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Falls the Shadow by Slide
Chapter 9: The Quick and the Dead
'I tire of this. Enough is enough.' And then all Tobias could see was bright green, shining light, and all he could hear were his own screams.
Then, darkness as he sat bolt upright in bed, feeling his heart thumping so hard he thought it was going to burst out of his chest. His first breath was torn from his raw throat as his lungs burned for air, and as he tried to swing his legs over the side of the bed he just found himself twisted and entangled in the sheets, which stuck to him from the sweat that slicked his body.
It had taken several months before he could sleep without nightmares reliving Annie's death. And yet, since his exile, they had returned. It didn't make any sense.
But there was little chance to think about this as he scrambled to sit on the edge of the bed, bent over with his head in his hands, fighting for breath and struggling to settle the nausea in his belly.
Somewhat curiously, he never remembered Robb actually saying the Avada Kedavra curse. There was no doubt he had, of course, Annie's body had shown all the signs of it, but Tobias couldn't remember it. Just those cruel, dismissive words directly before. Like life was an inconvenience.
When the thumping at the door to the flat was heard, he almost fell off the bed in shock. It sounded like this wasn't the first time from the heavy, impatient pounding, and Tobias struggled to get to his feet, feeling his legs shaky underneath him. Perhaps this, rather than his dream, was what had shocked him into awakening.
He fumbled into his dressing gown, struggling to find the light switches as he emerged from his bedroom into the living room, and padded over to the front door. A glance towards Aurora's bedroom confirmed that the door was open and it was empty, but a look at the clock also told him it was just past midnight. His had been an early night. It wasn't so unusual for her to be out late; after all, she actually knew people in the city. The only person he really knew other than her was Dimitri.
One of these days, when he was a bit more confident in his Russian, he'd take the man up on his offer to go out. As it was, they had just occasionally enjoyed a beer together, and though Dimitri had always been perfectly earnest in attempting to help them both, it was clear that the troubles in Britain were not impacting a great deal on his personal life, nor really should they be.
But it wouldn't be Dimitri at the door now. His was an entirely different impatient hammering, and Tobias couldn't help but roll his eyes at the notion that he could recognise it. And Aurora had a key. So what was this?
He rubbed the sleep from his eyes as he swung the door open, and started to see two tall, dark-robed figures there. Instinct had him panic for half a moment before he realised they weren't wearing masks, and that Death Eaters probably wouldn't have knocked.
They also didn't have much reason to come after him anymore. Clint had been forcefully deported.
'Mister Grey? We are from the International Magic Consulate.' Their English was heavily accented, but he didn't recognise either of them, nor could he guess what branch of the department they were from.
'You are to come with us,' the other said, rather more smoothly.
Tobias frowned. 'The Consulate? What do you want with me at midnight?'
'We do not have time to debate this,' the second one continued. 'You have two minutes to get dressed and come with us.'
'Or we will take you with us,' the first concluded.
He straightened. '...I'm going to need some identification,' he said.
'The identification is that we got in here,' the second one insisted, but the first sighed and pulled a roll of parchment out of his robes, handing it over.
Tobias opened it only to helpfully find it written in Russian; there was, however, the name and seal of the Consulate clearly stamped across it.
For whatever that was worth.
He passed it back, and gave a polite smile he didn't feel. 'Just wait out here a moment. I'll be right out.'
He practically ran to the bedroom once the door was closed in their faces, yanking on clothes in a haphazard manner. Dark-clad officials in the middle of the night? This went beyond suspicious, and Tobias would be damned if he was just going to go along without concern.
But that meant, if they were Death Eaters, then none of this building was secure.
He went to the bedroom window, pulling it more open to allow in more of the warm air of the Russian summer. He hadn't paid much attention to the surrounding buildings before. That was clearly a mistake.
One he intended to rectify.
Theirs was a tall building. Taller than the ones around it, in fact, he noticed with a start. And the one across the road was just a few storeys lower than his room, making it perhaps a fifteen-yard distance and only a slight drop. He didn't have a broom to fly across, but he did have an 'O' in his Transfiguration NEWT.
