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Chapter 3: November 7th, 1992 - Third Year
‘But we lost, you idiots!’ Cal Brynmor stood in the middle of the Slytherin Common Room, ranting at Marcus Flint and big and loud and angry enough to provide entertainment for everyone. Most people there were pretending to not watch; after the embarrassing defeat on the Quidditch pitch, they’d rather forget the entire match happened, but for every pair of eyes locked on reading material or their conversation with a friend, there was a pair of ears listening intently.
‘Just once,’ said Flint, arms folded across his broad chest, voice flat. ‘And just because it’s Potter. We can take Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw. We have better brooms than them.’
‘And a worse team!’ Cal tossed his hands in the air. ‘The Snitch was right in front of Malfoy’s face, and he missed it. You think Diggory won’t exploit a mistake like that? Or Chang?’
‘Last I checked, Brynmor, you weren’t the team captain. I am. And I’ll make the decisions to get us the Cup. We won last year, didn’t we?’
‘Only because Potter was out of action and so Ravenclaw clobbered Gryffindor. They were ahead until then; if Potter had been flying, they would have crushed them like they did us and Hufflepuff, and you know it.’
‘I don’t linger on “what if”. The truth is, we won.’
‘Yeah. With Terence Higgs, who caught the Snitch two out of three times.’
‘So?’ That was Miles Bletchley, slinking out from behind the captain. ‘He didn’t beat Potter either. The kid’s good. Malfoy didn’t out-fly him; there’s no shame in that. He’ll take Diggory and Chang. And we have the new brooms!’
‘You two are sounding like a broken record player,’ Cal muttered to blank faces. ‘Good brooms don’t make a good team. You know this. Or you should do, or you’re no damn Quidditch players at all. Flint, you, Pucey, and Montague were out-flown today by a trio of girls on Cleansweeps. You only scored because you were faster; every move of theirs was better planned and better executed. We were beaten by a better team, and good brooms won’t save us.’
‘You fancy yourself as Captain, Brynmor?’ Flint’s sloped brow quirked. ‘You sound like it.’s
‘I’m trying to get a suggestion through your thick skull.’ He’d stepped over the line, but he didn’t care. Nothing else was working. ‘We have a Seeker who bought his way onto the team, and we’re all okay with this? He screwed up today, and the House is happy with it?’ Cal turned, lifting a hand to the gathered masses, hoping against hope someone would speak up on his side.
Silence met him. He could see bright eyes that agreed but didn’t dare voice it. Even Tanith and Tobias, not normally bowing to public expectations, exchanged glances and stayed quiet. He knew that look. It’s not worth it. Pick your battles.
‘Perhaps you’re jealous you couldn’t contribute to the team as I can, Brynmor?’ Draco Malfoy had been sprawled on an armchair through the entire row, letting Flint defend him. He looked lazy and smug, and Cal wanted to punch him.
‘Malfoy, Potter was being chased by a broken Bludger trying to kill him. He broke his arm. He hit the ground and had the bones removed.’ Cal ignored the flow of tittering that roamed the crowd - he wouldn’t laugh at another player’s injuries, not even a Gryffindor’s. ‘And he still out-flew you and beat you to the Snitch.’
Malfoy finally rose. ‘I didn’t see you winning the game single-handedly, Brynmor.’
‘My job is to harass the Chasers and stop them from scoring or defending. I did that. We were well ahead in the scoring, and Falco and I did fine.’ Cal jerked a thumb at his Beating partner. Falco was a big seventh year - he’d lifted the Cup time after time, was focusing on his NEWTs this year, and while he raised his bottle of Butterbeer in a supportive manner, didn’t speak up. Cal knew he’d had his time in the sun in Quidditch, and this fight was not worth it.
‘But you, Malfoy,’ Cal continued, ‘failed to get the Snitch. You didn’t even challenge Potter. Potter, with a broken arm, out-flew you. I didn’t see you in any try-outs. This is the same team as last year, the team which won the Cup. I don’t see us beating Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw like this. And what’s changed? We lost Higgs. We gained you. Every single member of this team has fought for their place, in try-outs and in doing their best in every single match. Except you.’ He gave Flint a bitter look. ‘Yet he remains.’
