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Shade to Shade by Slide
Chapter 45: The Departed
Chapter 44: The Departed
The Dark Mark still hung high in the sky above the Astronomy Tower as Cal and Tobias thudded to a halt. Tobias continued to throw the occasional jet of water up at the Ravenclaw Quidditch stand, but the flames that had burst out and threatened to take the whole structure looked like they'd been suppressed. And inevitably it had been enough chaos, enough distraction, for the two Death Eaters to be nowhere in sight.
Tobias let out a curse as he looked around wildly, damp and smoky and still with that slight glint in his eye that made Cal a little uncomfortable. "Damn it! Where are they?"
"Far away by now, I'm sure," Cal said quietly, carefully shifting the burden in his arms. Tanith was unconscious, for certain this time, and with the mad-cap stumble down the stairs away from the fire, he thought that might be best for her. He could feel how crumpled she was in his grip, and though he couldn't identify broken bones just by touch, knew there had to be notable damage.
Then Tobias' shoulders sagged, and he stumbled a little in his next step. It was an odd change in his stance, suddenly from a towering ball of rage to... emptiness. As if he had been a taut line of tension for this evening - since he'd left school? Since Annie? Since before? - which had finally been cut.
He looked over at Tanith, fear at last creeping into his expression and pressing over the wilting fury. "How is she?"
"She needs the Hospital Wing," Cal said gruffly, beginning to troop towards the castle.
Tobias stumbled in his wake. "We don't know what's the state of things -"
Cal gave a grunt and a nod into the gloom. "Shadows are moving. Some too small to be Death Eaters. Looks like half the castle's been woken up by whatever was going on."
Still, Tobias kept his wand in his hand as they approached the walls, a little of the tension returning, and Cal could feel his own discomfort rising with it. He let Tobias be the paranoid one, let Tobias peer at everyone suspiciously, and just focused on making Tanith's trip as smooth as he could.
And on not thinking about what had happened. And what had nearly happened. How scared he'd been by Tobias' rage, how outright concerned he'd been that Tobias would do worse, that he'd have to stop him... and whether or not he could.
A few figures came running out of the gloom towards them as they reached the walls, and Tobias flinched and lifted his wand, prompting them to pause, raising hands.
"It's alright," came a familiar voice. "It's us - Urquhart and Harper."
Cal relaxed as the two Quidditch players came in to view, burly Urquhart and quick Harper. "What's going on out here?" he asked, voice belying just how damn tired he felt.
"Death Eaters in the castle. Up at the Astronomy Tower." Harper's voice was hollow, and Cal peered at him. Rumours of the boy's family had abounded; his expression was a mild hint of what Cal himself felt. "They're gone now, we think..."
"I told you all to stay in the common room," Tobias said, sounding too weary to be angry.
Urquhart grimaced. "Bletchley seemed to think that was a bad idea. That we were all sitting ducks. Enough people agreed with him..." He gave a helpless, angry, apologetic shrug. "Half the school's running around already, anyway... we got Doyle to the Hospital Wing..."
"Someone's dead," Harper chipped in grimly. "People were rushing towards the Astronomy Tower, I don't know who, someone said it was Professor Snape..."
Tobias jerked upright. "Snape."
Cal looked over at him. "I'll get Tanith to the Hospital Wing," he said firmly. "You go play the professional."
There was a pause as Tobias' expression twisted bitterly, and he gave him the hint of a glare before relenting. It was an unwilling retreat, an unhappy acceptance of reality, and he nodded. "Let me know as soon as... as soon as you know anything," he said quietly, gaze going to Tanith with a look that faded a lot of Cal's wariness.
"I will." They didn't say another word as they parted ways, Cal heading for the castle, Urquhart and Harper leading Tobias.