Tobias Grey had 'O's in everything.
Partial self-Transfiguration. Enough to glide across the distance and drop enough to land smoothly on the opposite building. Discreet, this time of night. The only problem was that the requisite wing-span to glide across would either have to be of articulated wings he could retract to get out of the window, or he'd have to pop the Transfiguration in mid-air...
Then there was a thump from the door, and this time it wasn't a knock - it was the definite sound of a door being blown inwards, crashing off its hinges.
They'd come for him. There was no time for articulated wings.
Tobias bolted to the opposite wall to the window, putting his back to it, and raised his wand. He would only have half a moment to pull this off; if he failed he'd go plummeting to his death, so he ran very firmly through the incantations in his head. And still, falling would be better than what the Death Eaters would bring.
He broke into a sprint just as the bedroom door crashed open, went to hurl himself out of the window like a javelin just as a spell whipped through the air-
-and fell to the carpeted floor like a log as the spell from the black-robed man's wand hit him, knocking him to the ground, and sending him off into all-too-familiar darkness.
It hurt to move.
This wasn't the first time that had happened. All in all, Tobias was uncomfortably familiar with pain. From what he'd suffered at Idaeus Robb's hands on the night of Annie's death to fighting the Death Eater on the night of the fall of the Ministry, he had suffered his fair share of pain. He'd suffered the Cruciatus.
One thing he had been taught by Sergeant Colquhoun, his superior and mentor at the MLE, however, had been that pain meant he was still alive.
Unfortunately, that meant he was alive and in the hands of the Death Eaters.
So move Tobias did, sitting bolt upright and opening his eyes, his hand reaching desperately for where instinct told him his wand would be, at his belt, even though sense told him that was impossible.
But it was there, in his pocket, and it was in his hand in an instance, brought up to bear on his surroundings...
Then a bubble of a spell erupted around him, one his tired and pained brain only vaguely recognised as a magical containment charm - enough to stop spells going in or out but not impeding him, and finally Tobias stared at his surroundings.
He was lying - or, now, sitting - on a table, which was never a bad start. Except it was a table in a fairly large room he dimly recognised as one of the conference rooms in the International Magical Consulate, and whilst the two dark-robed men were there, so was Aurora - sitting in a chair with a cup of coffee, no less - Dimitri, and Director Sergeyev. Tobias was really beginning to feel for the poor man who pulled the graveyard shifts around here.
And, finally, seated at the far end of the table, hands flat down on the surface, was a man it took Tobias a moment to recognise, and immediately felt ashamed for his poor memory. He should, of course, remember someone who had been so willing to put four rowdy teenagers under his roof for several summers, had been happy to provide equipment and expertise on their camping trips in the Peak District or their perusing of pubs in Derbyshire, had looked after them at the Quidditch World Cup. His best friend's foster-father. William Rayner.
'Sir?' Tobias squinted at him in confusion, just in time for his vision to swim before his eyes at his sudden exertion, and he gave a groan before slouching.
Director Sergeyev flicked his wand impatiently, and the magical barrier subsided. 'Thank you, Mister Grey. I apologise for startling you.'
'Startling me?' Tobias lowered his wand and lifted his hand to his temple. 'Why was I just kidnapped -'
'You were breaking out of the quarters. In strict violation of your terms of asylum,' one of the two dark-clad men by the door said, in something of a sulk.
Dimitri leaned forwards. He looked tired and worn but somewhere, bubbling under the surface of his usual good-humoured demeanour, there seemed to be genuine aggravation. 'And so you thought to attack our guest?'
The bigger of the two men, the one who seemed to speak the best English, glared at Dimitri. 'With respect, Administrator, we were acting on the orders of Director Sergeyev -'
'Your instructions were to bring Mister Grey here to discuss this matter.' Sergeyev sat down with an expression of discontent. 'Not hex him into unconsciousness and drag him here by the ankles.'
'I thought you were Death Eaters,' Tobias managed to explain at last, rather irately. 'You knocked on my door in the middle of the night, demanded I come with you -'
'You were given papers,' the big man said with a frown.