‘Extenuating circumstances,’ said Flint, to Cal’s astonishment. Not at the sentiment, but at a word like ‘extenuating’. ‘I like my Nimbus Two Thousand-and-One.’
‘At least you’re honest in being bought,’ Cal sneered. ‘I demand you run a try-out for Seeker. Malfoy can give it a go, but so can Finchley, Hawke. And we decide it on talent. And if you, Malfoy, really care about the team’s performance, you’ll let us keep the brooms if you’re on the team or not.’
Flint shook his head. ‘You’re not the captain; I am. By Professor Snape’s decree. You don’t get to make demands, decide who’s in the team, or call for try-outs. Malfoy stays.’
Cal glowered. ‘Then I will laugh when Gryffindor carts off the trophy this year. Or Hufflepuff, maybe; Diggory’s recruited some good ones.’ He glanced over at Falco, who had got to his feet and come to join him. The other Beater had been his mentor, the one who’d trained him, and they were good, he knew. Some of the best Slytherin House had seen in years, even if he’d only played four matches now.
‘I’m sorry, Matthew,’ Cal said to Falco, then looked to Flint. ‘If you keep Malfoy, if you won’t even hold a try-out - if you want to be bought and if you care this much about your ego, then to hell with you and the team. I quit.’
‘Quit? You can’t quit!’ At last, Flint looked worried. People might argue with him, but they usually backed down when they saw the way the wind was blowing. ‘Falco, knock some sense into him.’
Matthew Falco hadn’t drunk that much Butterbeer. ‘Nah, this is a joke, Flint. I’ve got NEWTs this year, five Cups under my belt, and if you’re doing this, you’re not half the skipper MacNair was. I quit, too.’ He clapped Cal on the shoulder. ‘Make Derrick and Bole do it. We’re done.’
Silence fell on the common room, stiff and uncertain as the two former Beaters rejoined the crowd. Cal slunk to Tanith, Gabriel and Tobias, ignoring the awkward air until the hubbub started to rise again. Flint skittered off with the remainder of the team, and only when there was a comfortable hum as business as usual returned did the other three dare to comment.
‘Are you sure about this?’ Tanith leaned over the low table they were sat around. ‘I mean, it’s stupid, but - quitting?’
‘Or what? Sit and play my heart out and watch them lose?’ Cal shook his head. ‘Flint cares more about sucking up to the Malfoys than doing anything for the team. I’ll have no part of it.’
‘You can’t stay on the team and make a difference?’ said Tobias.
‘Not as a Beater. I can’t turn the tide of a game if I’m already dealing with a poor Seeker and thick Chasers. I can’t knock out the whole opposing side, and after today I reckon that’s what it’s going to take.’ Cal looked at the table, gaze darkening. Tobias’ essay notes covered the surface, as extensive as usual but now untouched. Quidditch had for once been enough to distract him from work.
‘If you’re alright with it, mate, then it’s the right decision.’ Gabriel clapped him on the shoulder. ‘Gobstones?’ The other two would fuss and agonise and indulge in politics. And Gabriel would suggest a diversion, as if none of this mattered.
Cal gave a thin smile. ‘Sounds like exactly what I need.’
Tanith looked up from her book an hour later, and peered at the dormitory door from which Gabriel and Cal still hadn’t emerged. She glanced to Tobias. His head was still bent over the essay notes, as if the recent kerfuffle hadn’t happened. ‘Those two bounce back from anything, don’t they.’
‘Certainly,’ Tobias said absently.
She reached to tug his notes back. His quill drew a long, sharp line down the parchment, and she ignored his resentful look. ‘Are you even listening to me?’
‘I have to finish this Arithmancy essay or Vector will have my head! Cal won’t have my head for not joining in Gobstones. And I’m sick of Gobstones.’
‘You used to play Gobstones all the time.’
