my dinner without you picking arguments, especially in front of your little brother. And Mum, Dad, enough of the inquisition, please. Issie's choice of friends is her own, and Astoria and I have no problem with any of them. That's all there is to say on the matter.'

Lucius Malfoy looked thunderous, and for a moment, Scorpius thought he wasn't going to let it drop. But his wife's hand was still on his arm, and that seemed to be enough to restrain him. He gave her a glance, then pressed his lips together. There was a tense pause. Caelum stared from face to face, his eyes wide, then Issie gave her father a brief nod, some sort of understanding passing between them.

Their grandmother spoke, breaking the silence. 'Scorpius, why don't you tell us what's been going on in your life? Have you thought any more about letting us help you move out of that room you're staying in?'

Scorpius sighed, and rallied his usual polite answers. At least if they were worrying about his life, they weren't bothering Issie about her Gryffindor friends or her appearance, and he supposed he had it easier than her, since their concerns about Scorpius weren't quite as blatantly offensive. Sometimes, though, he wished he had Issie's courage to let his anger show.

Christmas morning at the Burrow had changed in only small ways over the previous twenty years. There were too many of them to stay in the house, but Uncle Percy and Aunt Audrey had always preferred to stay at home and come over for the day, and Uncle Bill and Aunt Fleur usually did the same, when they weren't visiting Aunt Fleur's family in France. Some of the older cousins had started to split off and do their own thing now too; Teddy and Victoire would have their own Christmas morning with Jess, before coming over in time for family gifts and lunch. Dominique was in the Caribbean with some friends, and James had gone with Hazel to her parents' the night before, and would also be over later in the day.

Rose, however, had slept sprawled on a camp bed in Aunt Ginny's old room, with Roxy on another one, since they'd allowed Lily to take the bed. She woke before the other two, and lay for a while, staring across at them. They all took up more space than they used to, but otherwise it was a scene that took her straight back to childhood. Sometimes Molly had joined them too, and two of them had slept top-and-tail in the bed, since there was no room for a third camp bed on the floor.

She checked her watch—the same watch Urquhart had returned to her a couple of weeks ago. It was seven am, which was late for Rose, but the other two might sleep for hours yet. Rose had taken the bed nearest the door for that exact reason, so she pushed herself up, grabbed her clothes and headed for the bathroom. At least there would be no queue at this time in the morning.

Emerging quarter of an hour later, showered and dressed, quiet sounds floating up the stairs told her that she wasn't the only person up. In the kitchen, Grandma was stoking up the range, which had died down overnight. The only other person in the room was Uncle Harry, standing by the window and flipping through a Daily Prophet several days old.

'Happy Christmas!' Rose said as she came in.

'Hello, love! Merry Christmas.' Grandma turned around as Rose paused beside her. 'How did you sleep?'

'Like a log,' Rose said, cheerfully. 'Lily didn't even snore.'

They'd all been treating her as if she was more fragile than usual since that day in the warehouse, and it was irritating, but she wasn't going to let it spoil Christmas. Her parents had more or less calmed down about it, but Grandma was always going to worry.

'Merry Christmas, Rosie.' Uncle Harry looked up from the paper, smiling. 'Not taking the chance for a lie-in?'

'I was awake, so it was either get up or lie and stare at the ceiling,' Rose said, with a shrug.

'Well, since you're here, you can make yourself useful. Beat these eggs,' Grandma said, passing her the eggs and a bowl. 'Harry, dear, can you start getting some plates out? It'll be first come, first served, but I imagine they'll all start appearing once they smell breakfast. And don't worry, Rose—I've got vegetarian sausages as well as ordinary ones, and I'm doing them in a separate pan.'

She went back to the stove, and they got on with their respective jobs. Rose, cracking eggs into the bowl, felt Uncle Harry's eyes on her. She glanced up and gave him a small smile. He hadn't fussed over her, not after the afternoon when it had happened, but she knew he was concerned anyway.