'We are Russian Immigration Control!' He threw his hands in the air. 'What were you wanting us to do?'
The Controller scowled. 'You determine someone is not one of your Dark Wizards by that they are polite? It is no wonder you British were conque-'
'That's enough.' Sergeyev's voice was irritated, but quiet. 'We will discuss this issue of protocol later. For now, Mister Grey, I apologise. But we have brought you here to discuss the matter of our latest political refugee.'
'Mister Rayner.' Tobias stared at Will. The man looked older than he had the last time they'd seen, finally showing the march towards fifty he had to be on. He was still fit, though his hair was receding and black was becoming good friends with grey around his temples. His expression just showed mild curiosity, which Tobias found odd - but then, the man was an Unspeakable. What did he expect?
'Allegedly so. He says he has fled Britain and came here because he heard you were in the country.' Sergeyev grimaced. 'Ms Marlowe has been able to confirm everything official he has said but his identity is still unproven.'
'I thought you might be able to interrogate me more satisfyingly,' Will said, lifting his hands to shrug - and that simple movement had the two Controllers by the door flinching towards their wands. Will just grinned when he saw this.
'Oh.' Tobias swung his legs over the table, rubbing his pounding temples. 'Uh, I guess, yes.' Thought was difficult, but he didn't want to leave his friend's foster-father under suspicion overnight just because he was suffering a headache. Even if it was from a not-insignificant hexing.
'We, er... last summer. A load of us - Cal's friends - stayed at your house and went camping. Who were we?'
'Yourself, Cal, of course, and Tanith Cole.' Will said all of this promptly, but then shrugged. 'Gabriel Doyle couldn't make it. That's not much of a challenge, since the three of you ran into Death Eater activity on the moor and so there was an official report. Where Gabriel Doyle was a notable omission. And if I were impersonating Will Rayner that kind of reading is exactly what I'd cover.'
Tobias blinked. 'Uh. I guess so. What's the name of the pub near your house?'
'There are four pubs in Kittering,' Will replied instantly. 'The Rose and Crown, the Steamer, the Wellington, and the White Horse. You all enjoyed the White Horse. Better, more esoteric, Mister Grey, but hardly conclusive.'
'Wait, is he now deciding when we have conclusively proven that it is him?' Dimitri wondered aloud.
Will shrugged again. 'I just want, when it's proven that I'm me, for it to be beyond a shadow of a doubt. I don't want suspicion hanging over me. Life's hard enough. Next, please, Mister Grey.'
Tobias groaned, rubbing his temples again, and thinking. This had to be something obscure, something personable. He briefly considered asking him what colour the curtains in the front room of his home were, but again, that could have been researched. It had to be something personal - and yet if it was too clearly personal then that would have been looked for. It had to be something casually shared, and yet important and...
...a small memory sparked in Tobias' head, and the sensation was like a bolt of clarity through crowds. He straightened up, and fixed Will with a ghost of a smile. 'Which muppet played Scrooge in The Muppet Christmas Carol?'
'What?' Aurora looked like she couldn't hold back this outburst as Will's head tilted back and he roared with laughter in a way so reminiscent of Cal that it warmed Tobias' heart - for the memory of his friend, and for the reminder that he might have the blood of Thanatos Byrnmor in his veins but this honest man was the one who'd raised him.
'That's a trick question.' Will rubbed an eye, chuckling to himself. 'No muppet played Scrooge. Michael Caine played Scrooge.'
'I'll have to take your word for it,' Tobias said with a grin. 'Cal showed it to me three years ago when I was reading the Dickens book and he insisted he had an excellent movie version of the story. I was very confused at all the puppets. But I remembered Scrooge was human.' He straightened up. 'And I remembered Cal saying you two watching that was a Christmas tradition.'
'True enough,' Will said, and Tobias looked over at Director Sergeyev.
'I'm as confident as I can be that this man is William Rayner, an Unspeakable of the Ministry of Magic.'