‘I was eleven!’ He looked at the parchments clutched in her hand. ‘Can I have those back?’
She grimaced, but tossed them onto the table. ‘You better have this done by Hogsmeade. You’re not missing it because you’re doing homework.’
‘After it was delayed? Wouldn’t miss it for the world.’ He still didn’t look up, tidying the damage she’d done. ‘I need to sort out Christmas presents anyway. Using owl-order was annoying. I guess.’
She frowned at his bent head. ‘You’re not going to talk to me, are you.’
‘I have new subjects, I’d like to do well in them; I know that doing my work is a bloody novelty to you, but some of us would like to succeed!’
‘But I’m bored.’
‘Do your Care of Magical Creatures work!’
‘I thought you said it was a stupid subject nobody should be expected to put a shred of effort into?’ She tried to smother her smirk.
Tobias glared at the table. ‘If it stops you from bugging me, then you can put effort into it. Or you could go play Gobstones with the guys?’
‘I’ve always hated Gobstones.’ He didn’t answer that, likely knowing that if he said anything, she’d take it as an invitation to speak more. Silence ticked over, the common room returning to normal, the disappointments of the day pushed to the back of minds. Eventually she leaned over towards his papers. ‘What’s the essay on?’
Tobias clicked his tongue. ‘Introductory at this point. Comparing and contrasting fundamental principles of the Chaldean method versus the Agrippan method.’
‘It really is.’ Sometimes Tobias was immune to irony. ‘I mean, in other subjects, we just wave a wand and think about what we’re going to do. But Arithmancy isn’t just about divination; it boils down to fundamental questions about inherent magical principles which spills over into other subjects.’
‘It’s a nutty subject, for the hard-core nutters,’ Tanith decided. ‘You’d be better with Care of Magical Creatures.’
‘How many limbs does your professor have? Find me behind this stack of books when you’re being savaged by a chimera.’
But any retort was cut short by the appearance of Professor Snape in the door to the common room. Usually, he made subtle entrances, unnoticed until he found some comment to pounce on, but now he strode in and only had to clear his throat to make silence fall. All heads swivelled in his direction. When Professor Snape had an announcement for his House, nobody talked. ‘There has been,’ he said, ‘another attack. A student this time. A First Year Muggle-born of Gryffindor has been Petrified, and is in the Infirmary.’ Dark eyes swept over the gathered pupils, subduing any possible comment. Snape would look the other way on many a transgression, but some offences he could not overlook. Any indication of satisfaction at an attack on a student could not be tolerated, not right under his nose.
Nobody spoke, or even moved.
‘Security will be increased. I know you all think you have nothing to fear, but never be complacent. The matter is being dealt with, and for now the Hogsmeade trip will go ahead as planned, but I must advise you to be cautious, to not travel the corridors alone, and to inform me if you know anything which might be of use.’ Snape’s eyes seemed more piercing at the last, and Tanith had to wonder if he had anyone in mind.
‘You should have all been in bed an hour ago, at least,’ was his only final statement, before he turned on his heel and left. It was his general manner of running the House, more laissez-faire than the other House Heads, by all accounts. He never yelled. He never took House points. He only gave out detentions when his hand was forced, or when prefects formally requested them. He knew Slytherin was targeted by those outside the House, and so did his best to shield them, and looked the other way when they retaliated.
Tanith knew Tobias would complain that Snape also ignored the bullies who gave the House a bad name. But that was another problem for another time. ‘I don’t know why we should be worried. It’s not like we’re in any danger. It’s just some Muggle-born kid in the wrong place at the wrong time, with a great big target painted on him.’
Tobias was still bent over his essay notes, but his quill wasn’t moving. ‘Why shouldn’t we be worried? Attacks on the school are attacks. It’s bad.’
Had she paid more attention, she might have noticed his frosty tone. ‘You read up on the Chamber of Secrets. This is about the Muggle-borns, not about people from good wizarding families like us.’