'I'm fine, you know,' she said, answering the question he hadn't asked. 'I mean, it was awful, and I don't think I'll ever forget it, but I can cope.'

'I know you can,' he said quietly. 'If we didn't think you could, you wouldn't have been accepted to the programme. But that sort of thing always knocks you, even when you've been through it before. It's certainly not the sort of situation we'd choose to send a trainee into.'

It wasn't really a good conversation for Christmas morning, but it was the first time she'd had a chance to talk to him alone and outside the department, as Uncle Harry rather than as her boss. 'Did someone talk to Parker's mum?' she asked, trying to make the question sound casual, even though he'd know it wasn't.

'They did. And we're trying to work with her to find out what Parker was up to and why he was killed, but either she's covering something up, or she really doesn't know much. By the way, it's possible she might want to talk to you. It's entirely up to you, of course…'

'Talk to me?' Rose stared at him.

'Well, your name wasn't mentioned, but she was told that there was an Auror with her son when he died. She may ask who it was at some point, and she could have questions for you.'

Rose nodded, frowning. She didn't particularly want to talk to Parker's mum, but it would be the decent thing to do, wouldn't it?

'Okay,' she said. 'I'll talk to her, if she asks. There's not much to tell, though. He tried to give me a message for her, but he never managed to finish it.'

'Just knowing that might be enough for her,' Uncle Harry said. 'Knowing that he was thinking about her, you know?'

Rose nodded, finding it difficult to talk about, even now. 'I wish I knew what else he was trying to tell me,' she said. 'It was something about why he was there, I know it was. About why he'd argued with them or whatever.'

'Well, we've still got our Mr Rowle in custody—which is thanks to you stunning him,' he pointed out. 'Getting him to tell us anything is another matter, but it's a start. We've got enough to charge him with accessory to manslaughter, at the very least, and I'm hoping that once he realises that there's no way he's not going to prison, he might be a bit more willing to help us out in the hopes of a lesser sentence.

'Oh, and a bit of news I only got the other day, so I haven't had a chance to tell you yet,' he added. 'I've got the translation of that bit of Parseltongue you found in Millicent Bulstrode's house.'

Rose perked up, forgetting the eggs she was meant to be preparing. 'Really? What did it say? That took long enough to get a translation, didn't it?'

'Well, the number of people who can read the language are few and far between; I had to get it sent to a research office in Spain. I think this is the first time I've ever wished I hadn't lost the ability to understand it. Anyway, I'm afraid it's no great revelation—only another mystery. It said, 'There will be two', and that was all.'

'There will be two?' Rose repeated. 'What the hell does that mean?'

'At the moment, your guess is as good as mine. So, if you have a guess at any point, let me know.'

Rose sighed, disappointed. Of course, it had only been a small scrap of parchment. It would have been more surprising if it had been a clear, full message. But still.

'It could mean anything. Or nothing. It might not even be connected to the case.'

'True. Although the fact that it was there, written in Parseltongue, is enough to make it a lead, at least. As I say, the people who speak Parseltongue are very rare—and it must have been written by one of them. Whether that's one of the Bulstrodes or not, it's someone who has a connection. Anyway, I'm going into the office tomorrow. It would be nice to think that even the League might be too busy celebrating Christmas to make any trouble, but I'm not counting on it.'

'Can I come?' Rose asked.

It wasn't exactly that she didn't want Boxing Day off—just that she couldn't stop thinking about the case, and if there were any developments, she wanted to know.

He looked amused. 'Rose, you're as bad as your mother for not knowing when to stop working. You're on holiday—so make the most of it, because next Christmas you'll be fully qualified, so you could be on call. Tell you what, if there's anything interesting happening, I'll call you in. Okay?'

Rose pulled a face, more an automatic reaction to the comparison with her mum than anything, but before she could reply, there was a clatter of feet on the stairs, and Hugo burst into the room in his pyjamas. From upstairs came the sound of more people moving around.

'Happy Christmas, everyone!' Hugo announced loudly, and leaned over to sniff the pan Grandma had set on the stove.. 'Mm, bacon!'