The castle was, as Urquhart had said, a bit of a mad house. Students in pyjamas and rumpled clothing hurried about, most without any direction and just sheer confusion. Some sought out fellows, some sought out answers, but nobody seemed able to shed light on the situation for him. So he hurried to the Hospital Wing, where it seemed not an irrelevant number of people had gathered. Tanith and Gabriel - whatever had happened to him - couldn't be the only casualties of the evenings.
He could see Gabriel when he stepped in, unconscious in a bed and pale but without a mark on him. Any other beds were unoccupied or had curtains drawn around them; numbers were low, probably a few unlucky people caught in the crossfire, though he saw a flash of red hair behind one curtain. A Weasley injury?
Madam Pomfrey looked up at him sharply as he stepped in, for a split-second with impatience, then concern as she saw Tanith, and bustled over. "What happened?"
No pleasantries. That suited him fine. "She was thrown into a wall, hit with the Cruciatus, and... maybe another curse or something thrown in? And I think she's strained herself through her injuries."
Pomfrey's expression hardened a the mention of the Cruciatus, and she hurried him over to a bed. "Put her down - carefully, if she's got broken bones I don't want to cause any internal bleeding..."
Cal didn't argue, just placed Tanith down on the bed he was bidden to with extreme care. "What happened to Doyle?" he asked mutely, nodding at the nearby bed.
"Was brought in unconscious; I've fed him something so he'll sleep soundly. There's nothing urgently wrong with him so he can come after everyone who's bleeding," Pomfrey said, already whipping up potions and poultices and equipment seemingly out of nowhere, so Cal backed off hurriedly. He knew when he was dismissed in the Infirmary.
"I'll just... wait outside," he mumbled, getting no answer and so heading for the door.
He was barely into the corridor, had barely given a sigh of tense relief, before there was sharp movement out of the corner of his eye and he felt something hit his chest.
Panic surged in him for half a moment before he realised it was Nat, throwing her arms around him with a velocity that should have hurt, really. But it didn't; it eased the tension and guilt, made him feel - as she had these past few months - like he wasn't a traitor, a fool, evil.
"You're alright... I saw the Dark Mark and didn't go down there, then when the chaos was over I went to find you and saw the stand smouldering - what happened? - then I ran into Urquhart and he told me you were here, and..."
Then she was assaulting him with a barrage of quick, desperate, relieved kisses, and all he could do in those moments was hold her closer and try, through dim noises and returned kisses, assure her he was still here, still well, still alive.
When she relented, he pulled her tightly into a hug, closing his eyes and relishing the feel of her, the smell of her, the reassurance just her presence gave. Then he drew back, looked her in the eye, and took a deep breath.
"I think," he said, "that there are a lot of things I ought to tell you."
Sound seemed to fade out of Tobias' awareness as he and the two younger boys hurried towards the growing throng of people at the foot of the Astronomy Tower. He could feel his breath growing short, the trials of the night and the rising tension getting the better of his tired body, but he forced his steps forward, forced himself towards the answer.
It couldn't be, he realised as he drew closer. There was too much shock, too many crying first-years, too many looks of disbelief on faces. Too much horror about the towering shape of Hagrid, standing in the centre, and McGonagall next to him.
He knew before he broke through the circle that he was about to see the broken corpse of Albus Dumbledore.
"Shit," he heard Urquhart declare behind him eloquently, but ignored him. His legs propelled him forwards, found him unconsciously adjusting his robe coat so his Enforcer insignia was more visible, and approached the two teachers.
"What happened?" he asked, his voice sounding horribly emotionless and professional, even to his own ears.
McGonagall looked at him sharply, then seemed to remember he wasn't just a student any more, and straightened up. In that moment she looked older than he ever remembered seeing her. "I need to go and find that out, Mi - Constable Grey."
He nodded curtly. "We need to clear this area out, get people away, get the- the body somewhere safe." Over McGonagall's shoulder, Hagrid - who had still not looked away from the body - suppressed a sob. He looked at McGonagall. That was safer. That didn't make his gut twist. "Go and find out what happened. I - and Professor Hagrid - can take care of everything here."