‘That’s if you believe it really is the Chamber of Secrets. The return of the work of Salazar Slytherin is hardly something we can confirm.’ Tobias was doodling on his notes now. He never doodled. ‘And if it is this Heir, and if non-purebloods are in danger, even if it doesn’t affect you then it’s something you should care about.’
Tanith frowned. ‘It’s not really my problem.’
‘Really?’ Tobias finally lifted his head, and she forced back a sigh. He was going to get on one of his idealistic rants about this. ‘It doesn’t bug you that something might be trying to kill other students?’
‘You know I’m not in for You-Know-Who’s extermination of those who aren’t purebloods, but I’m not going to cry a thousand tears if some Muggle-borns wind up dead, either!’
‘So long as it doesn’t concern you, it’s fine?’
‘And those I care about.’
‘And the fact that Muggle-borns are witches and wizards like us is irrelevant?’
‘But they’re not, are they?’ That at last got Tobias’ attention, and she shrugged. ‘They’re different. You know that as well as I do. They’re not quite Muggles, but they’re not proper wizards, either, are they? They weren’t raised in our world, they don’t know our principles, our values, our culture.’
‘You’d say they’re lesser?’ offered Tobias blandly.
‘As wizards, yes. I never subscribed to eradication, and neither did my family, but I think they should stay out of magic. It’s not their world, it’s ours.’
He chewed on the inside of his cheek. ‘I never knew you felt like this about Muggle-borns.’
‘I have some pride in our world, Tobias, and they’re just not a part of it.’
Then he slammed his Arithmancy book shut, and despite herself, she jumped. ‘I guess that means I’m not a part of your world, then?’
‘You?’ She blinked. ‘You’re not Muggle-born.’
His eyes were cold. ‘You know about my mother. Hart family, a good family. Good Slytherins, good wizarding stock. Ever stopped to ask about the Grey family?’
Tanith resisted the urge to roll her eyes; he was obviously upset. ‘Tobias, nobody cares if your grandfather’s grandfather was a Muggle-born. There’s pureblood and there’s pureblood.’ It was true. Pureblood society wasn’t what it professed to be for all but a handful of families. In practice, so long as the Muggle blood predated living memory, nobody cared a great deal if an ancestor of a respected lineage had married a half-blood.
But he was unmoved. ‘Do you care if my father was?’ The realisation was like a slam to her throat, and her eyes widened. ‘That’s right,’ Tobias continued. ‘My father was a Muggle-born. Killed in the war by those who think like you, even if you don’t act like them.’ He’d gathered his notes, and shot to his feet. ‘That makes me the son of a blood traitor and a lesser being who didn’t belong in this world to begin with. So I might be half-acceptable. I doubt that’ll be good enough for the Heir of Slytherin.’
She was still staring at him, when he gave her a humourless smile and hefted his books. ‘So now it affects those you care about. Maybe. I’m not going to assume either way. After all, I’m lesser. How could I have a valid judgement?’
That said, he turned on his heel and stormed towards the boys’ dormitory, leaving her open-mouthed, astonished, and, somewhere around the edge of the shocked numbness, increasingly guilty.
‘Wake up.’ Tobias elbowed Cal in the ribs as Professor Binns’ droning washed over them. ‘You look ridiculous.’
Cal stirred with a low rumble. ‘When I sleep in class, it’s my appearance I care about.’ But he lifted his head just in time to look attentive as Binns’ attention fell on them. Tobias being Tobias, he had grabbed them a seat at the front of the classroom, close enough to take good notes and pay extra attention. And, Cal suspected, far enough away from Tanith, who was sat in the back with Gabriel. ‘I’ll get your notes later.’
Tobias sighed. He never gave over his notes, but he understood that Binns reduced the subject to its most boring essentials, and he’d go over the pertinent points later to anyone who wanted to catch up. Everyone gathered around Tobias the evening after a History of Magic lesson, discovering there that the subject wasn’t boring if they were being lectured by someone who had genuine enthusiasm for the topic.
