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Shade to Shade by Slide
Chapter 41: The Silence of the Grave
Chapter 40: The Silence of the Grave
"Not the Killing Curse. Huh."
Colquhoun's voice was one of dispassionate surprise and professional interest as he leaned across the body in the alleyway which lay there broken and twisted.
"No," said Tobias. He was standing some ten feet back, looking at the dropped wand a distance from the body, and trying to not pay too much attention to the corpse. At both ends of the alleyway, Enforcers were securing the area, casting their charms to keep Muggles away and make it all seem like a 'legitimate' police matter.
Wizarding murders just off Oxford Street. Discretion had gone out the window.
"The Killing Curse doesn't tend to make your neck bend at that impossible angle," he continued, finally looking up at Colquhoun as a flash of his magic put a glowing circle around the fallen wand to mark it.
"So what would?" Colquhoun sounded like he knew exactly what was going on, but the craggy veteran still spoke in that measured, evaluating tone he used whenever he was trying to lead Tobias to an answer.
Damn him. He was using their first murder as a training exercise.
Tobias turned the collar of his coat up to try to stop the dull drizzle of evening rain from running down the back of his neck. "Physical impact of some description." He raised his wand, casting light about the narrow alleyway and making the shadows dance around the bins. "Hefty, for bones to be broken and limbs to be at that angle. I don't think there's enough space in this alleyway for someone to be hurled around sufficiently, and that no bins have been knocked over or anything is possible, but surprising."
"Correct." Colquhoun waved a hand at the Morgue team who were tromping past the flashing lights and Enforcers at the mouth of the alleyway towards them, making them stop a short distance away. "So what do you think?"
There was a pause as Tobias looked between the wand on the ground and the body. It was a man, mid-twenties, as yet unidentified. They'd been lucky to pick this case up; the body had miraculously been found by a wizard, who'd noticed the wand as well as the body, and it had been sent in to MLE rather than the London Met.
"Rooftops," he said at last. "Pushed, or levitated over. Probably levitated, if this is Death Eaters."
"Maybe dangled for a bit," Colquhoun agreed, looking up. It was evident he'd reached this conclusion himself, but Tobias was accustomed to his tutor's method of leading him to answers for his own training. Even if it did leave him feeling a little patronised sometimes. "I'll go take a look on the rooftop, then. How about you help the Morgue team tag him and bag him?"
Colquhoun had to have noticed the uncomfortable way in which he patently wasn't looking at the body. Evidently, the sergeant thought that it was about time he dealt with death.
As if I hadn't had enough of that, Tobias thought bitterly, but he gave the senior Enforcer a short nod, and without further ado Colquhoun disappeared through the building's back door, doubtless to make his way back to the rooftop.
He turned to the four members of the Morgue team, and pasted a wan smile on his face. "Good evening, gentlemen."
The leader sniffed, wiping rainwater from his forehead. "It's anything but, mate. What do we have here?"
"Young wizard male, early twenties. Fell from a rooftop, we don't see any signs yet of further spell or physical damage, though exact cause of death is -"
He was cut off before he could get really in to the breakdown of the situation with a wave of the hand from the older official, who splashed over to the body sprawled on the concrete. "We'll worry about that in autopsy. Any identification?"
Tobias bit back a curse. He'd forgot to ask Colquhoun. "Oh, I'll..." He stepped forwards to stand next to the body, looking down at the twisted and broken form. The man's neck was bent at an impossible angle, but his expression showed no pain - just shock, and the face was twisted into a rictus of fear. There was nothing subtle about this. He had known he was going to die.
He knelt next to the body, padding it down like he'd been taught - but this had been in searching living, breathing bodies. He tried to block out the cold of the lifeless form, the complete lack of warmth or air, until he finally emerged, victorious, clutching a wallet.
"This your first stiff, lad?" the Morgue team leader asked, not unkindly, though Tobias hoped the black humour was a coping mechanism rather than a sign of being completely immune to the horror of death.
"On the job, yes," Tobias mumbled, not looking up, willing away the images of Christmas from the front of his mind. "His name's Alginon Howlett." Idly he wondered if there was any relation to the Ravenclaw Quidditch captain. "He works at Fix-In-A-Jiff Alchemist's."
"You boys can look there for any next-of-kin, then. We'll take him away and get you answers. If you're done." The Morgue official offered him a hand up, which he accepted, revelling briefly in the warmth of life even in such a simple gesture.
"We're done," Tobias said firmly. Anything else could be established in the warm and dry, far from these dark alleyways of death and reminders. Colquhoun would probably be derisive, but he would come to terms with this as he chose. Right now, all it meant was a delay in paperwork.