'If you want some, you can lend a hand,' Grandma said, putting a spatula into his hand. 'Don't let it burn.'

Uncle Harry cast a quick, meaningful look at Rose, and she nodded, understanding what he was saying. Any conversation about work was over for today.

Much later, when presents were opened and dinner was over, and everyone was lounging around the house in varying stages of Christmas afternoon laziness—ranging from Grandma, who was asleep in the most comfortable armchair, to three-year-old Jessica Lupin, who was pestering James to take her outside and let her have a go on his broom—Lily came and joined Rose on the sofa. For a few moments, she didn't speak, and Rose looked at her thoughtfully. If any member of the family was currently somewhat fragile, it was Lily, not Rose. Lily had never taken life very seriously, but ever since the summer, there had been something sad lurking at the back of her eyes.

Currently, however, there was no sadness, just a mischievous smile playing around her mouth. Lily leaned towards Rose.

'So,' she murmured. 'You and Danny Urquhart?'

It was with long-practised self-control that Rose didn't react, except to fix Lily with her deadliest glare. Fuck. Could she lie her way out of it? No, Lily clearly knew too much. The problem with Lily was that she was never quite as oblivious as she seemed. The other problem was that she was terrible with secrets. Just like a certain other person, who had to be responsible for this.

'I am going to fucking kill Scorpius Malfoy,' Rose said, in a vicious whisper.

Lily grinned. 'Well, don't do it too painfully; it wasn't really his fault. I kind of forced it out of him, and he didn't even tell me that much.'

Rose narrowed her eyes and glanced around to check that none of the rest of the family—most crucially, James, Hugo, or Rose's parents—were close enough to be listening to their whispers.

'How would you know there was anything to force? And what did he tell you?'

'I saw him leaving your place.' Lily shrugged. 'You know, that day when you… Well, you know. Dad told me what had happened, so I was coming over to check you were okay, and he was just coming out. Danny, I mean.'

Rose gritted her teeth. She'd known letting him in was a bad idea, and look how right she'd turned out to be.

'Since when are you on first name terms with him?'

Lily looked surprised. 'For a while. I mean, I hang out with Scorpius, and I used to hang out with him more a few years ago. Danny's one of his best friends—I wasn't going to keep calling him Urquhart. Especially since he kept telling me I was pronouncing it wrong. Danny's easier to say.'

'Well, you are pronouncing it wrong,' Rose couldn't help pointing out, then she broke off and stared at Lily with a horrible suspicion. 'Hold on. Please tell me you've never… I mean, you and him…'

Lily had dated and slept with a lot of different guys, and Rose didn't even pretend to keep track of her cousin's love life—if you could call Lily's string of casual flings a love life. And one-night stands were a normal part of her life in a way that they weren't a part of Rose's. But surely, she couldn't have. Surely Rose would know?

Lily blinked, then laughed, in an entirely unforced way. 'Merlin, no! Nothing like that, I promise. D'you like him then? I mean, are you guys…?'

'I am not talking about this here,' Rose said, through gritted teeth. Damn it, there was no need to feel quite this relieved that he and Lily had never slept together. 'And no, whatever you're asking, we're not.'

'Okay, okay.' Lily tilted her head to one side. 'But you know, he's not that bad. I mean, I know you hated him all the way through school or whatever, but he's actually a pretty nice guy, I'm just saying. You could give him a chance.'

'If you say so,' Rose retorted, then hesitated, feeling a small sting of guilt. Truth was, Lily was right, but admitting that out loud would be a huge climb-down. 'Anyway,' she went on, before Lily could speak again, 'nice or not, he's a pain in the neck. And now this conversation is over.'

Issie had found that, on the whole, putting up with her grandparents for an entire evening was a decent trade-off for being free of them for the whole of Christmas Day. It wasn't that she hated them—although she had to admit that it came close, when Grandpa starting to come out with his pureblood bullshit—but the older she got, the harder work they were. She wondered whether there would come a time when they'd be as heavily critical of Caelum as they were of her and Scorpius; it hadn't been as bad when she'd been younger. But Grandma, at least, had a definite soft spot for Cae, so maybe he'd get away with it.