He was barely aware of McGonagall's acquiescence and disappearance. Barely aware of himself taking out his little black notebook and scribbling some things down. Barely aware of the shocked arrival of Lockett, whom Urquhart took to one side.
The whole Ministry would be here soon enough. Aurors would be on the case. But he could see to the procedure until then.
He padded over to Hagrid. The big man was still staring at Dumbledore's body, looking like he was fighting with his grief, face screwed up with concentration. "We need to get him out of here," he said quietly.
Hagrid seemed to jerk at this, straightening up and giving a curt nod. "Righ'," he said roughly. "Righ'. Jus' give me... a minute. Tha's all."
Tobias nodded, turning back to Urquhart. "Clear people back, we're going to need to be able to make it to the dungeons unimpeded," he instructed. The dungeons were cool and dry, and the best place for a body until... until whatever happened next, happened.
Urquhart shakily set about following the instructions, which mostly consisted of waving his arms at a lot of people too shocked to argue with him, who moved away like herded sheep. Tobias turned back to look at the body, twisted still from the fall, and his stomach somersaulted.
Not like this...
He could have conjured up a sheet, but the thought honestly didn't occur to him as he stepped forwards, pulled off his uniform robe coat, and spread it with as much dignity as he could over the body.
...I think that's the most respect I've ever given you, and it’s not half as much as you've deserved.
It was a dark, treacherous thought, and he scowled until the moment was broken by Hagrid stepping forwards. The huge man leaned down to lift Dumbledore with as much ease as Cal had held Tanith, his gaze by now stony.
"Dungeons? Righ'. We'll find one of the ole' storage rooms, they're unused an'... an' will be safe," he said, and Tobias could only nod and move in his wake as Hagrid turned to march stiffly towards the castle.
Nobody stopped them. Nobody questioned them. And nobody said a word.
The numb feeling would not be one that would end soon. It didn't end when they placed Dumbledore down in the cold, dark, dry room, or when Tobias finally remembered he could summon a sheet instead of leaving his coat. It didn't end when he left Hagrid in the dark with Dumbledore and his own thoughts and stumbled up to find McGonagall, having to wait outside the office of the Headmaster - Headmistress? It didn't end even under how galled he was to see Potter had been granted an audience before him, or when he explained to McGonagall and the three heads of House that he'd done what needed doing. It didn't end with his confusion over Snape's absence.
It drew out to the next day, and even the day after when those seventh years who felt ready to sit their Defence NEWTs could do so, before the funeral and the school was closed and whoever knew when they'd get another chance. Everyone opted to, even Gabriel, who seemed tired and worn but somehow pleased with himself despite everything, and Tanith, moving with immense discomfort but too determined to not.
And it drew out to funeral. That bright, sparkling day when half of magical Britain descended upon Hogwarts, when the sun shone and didn't seem to realise that a new darkness was settling upon the world.
Tobias stood through the ceremony, stony-faced, next to Gabriel and Tanith. She squeezed his hand when he flinched at the centaur's arrows, and that, just barely, began to cut through the haze. That gave a small spark in his belly which began to grow and gnaw at the rest of him with life, not just numbness.
And when it was over, when people drifted away, when he saw Aurora Marlowe in a group of Ministry officials, he knew what to do.
"I'll be back," he said quietly to Tanith, squeezing her shoulder gently and hurrying in the direction of his target, walking stiffly across the Hogwarts lawn.
Marlowe looked up as she noticed him, gave a small smile, and politely made her excuses to break away from the group. "Tobias," she greeted him, with the calm friendliness one uses at a funeral where one is not overwhelmed by grief but it does not do to be too cheery.
"Aurora, I didn't think you'd be here," Tobias said honestly, politely.