So they carefully lifted the body from out of its glowing silhouette on the wet ground and into the dark bag, which was elevated with a flick of the wand and followed them further down the alleyway to where the Portkey that could whisk them back to the Morgue.
There they'd put the body somewhere cool and dry before they began their work. Probably in the morning they'd sit down with the body and cast their spells to find any lingering presence of magic, to map the exact structure - and breaks - in the bones, to show them each bruise and laceration. By the time they were done the body would look as it had when it came in, but they would know its deepest, darkest secrets.
Then it would be identified, if they could find a Howlett relative. For that, they'd try to make the scene as palatable as possible for a civilian; deal with the rictus of death, the angle of the limbs. Make it look like they died in their sleep. Not needing to do that was one boon of the Killing Curse.
And after that, the secrets revealed, the identity confirmed, the next of kin noted, the body would be handed over. Handed over so it could be buried, or burned, depending on tradition - and that was that. Life, with a few more tears, would move on.
Tobias waited in the rain, staring at the glowing silhouettes, the wand lying on the ground. At the mouth of the alleyway, the Enforcers there would be conducting questioning and then carefully wiping memories. Above him, Colquhoun doubtless did his sleuthing. That just left him alone, in the rain. Watching.
He jumped as Colquhoun suddenly appeared beside him, having been soundless in coming out the fire exit of the building. The older man looked even craggier in the dark, shadows playing across his face, off his bent nose and sloping forehead. He hadn't bothered to turn his collar up, and yet he hardly looked soaked. Or perhaps he was just comfortable when wet, used to it after years on the street.
"You're jumping at shadows," the sergeant continued. "And all that's left is to get some heavy-duty Spell Watchers upstairs, because I can't see bugger all except a dark rooftop. They'll get us the report by morning. So will the bobbies at the road. Go home and get dry. I'll handle it."
Tobias would have objected. Would have argued that he should stay, that this was still his job, but he could recognise when Colquhoun wasn't going to take 'no' for an answer, and when he wasn't just indulging him. Besides, his limbs ached, and he could feel the cold and wet seeping in to his bones.
"Alright," he mumbled. "Call me if you need anything. Or if anything out of the ordinary shows up."
Colquhoun just grunted and waved him away, and Tobias padded out of the cold alleyway towards the bright London street. The mood of the other Enforcers dealing with keeping the alleyway secure was sombre, but they all paused for a nod, some pleasantries, an offer of a swig of tea from a thermos, and he made sure to bid them all good night before he returned to a dark corner of the street and disapparated.
But not to home. Not to the empty house he'd grown up in, which would be cold and dark and devoid of life. His mother spent almost all her time in Paris now, and he didn't have the heart or the time to bring warmth back to the home. He tended to pick up food along the way, or heat up something inconsequential in the oven, and sit down to eat dinner over his NEWT course books and research. Then it was study until time for bed, pass out... and work the next day.
There were occasional breaks in the routine. Like if he'd go out for some drinks with his workmates, Colquhoun and Bailey and the others, but that was at best once a week and usually only after a day sufficiently hard to justify a pint, but not so hard all he wanted to do was sleep. The latter were the most common of days.
Tonight was a different sort of routine, a place he didn't come for rest, or work, or socialising, but for a different kind of peace. A town in Surrey, suburban and green and happy - or, to be more precise, its graveyard.
It wasn't raining here; April was kinder to this corner of England, and all was still as he appeared inside the closed and locked gate and hurriedly made his way deeper into the cemetery, to avoid being spotted by Muggles rather than out of eagerness.
He cursed himself silently when he realised he hadn't brought flowers, or any kind of memento, though the guilt was small. He'd brought sufficient tokens over the months. Though it had been some time since he'd last visited; weekly trips after leaving Hogwarts was a routine that had crumbled in the face of his workload.
But he was here now. And that was what mattered.
Silence fell, the cold night air no longer broken by the sound of his footsteps as he came to a halt in front of the grave marked Anne Louise MacKenzie. 3rd April 1979 - 27th December 1996. You stood tall in the face of adversity. We Will Remember You.
It was always silent here. He made sure to come late at night so he would be certain of there being nobody else around, so he would be certain of solitude. These were thoughts and feelings and sometimes even words which he didn’t want to share with anyone – at least, not anyone who might be here. The only people… the only person who might grasp this was hundreds of miles away.