Boxing Day felt like an anti-climax, as it always did. Issie came downstairs late and found that everyone else had already had breakfast. Caelum was playing with his new toys in the living room, and she could hear Mum in there too. Issie helped herself to a bowl of cereal and some orange juice, and sat down in the kitchen, gazing dolefully at the rain coming down outside. She'd been going to go for a fly, but she didn't fancy it so much in this weather. Then again, she didn't fancy being cooped up all day in the house with Caelum, who would soon be bouncing off the walls if he couldn't go outside.

A message arrived on her Communicator, and she picked it up eagerly, hoping it was Alice or Jake proposing some plan for the day. It wasn't—it was Eris Montague.

'Hey, you busy?' it said.

Issie frowned at it. She and Eris didn't usually exchange much in the way of casual messages. Was she just being friendly—and she had been more friendly than usual this year—or was something the matter?

Issie pressed her wand to the Communicator and lifted it to her mouth.

'No, not really,' she said into it. 'Why?'

The reply came back swiftly.

'Listen, d'you want to meet up? I need to talk.'

Well, that was weird. Eris needed to talk? To Issie specifically, or just in general? A small amount of worry needled Issie, and she hoped that Eris was okay. But if she wasn't okay, surely there would be other people she'd turn to before she came to Issie?

'Okay, sure,' she said, cautiously. At least it would be a reason to leave the house. 'You want to meet in the Leaky?'

Neither of them had Apparition licenses yet, although they'd both been taking lessons, but the Leaky Cauldron was easy to Floo to.

'Yeah, how soon can you be there?' the answer came.

Issie frowned, her puzzlement starting to turn to alarm. What was the matter with Eris? She hastily swallowed another mouthful.

'Fifteen minutes?' she suggested.

It was possible—maybe even likely—that Eris was being dramatic over nothing, Issie reflected a few minutes later, as she pulled on her jeans. That had certainly happened before. But Eris messaging Issie at ten am requesting an immediate meet-up was not something that had happened before, and that was enough to be worrying.

She found her mum still in the living room with Caelum.

'Hey, I'm just going to meet Eris,' Issie said casually, as if it was something she did all the time.

Her mum raised her eyebrows. 'Eris Montague? I didn't know you two were such good friends.'

Issie shrugged. 'We've been kind of friends for years now, Mum. And we've been talking more this term. I'll be back for lunch—is that okay?'

'Yes, that's fine, love. We'll see you later,' her mother said, although she gave Issie a somewhat thoughtful look.

The Leaky Cauldron was busy enough that Issie couldn't help wondering why people didn't have better places to be the day after Christmas. However, after a quick glance around, she spotted Eris sitting alone in a corner booth, and pushed her way over.

'Hey, are you okay?' she said, by way of greeting, sliding into a seat opposite Eris.

Eris didn't look very different from normal. Her casual bun looked as if it had been carelessly pulled up, but Eris was never careless with her appearance, and she also had a full face of make-up on. As opposed to Issie, who had washed her face, pulled a brush through her hair and left it at that.

'I'm fine,' Eris said with a shrug. 'I just…'

She trailed off, and Issie peered carefully at her. Under the make-up, now that she looked closer, Eris was paler than usual, and there were shadows beneath her eyes.

'Just what?' Issie said, when Eris didn't continue. 'What's going on?'

'You're good at healing spells, right?' Eris asked, abruptly. 'I mean, last year, when MacMillan fell off her broom in Quidditch practise and sliced her knee open, I heard you sealed it up, and Madam Booth didn't even have to redo it.'

Issie stared at her in alarm.

'Eris, I know how to patch up a cut, that's all. What have you done? Are you hurt?'

Eris laughed—at least, Issie thought it was meant to be a laugh. It sounded almost as much like a sob, though.

'No, I… Well, yes, sort of.'