"My last stop in the country before the Russia project begins properly," she explained, adjusting her long black robes. "It seems my timing was... unfortunate. I met the Professor on several occasions during some international legal matters which drew in the Wizengamot, and wished to pay my respects." She eyed him a little beadily, gaze slightly more piercing than he liked. "You look tired."
"I feel tired," he confessed with an honesty that surprised himself. "When do you leave back for Russia?"
"The day after tomorrow," Marlowe said, still with that evaluating look about her. But she said no more, and allowed her question to hang in the bright air between them, unspoken.
Tobias drew a deep breath. "I want to go with you," he said in a tumble. "If - if that job offer's still open, I... want it."
Colquhoun was going to give him hell.
Marlowe blinked, looking genuinely surprised. "I thought you were going to tell me you'd just be thinking about it. what's changed your mind?" She paused, shaking her head. "If I may ask."
"You may." Tobias looked away, his gaze falling on the bright white tomb which still reflected the sunlight blindingly. "The world's that little bit less safe today, isn't it."
"A lot less safe," Marlowe agreed sombrely.
"I never realised quite how much we took him for granted," he continued with a nod. "Just how necessary he was to how safe we felt, how ready we were. And now it's gone, we need to cope by ourselves. Make more... safety nets."
Marlowe hesitated. "Work in the MLE is still important," she told him firmly.
Tobias nodded, looking back at her. The dull roaring in his ears was fading, the sense of numbness almost gone - though it was hard to tell, for in its wake was a wave of inexplicable calm and certainty. "Of course it is," he said, "but there I am just one man. In Russia, I can see our numbers grow by the dozen."
There was a long pause, the light summer breeze whipping between them and bringing the voices of the mourners gathered, carrying with them the hopes and the pains and the fears. New fears that had not been with them two days ago.
"We'll have to see about your NEWT marks," Marlowe said at last, levelly. "Though I imagine lots of employers are going to have to work off predicted grades with the school shutting down early."
"Professor McGonagall intends to have results released on time," Tobias explained. "But 'on time' is still two weeks away."
There would be no Leaving Feast, he realised with a dull pang. Though he himself had already said farewell to Hogwarts, already left behind its towering heights and the dark corners he was so fond of, it had kept him warm inside to know that his friends would still be celebrating their departure - the idea of such a nostalgic celebration, the spirit of it, would remain, even if he did not. Now, there was nothing but the train leaving later. Forever.
"We would want at least 'E's in everything, and an 'O' in at least three subjects," Marlowe told him.
He laughed; he couldn't help it. It was a sudden, inexplicable burst of ridiculous humour that refused to be sat upon, and he raised a hand quickly to his lips to try and suppress it. As he failed, Marlowe raised an eyebrow, and he shook his head apologetically.
"Do we really," he chuckled, fighting for breath, "care about whether or not I can Transfigure a teacup into a tiara when there's a war on?"
She smirked, obviously despite herself, and looked away, across towards the dazzling waters of the lake. Her gaze was wistful, nostalgic, and she sighed with mild amusement. "The day after tomorrow," she said at last, quietly. "Meet me in the DIMC office in the Ministry. We'll Portkey together. I'll make sure an owl reaches you by tomorrow for how you can have your packing forwarded to the Moscow embassy."
Moscow. This was what he had wanted, a year ago. To see the world and make a difference on a grand scale. With war and with pain, that hadn't been enough - it hadn't been sufficient to stand on high and direct from afar, he needed to change things with his own two hands, make the world a better place bit by bit.
Was this an emergence from the suffering and loss, a return to higher principles when no longer blinded by it? Or did the pain spiral, sending him where he had once been but further down, even more damaged?
With a sigh, he shrugged. It didn't matter. Unlike before, doing it to see the world, or after, doing it to dirty his own hands with the world's problems, he wasn't doing this for himself. It needed to be done, and he was the man to do it.
Tobias met Marlowe's eye, and gave a small, but firm nod. "The day after tomorrow," he confirmed. "I'll be there."