He still wasn’t sure why, precisely, he’d kissed Tanith. It hadn’t been anything as simple as solely attraction and affection – nor would even his more cynical, self-loathing side suggest that it was desperation or his reliance upon her made manifest in what would be such an unhealthy manner. It had just felt… right. The right farewell to seven years of an unique connection.
Not that this connection would die now. Within months they’d both be employees of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, in similar lines of work in the same war. It would not be Hogwarts, but Tobias had long accepted that nothing was going to be the same as seeing the same people day in, day out, for months at a time.
“…now that’s just crazy,” he mumbled, the wind whistling around his long, dark blue robes, the uniform of an MLE Enforcer. “I come to see you, and end up thinking about… anything else.”
Guilt stabbed at him as he leaned down to wipe some almost imperceptible grime off the gravestone. That wasn’t why he’d come here, to lose himself in thoughts of the present and the future, and how life was changing…
“Everything’s changing. The world, my friends, my life… me. It’s only been a few months, and I can still remember everything about you – the smell of your hair, the way you laughed, how you… felt.” His eyes shut sharply at the surge of memories, memories he usually cut off – but though they were as fresh and real as ever, they didn’t hold the same sting as they had the last time he’d let himself feel.
“But it’s like they happened to someone else. I mean… they still happened to Tobias Grey, but that’s not the same Tobias Grey standing in front of you…”
Was this letting go?
Then there was a rustling in the leaves behind him, and before he knew it, no more was he was wondering if he’d committed gross disrespect by bringing the future to this place of the dead, or wondering where his life was going – but he was turning sharply with his wand in his hand and a curse in his mind.
Magic sparked at the tip of his wand, a red glow of a Stun before the shadows by the tree shifted and he realised that whoever was there had been there a while. If their intention had been to attack, they’d have had him in the back.
“Who’s there?” he called out instead, his voice low and grating, and a dim part of him wished he’d had the time to clear his throat first. It didn’t do to greet a mysterious, shadowy stalker in a cemetery with the signs of grief and loss about him, after all.
The shadows moved again to show a female figure, raven-haired and with the darkness playing across aristocratic features briefly so familiar his breath caught. Tanith…?
But no. Too tall, too severe, the dark hair too long and being tugged by the wind to waft in a way Tanith’s never did.
Tobias stared. “Aurora?”
Aurora Marlowe slunk out of the shadows, adjusting her robe and with a definite sheepish expression on her face. “My apologies. I hadn’t wanted to… disturb. I didn’t mean to startle you.”
His wand remained steady, remembering a frozen walk back from Hogsmeade, Tanith’s wand in his face. “So you stayed silent in the graveyard. Knowing I was here.” His eyes narrowed. “Which Muggle author of fiction was my father’s favourite?”
She stared at him for a moment, before giving a short nod. “By the time he died? Hemingway. He found his wartime material fascinating. But when he was your age he was a bigger fan of Hugo. I don’t know which you’ll have come across in his journals or belongings. I don’t know how much was found.” There was a note of regretful wistfulness in her voice.
Tobias sighed, lowering his wand. “How did you know to find me here? And if you wanted to talk, I do have a house, you know.”
“Simply paying attention was enough to know you’d be here,” Aurora said, a little evasively as she gave a shrug and approached the gravestone. “As for visiting you at your house… if I’m quite honest, I’d rather avoid an encounter with your mother.”
He turned away, sheathing his wand back in the small holster at his belt, where it rested at the right angle to be drawn in one smooth motion while still being out of the way and unobvious under the clothes. “I gathered the impression that there was some… history.”
Aurora stepped up beside him, remaining silent for a long moment as her gaze lingered on the gravestone. “In all honesty?” Her words hung in the air, and Tobias wasn’t fully sure he wanted her to continue. “You could say there was something of a war over your father.”
Tobias’ expression twisted, and he gave a curt nod. “That doesn’t entirely surprise me.” Certainly best, then, he do nothing to discourage Aurora Marlowe from her intentions of avoiding Melissa Grey. He and his mother had spoke only ever occasionally of his father, but as he’d grown older and further understood her difficulty in raising him alone, his comprehension had deepened. That all she had of his father was his memory, and how, with all she’d given up for him only to lose him, she had to cling to those memories. Be determined that she had sacrificed her family for something worth it.
Of course, he, Tobias, was living evidence of their love, of their bond. But that didn’t mean Melissa Grey couldn’t be threatened by someone who did indeed appear to have been intensely important in Robert Grey’s life.
“Why are you here?” he said at last, and briefly considered removing the mild edge in his voice. Then he remembered she’d stalked him to his dead girlfriend’s grave because she didn’t want to visit his house in case of angering his mother, and considered the edge not unearned.