She brought her hands up from her lap onto the table, and Issie saw that she was wearing a pair of green, woollen gloves. Eris glanced around her, then, very carefully, she pulled off the right one, and Issie gave a hiss of shock and dismay.


She stretched out a hand, though she stopped short before touching. Eris's knuckles were grossly swollen and discoloured, vivid green and purple bruising spreading across them.

'What the fuck happened?' Issie demanded. 'Did you punch a wall or something?'

The corner of Eris's mouth twisted. 'No, I punched Searle Nott's face.'

'You what?' Issie said. 'Are you serious?'

'He fucking deserved it!' Eris said, with sudden heat. 'I should have gone for my wand, though. I don't know why I didn't—I wasn't even thinking. I just wanted to hurt him.' She met Issie's eyes, and calmed her voice, though it still shook. 'He was hurting her. Cora. I thought he might have been before, but she said he wasn't. Then I went over there last night. I was angry with her because she was meant to come for Christmas, only then she said at the last minute that she wasn't coming, so I went over to find out why the hell not. And he was there. They must have been arguing; I don't know what about, but he was twisting her arm, and I… I just lost it. I've never done that before.'

Issie stared at her, appalled. 'Merlin, Eris. Holy shit. What did you do? Did you hurt him? And what about Sycorax—is she okay?'

Eris swallowed. 'I surprised him, so I managed to get a punch in. I think I hurt my hand as much as I hurt his face, though. Turns out I don't know how to punch properly, but I did make his nose bleed. I thought he was going to attack me, but Cora screamed at him, and… and I s'pose he realised what we could tell people. So he just stormed out. And then Cora started yelling at me, like it was me who'd done something wrong. I don't fucking get what's going on in her head! I mean, he was hurting her, what was I meant to do?'

'Well, like you said, it probably would have been better if you'd used your wand, not your fist,' Issie said, trying to keep her voice steady. 'But I don't blame you for going for him. Bloody hell, Eris. I hope you broke his nose!'

Eris let out a shaky laugh. 'I don't think I did, but I wish I had. Cora wouldn't let me stay—she practically pushed me back into the fire, so I messaged Desdemona and asked her to go round. I thought my hand would be better by this morning, but it's worse, and now I'm thinking I might have broken something. And I can't tell Mum and Dad, because I'd have to tell them what happened…'

'Can I see?' Issie asked, holding her hand out, palm up, towards Eris.

Eris hesitated for a moment, then placed her injured hand into Issie's. It was hot and puffy. Issie turned it very slightly, being as gentle as she could, but Eris still let out a hiss of breath.

'Ow. Fucking hell.'

'Eris, I can't fix this,' Issie said, shaking her head. 'You didn't honestly think I could, did you? If you've broken bones in your hand, you need to go to St Mungo's. I'll come with you, if you want,' she added. It would mean she wouldn't be back for lunch after all, but Mum and Dad wouldn't mind, so long as she let them know.

'No, you don't get it. I can't tell anyone what happened,' Eris insisted.

'You've got to tell people!' Issie said, exasperated. 'I mean, Merlin, you need to report him! That's abuse, what he was doing to your sister.'

'Cora said she'd kill me if I told anyone,' Eris said, flatly. 'And she already hates me enough. Anyway, what I did to him is assault, isn't it?'

'You were defending her. Nobody's going to blame you for hitting him.'

'I'm not reporting it, Issie!' Eris said. 'It wouldn't matter anyway, would it? She'd only lie again and say it never happened, so nobody would believe me.'

Issie bit her lip. She thought Eris was wrong, but the main thing was to persuade her to go to the hospital. The other conversation could happen later.

'Okay, fine. You don't need to tell anyone, but you can still come with me to St Mungo's. The healers aren't going to make you tell them anything, and whatever you do tell them is confidential. You have to let them look at it and set the bones. I'm serious. What if they don't set right by themselves, and it leaves your hand all twisted?'

She had no idea how likely that was, but she knew it would work, and it did. Eris swallowed.

'Okay. I'll go.'