‘…and many historians have accepted that the Muggle Protection Laws were nothing more than legal recognition of extant social attitudes,’ Binns droned. ‘Society had already acknowledged the immorality and foolishness of attacking non-wizarding individuals, seeing it as both inhumane and dangerous, risking the exposure of the magical world…’
Tobias raised a hand. ‘Sir, I’m not sure that’s correct.’
Heads snapped up from their bored stupors, and Cal frowned. Nobody spoke up in History of Magic. Not even Tobias. Binns, for his part, looked like he wasn’t sure how to handle this, his ghostly form blinking. ‘Excuse me, Mister Grahams?’
‘Grey. It’s Grey.’ Every time, Binns got their names wrong. Nobody bothered to correct him except for Tobias. ‘You’re overlooking Partridge’s research. There was a marked decrease in officially noted Muggle attacks after the legislation came through. And, on the Muggle side, far fewer “unexplained” incidents we attribute to the magical community. Crime went down.’
Binns stared. Nobody debated history, and Cal suspected this was the same from first year all the way up to NEWT level. If anyone ever took a NEWT in History of Magic.
But out of the corner of his eye he saw another hand shoot up, and Cal winced when he saw it was Tanith. ‘Sir, you might want to consider that Partridge was a biased observer. He was a Muggle-born and closely linked to the political groups searching for harsher sentences against offenders. Proving the efficacy of the Muggle Protection Laws suited his purpose.’
When the hell did Tanith read about the history of anti-Muggle movements? Then Tobias was talking, and Cal’s gaze swung back and forth with the class’s like they were watching a Quidditch game.
‘Biased or not,’ said Tobias, ‘the figures speak for themselves. Partridge was just the first person to look them up. Muggle attacks might not have been “socially acceptable” at that point in time, but they still happened, mostly committed by groups of young, proud purebloods who believed nobody would stop them. Partridge pointed out that the new legislation halved these attacks.’
‘Apparently,’ said Tanith, and Cal had to lean back as her dark eyes met Tobias’ icy blue ones across the crowded classroom. He didn’t want to get in the middle of that. ‘Then consider Greenford’s argument about how the information was gathered. Before the laws came in, social or not, you’d still get these young, proud purebloods -’ The emphasis was not lost on Cal, ‘- baiting Muggles and then gloating about it. After the laws were in place, they wouldn’t gloat or they’d get in trouble. It didn’t change anything, it just made society believe the problem was fixed. Another pointless effort by the Ministry.’
‘Pointless. The Ministry should have sat there and let Muggles be attacked?’
‘Did I say that?’ The lesson had now been forgotten; the entire class was watching this exchange with a perverse fascination, and Binns was too shocked that people were debating his subject to interrupt. Normally Cal thought a row was better than a History lesson, but he felt like he was sat on a sinking ship. ‘One could argue the laws made society lazy and made them think the problem was dealt with, so they didn’t do more. You’re putting words in my mouth, Grey.’
‘Well, Cole, you were being vague, and so I have to fill in the gaps based on what I know of your beliefs -’
‘Or you could stop and listen for a moment -’
‘Lesson over!’ Binns exclaimed. This classroom had never seen a more active debate over historical matters, and he took the end of the hour as a good excuse to bring this upset to a halt.
‘Let’s go,’ Cal hissed, not waiting for Tobias to answer before he grabbed him by the elbow and yanked him for the door. ‘Right now.’ Tobias was too surprised to argue, and so Cal dragged him out of the classroom, past Tanith before they could exchange glares and words, and ignored any protests as he frog-marched him through the corridors, down to the common room, and into their dormitory.
He slammed the door behind them. ‘This has to stop. It’s been going on for a week.’
‘I’m waiting for an apology.’ Tobias stood tall and stiff and angry. ‘That’s all I want. I’m not going to say that it’s nothing, I’m not going to forget it. Why aren’t you angry about this?’
‘What, you thought she was different? This came as a surprise to you? The Coles are an old family. It’s amazing they weren’t Death Eaters. She never said it before, but you knew it was there. You just chose now to pick a fight, so don’t act all surprised!’