“To talk to you.” There was a pause, then Aurora rolled her shoulders. “You’re doing good work in the MLE Squad, apparently.”
“‘Apparently’. Thank you,” he said dryly.
He could see her expression flicker slightly out of the corner of his eye. “I meant that as a compliment. I’m not doing very well here, am I.”
“I don’t know about that,” said Tobias. “I don’t even know why you’re here, so it’s hard to judge what doing that well would be. Awkwardness, you’re achieving high marks.”
“Mmm, thank you.” Her voice was dry, regretful. “I apologise. I’ll get straight to the point.” Aurora turned to face him. She was, he noted as he looked back at her, one of the few women he could almost look directly in the eye without having to lower his head. “I want you to leave the MLE.”
Tobias blinked. “Come again?”
“And join me in Russia.”
“As an aide to the senior Counsellor to the British Ambassador to the Russian Federation of Magic,” Aurora finished at last in a rush.
“That sounds like I’d work for an awful lot of people. I like it in London. I only have one boss.” Tobias injected levity into his voice, mostly as an effort to hide the surge of surprise and confusion at this offer.
Aurora only gave the slightest hint of a smile. “I’m sure Sergeant Colquhoun could survive without you. Then again, you don’t work directly for him. There’s the head of the MLE Squad, then there’s Thicknesse, then…”
Tobias shook his head. “I’m happy where I am. I’m meant to be where I am.”
“You’re running the streets dealing with one minor Dark Magic practitioner after another. And so you ought to know, from the murders, from the attacks, from the desperate way the Prophet will report anything even remotely resembling success, that we’re losing this war.” She spoke quickly, firmly, with the impassioned tone of voice Tobias recognised as that which he himself used when desperately righteous about the cause he fought for. He’d last used it on Professor Dumbledore.
“All the more reason for me to stay on the street as one more foot-soldier in this war!” he said quickly, firmly.
“Eastern Europe and Russia are, yes, best known as being dens of dark magic – of Durmstrang and their less palatable ways, of dark creatures, of giving rise to people like Grindelwald.” Tobias could almost see the argument Aurora was putting together, the preconception that she was about to knock down – but he didn’t know how, exactly, that was going to be achieved. “As such, they have a lot of wizards there who know about dark magic, know the threat it presents to the world, and will answer a call to fight it. Unlike places like France and Spain, which have never seen their own You-Know-Who, their own Grindelwald.” She stopped, gathering breath, and allowing the points to gather in his mind, the inkling of the argument being made to crystallise before him.
Although he knew her tactic, knew he was being entirely played only as a professional diplomat could play him, he was unable to cut her off, unable to do anything but let her finish. “We’re losing the war, and it’ll take more than one foot-soldier to win it. But if I, and the Ambassador, can get the smartest and the brightest of Britain out to Moscow, I know that we can get their help. And that’ll mean dozens, scores of witches and wizards trained in and devoted to beating the Dark Arts.”
Tobias stared at her, jaw dropped slightly. In one night he’d gone from his first corpse on the job, to his first love cold in the ground before him, to a proposition for the future he’d never dreamed of. “I… need to be here,” was all he could say at first, though the words sounded like an echo of an excuse.
“Right now? Yes. And I couldn’t possibly hire someone without NEWTs. But you’re taking those in June, aren’t you. And you’ll pass. And… I’ll talk to you then. See if you need to be someone else then.” Aurora Marlowe took a step back, away from the grave, further into the shadows of the cemetery. “I won’t bother you in the meantime. I’ll let you think – and besides, I need to be in Russia until then. You never know, maybe we won’t need you when the time comes.”
That had to have been calculated, for the prospect of missing out on such important work twisted in his gut – but when he turned sharply to her, she was gone with the quietest crack and twisting of the air.
And then he was alone in the graveyard.
Tobias let out the breath he hadn’t realised he was holding, before turning back to the headstone which, to him, stood out amongst all of the others. Of course, nearby lay Annie’s mother and father and brother, but they weren’t the losses which twisted his gut and left him awake at night.
Only… that didn’t happen so much any more.
With a sigh, Tobias crouched down in front of the grave, and gently, reverently, lay a hand on the grass. “You always know when I’m being stupid, when I’m getting myself so wound up over the principle that I can’t see the wood for trees.”
He raised a hand quickly to swipe at his face, at the moisture he knew wouldn’t fall this time but was there nevertheless, the stinging in his eyes.
“What do you think? Is it time to move on?”