Tobias threw his bag on the ground. ‘Don’t act like it’s my fault for not keeping my mouth shut any more! I’ve just had enough!’
‘I know, because there’s some monster marauding the corridors, and if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, you’re a target.’
‘Cal, you can trace your lineage back umpteen centuries. You think a monster roaming the corridor is going to stop and check before it tries to kill you? Don’t piss off rampaging monsters - that’s pretty much our school motto.’ But Tobias’s voice was low, pained, and he didn’t meet his eyes.
‘This is the first time the subject’s come up in school,’ Cal reminded him. ‘Give Tanith a chance. You think she ever had to stop and think about her opinion?’
‘No. That’s why I’m giving her a chance to apologise.’
‘And pouncing on her every word in class is going to help that? She’s still Tanith Cole, she’s not going to win the Miss Humble of the Year Award.’
‘She’s in the wrong here!’
‘She’s been reading. About history. About Muggle Rights history. You think she’s not thinking? Maybe give her a chance, and don’t be an arse about it.’ Cal tossed his hands in the air. ‘This is a miserable time for everyone. Except the thick Slytherins cheering as Muggle-borns drop.’
‘She’s practically one of them.’
Cal’s hand was at his shoulder, the shove firm, his eyes darkening. ‘You know she’s not. Don’t talk like that, or I’ll wallop you properly. She’s better than Ed, and Miles, and Malfoy, and all those pillocks. You know it.’
‘Except now she’s spending more time with them. Or people like them. Melanie and Ariane…’ Tobias’ voice turned gruff, his anger subsiding even if there had been a flash of resentment when he’d been pushed. ‘Not exactly the most open-minded people. There’s a reason I didn’t talk about my Dad. I only told you last year because you told me about… you know.’
‘Yeah. My issues.’ Cal’s brow furrowed. ‘What do the Muggles say? “There but for the grace of God go I.” Believe it or not, I think myself lucky. I was exposed to a different way of life. If things had gone different, I’d be like her. Worse than her.’ He sighed. ‘Look, we’ve got Hogsmeade tomorrow. We’ll get away from school, clear our heads, and you can talk to her.’
‘I want an apology,’ Tobias repeated. ‘She’s insulted me, she’s insulted my Dad, and I won’t be her exception to the rules. I won’t indulge this.’
‘You’re holding out for an apology from Tanith Cole.’ Cal tried to not smile. ‘Seriously. You two just need to talk without sniping.’
‘I don’t snipe. I comment.’
‘Sure, just like she doesn’t retaliate, she answers.’ He rolled his eyes. ‘Swings and roundabouts. Gabe will get her to the Three Broomsticks tomorrow. You two can talk, and stop acting like little kids. It gets annoying, and it means I can’t act all stupid and immature. I have to be the babysitter, instead of the baby-sat.’ But he clapped Tobias on the shoulder, reassuring, and his friend gave a small nod. ‘You two need to start being the grown-ups again, or Gabe and I might have to act childish and go blow something up.’
‘Just to get our attention?’
‘Just because we feel like it.’
‘Here. Drink this. It’ll make you seem less moody.’ Cal slid a mug of Butterbeer across the table in The Three Broomsticks he and Tobias had commandeered. Even though this was their first ever trip to Hogsmeade, they hadn’t stopped to check out the sights and sounds, the sweet shops or any of the fun their classmates were indulging in. Cal had dragged him down the main street and almost tackled him into the pub.
A meeting with Tanith wasn’t something Tobias wanted to miss. He knew she’d have some devastating way to deal with tardiness. But they were a good fifteen minutes early, and if this took all afternoon, he’d stand no chance of making it to the bookstore to nose around. Or, that was what he told himself was the reason for his reluctance. Anything else took admitting he was nervous.
‘I’m not moody,’ he said instead, and sipped the Butterbeer. ‘Gabe will have her here on time, don’t worry about your precious little happy friendship-fixing plan.’
‘Oh, yeah. Because what would you do instead? Go to the bookshop? That’ll solve your problems with Tanith. It may be your answer to everything else, but it’s not going to work here. You may need social skills.’
‘All I want is an apology,’ Tobias repeated, swirling the Butterbeer around in the mug.
‘You’ll get one, it just might not include the words, “I’m sorry”…’ Cal’s voice trailed off, and he looked over Tobias’ shoulder to the door. ‘Hey, looks like she’s just as nervous and prompt as we were. Guess she really does want to talk.’ He sounded unsurprised.
Tobias stiffened. ‘Or Gabe just wanted to hang out in Hogsmeade, so he hurried her here as soon as possible.’
Cal glared as he stood. ‘Stop pretending you have better places to be, or I really will believe you don’t want this fixed. And then I’ll hit you. Kinda hard.’ He grinned humorlessly, then sauntered to the door. Tobias twisted in his chair to see him pause by Tanith, exchange words he couldn’t hear, and then Cal and Gabriel left.
When Tanith turned in his direction, he looked away as if he hadn’t been looking at all. So he had no idea where she was, what her body language was, if she was even close, if she was even coming -
‘Mind if I sit here?’ Her voice was casual and yet guarded, and when he looked up he saw her stood with squared shoulders, an awkward front of false casualness he could see through after years of friendship.
It went some way to loosening the knot in his gut. ‘Cal didn’t touch that Butterbeer. I guess he bought it for you.’ He nodded to the chair opposite.
‘I’ll pay him back later.’ She sat down, her tone suggesting she was talking about more than a drink.
Silence fell as she sipped the Butterbeer and he stared into his until the steam made his glasses fog over. It gave him the excuse to pull them off and clean them with his sleeve, gave him something to fiddle with as he waited, because he was absolutely not going to make the first move. And he didn’t know what hers was going to be. He wasn’t used to an uncertain Tanith.
‘Cal said you wanted an apology.’ She sounded like the word had been dragged past her lips.
He frowned at his glasses. This was ridiculous. He didn’t want a forced apology so she could play nice and then they could pretend everything was normal. This wasn’t normal. He wouldn’t stand her acting like his friend and then insulting people who represented his whole background, his whole heritage. His father had been a Muggle, he himself had been to a Muggle primary school - ostracised and ignored for being ‘weird’, but he remembered his classmates nevertheless. They had been children. Not lesser.
This couldn’t be fixed by mere lip-service. If she wouldn’t change, then…
Then he didn’t want to think about it.
‘I know an apology isn’t enough. I’m sorry, I really am. But you deserve more than that.’
Tobias dropped his glasses and looked up. She had hunched her shoulders in, voice honest. Tanith Cole didn’t show weakness, but here she was, and he’d never seen her more sincere - or guilty.
‘Wait a second. Did you just apologise?’ He was too surprised to sound anything but sarcastic.
There was a flash in her eyes, and everything was a bit more normal. But not better. ‘Don’t push it, Grey, I don’t - this is hard. And I guess you still might want an explanation.’
‘I’m not sure how you can explain bigotry.’
The mug of Butterbeer had been halfway to her lips, but she slammed it down. Her glare was fixed on the table, and her shoulders hunched again. ‘Are you going to listen? Or do I -’ Her voice wavered, and she drew a deep breath. ‘Can you listen?’
Guilt swam in him at last. He’d said all he wanted was an apology. Then she’d given one and he’d continued to bristle. The least he could do was let her say her piece, and he lifted his hands. ‘Go on.’
She paused, took a deep breath to calm herself. A swig of Butterbeer delayed a response as she visibly gathered her thoughts. ‘You’ve met my family,’ she said at last. ‘Met my father, my mother, you get the picture. You know what they’re like.’
‘They seemed nice enough.’
‘When they bothered to talk to me, or you.’ She struggled to meet his gaze. ‘Never Death Eaters. None of that in my family. Not loyal to the Ministry, either; my father did a tremendous job of staying neutral and upsetting exactly nobody. And standing up for nothing. So don’t get me wrong. The Coles are a pureblooded family, and proud of it.’
‘And not proud of those with less than pure blood,’ Tobias said bitterly.
Her cheeks coloured. ‘I’ve had all week to think about this. I did some reading - that’s what I was trying to say in the History lesson, I was… I’d looked at the changes and I thought they weren’t enough, they were just gestures to make us feel less guilty without challenging things. And Cal talked to me about his foster-father, the Muggle-born fellow. I didn’t mean to be snappish. It’s jut been… weird.’
‘That, I’d agree with.’
‘I guess some of what Altair’s been telling me since forever sank in, about ability defining us. He might be a Squib, but I still respect him, I still listen to him. And I think he’d be so disappointed in me right now. He kept saying how I had more “potential” than my sister, and I assumed that was in magic, power. But he taught me about art, literature, music, things Hogwarts overlooks. I think he meant I had the potential to have more of an open mind. And I screwed it up, like any other stupid Slytherin pureblood.’
‘You’re not as bad as Montague or Bletchley.’ Even if he was angry with her, she looked so woeful he had to offer that nugget.
‘Same train of thought. I just didn’t act on it as much. I believed it.’ She pushed a lock of dark hair behind her ear. ‘You’re… you’re one of the best people I know, Grey. You’re a good guy. You’re a great wizard, you’re clearly head and shoulders above anyone else in the year, there is nothing lesser about you. But you’re a half-blood.’
‘Which contradicts everything you’ve been taught,’ said Tobias, gaze going guarded.
‘So it means something’s wrong here. Either what I’ve seen with my own eyes - you - is wrong, or what I’ve been told is incorrect.’ She managed a tight smile. ‘I’ve been brushing up on history. Any good historian knows that a primary source might be biased, but it’s usually more valuable than a secondary source. I’ve seen you with my own eyes. And… maybe I am biased.’ Her gaze flickered to the table. ‘I’m okay being biased in your favour. And I can’t ignore the evidence.’
Tobias chuckled, a nervous reaction as much as it was a pleased one. ‘Thank God for Mister Ritter, then. Or you really would be as stupid as Montague and Bletchley.’
‘I was told day after day that ability defines us, not a hierarchy. It’s why I don’t kowtow to Draco like the others do. I was just dumb and thought that Muggle-borns and half-bloods didn’t… count.’
‘That’s the problem with Slytherin. It’s mostly those who can pass as purebloods, so people like Montague don’t get exposed to people who can prove them wrong,’ Tobias sighed.
‘It might be a bit much to let them know about you,’ Tanith said. ‘Or, it’ll make your life harder than it needs to be. But you’ve proved me wrong.’
He felt heat rise to his cheeks. ‘No, I don’t want to be a world-changer or a role-model, and they wouldn’t listen if they knew, they’d just dismiss me more than they already do.’
‘I guess you’re right. We never do stick our heads up.’
‘We’d just get them chopped off.’
Tanith nodded, though she still wore a tentative grimace. ‘So… apology accepted?’
The corners of his eyes creased as he looked at her. ‘Of course it is. You’d probably kill me if we were angry at each other for any longer.’ But his gaze softened. ‘We’re okay. Come on. Hogsmeade won’t last forever. And I’ve still hardly seen anything.’
‘Me neither.’ She sprung to her feet as he did. ‘Zonko’s?’
‘Sure, so long as we can hit the bookstore later,’ he said, and like that everything was normal.
Almost. They had crossed the Rubicon; nothing would be the same. This had been their first proper row, the first fight about things which really mattered, and in some ways, he’d won. Or, they’d both won; they’d faced ignorance and bigotry and come out of it closer.
It wasn’t the same. It was better.
‘I want to hit the sweetshop later, too,’ Tobias added, gaze brightening. ‘My sweet-tooth is crying out for attention.’
‘Much like the rest of you, really,’ said Tanith dryly.
Alright. So some things were the same.
A/N: This chapter is easily the least-altered. Evidently the emotional beats were solid; the prose has been tidied and I’ve streamlined some of the point of the History of Magic bicker, but otherwise this is very similar to its original form.