Sergeyev nodded, and relaxed, and waved a hand at the two Controllers. He said something in Russian, sounding terse, and neither of them looked especially happy, but they did leave.
Once they were gone, Aurora turned to him with concern. 'What happened to you?'
'I was trying to jump out the window.' Tobias rubbed his forehead with a grimace. 'I was going to transfigure mid-air to glide to the opposite - look, I thought they were Death Eaters.'
'Just government officials. Which many say would be worse.' Dimitri grinned, before looking up apologetically at Sergeyev. 'Sorry, Director. You wish to debrief?'
'Yes.' Sergeyev sat down behind the table, looking across at Will. 'You are formally requesting political asylum in Russia?'
'I am,' Will confirmed. 'As I said, I came here because I knew Russia would be friendly to enemies of He Who Must Not Be Named. I am confident the international community has identified Pius Thicknesse as the puppet he is.'
'There is no such proof,' Sergeyev said, in that very particular way politicians did of managing to agree even though he disagreed.
'Then perhaps the fact that I have broken no laws recognised by the international magical community and yet the order was given for my arrest will be sufficient. That should be on matters of public record from the British Ministry. The fact that the murder charge is eighteen years old and against a confirmed dark witch who was trying to kill me at the time when I'd hunted her down ought to speak for itself.' Will leaned forwards, opening his hands.
Sergeyev looked down at his notes, and scribbled something down. 'All of this will take confirmation,' he said. 'But we have been assessing the asylum process following what has happened in Britain. The entire European magical community has been cooperating in this. I would think that unless you are lying it should pass.' He lifted his head. 'But the details can wait for morning. As an emergency measure, I am satisfied with this story and with Mister Grey vouching for your identity.'
Will gave a small, finally sincere smile. 'Thank you, Director. I'm glad I made the right choice in which country to run to.'
There was a short nod from Sergeyev before he turned to Dimitri. 'Make sure Mister Rayner is comfortable. There should be space in the Ambassadorial quarters.'
Then he left, leaving the room quiet, the silence stark against the harshly bright lighting and the pitch darkness out of the windows.
And the moment the door closed behind Sergeyev, Will leaned forwards. 'You have to help me, Toby,' he said quietly.
Tobias straightened with a start, and felt his temples pounding. 'I have to - what?'
'I had to come somewhere I knew I could get allies. People I knew wouldn't be taking their exile lying down.' Will reached into his jacket to pull out a rolled up paper, which he tossed to Tobias.
He fumbled and caught it, before opening up what turned out to be a leaflet. Emblazoned across the top was the heading 'Fourteen Muggle-Borns Kissed Without Trial', and underneath it the still, presumably Muggle pictures of ten people he presumed to be some of the victims.
'What's this?' Tobias squinted, seeing the date was only yesterday.
'This was written by Percival McGowan, the editor of the -'
'Of the Clarion, yes. I've met Val.' Tobias frowned, remembering the man not much older than him who had nevertheless defied the Ministry during the worst days of the Daily Prophet's pandering to the government. The Clarion had never enjoyed the scoops or favouritism the Quibbler had come out with, but one or two hard-hitting tales did not, for Tobias, compare to the consistent whittling down of Ministry lies the Clarion had pursued.
Not to mention some sanity and journalistic integrity.
'He's putting this together?'
'The man has contacts,' Will explained. 'And he's as stubborn as a dog with a bone. He's still in Britain, on the run, trying to find every scoop, every little hint of what the administration's doing, and write these up and send them to the masses.'
Aurora leaned forwards. 'That's crazy. They'll kill him.'
'He's already past the point of no return,' Will said with a shrug. 'So he might as well do some good.' He shook his head. 'I had hoped to help him in Britain, but it's just too hot there for me. I don't know how McGowan does it.'
'Then what do you need our help for?' Tobias frowned.
'Production and distribution,' Will said, leaning back in his chair. 'Val can gather knowledge and write it up but he just doesn't have the resources to print hundreds of them and get them to the masses. But we can do that, out here, where we're not being hunted.'
Aurora grimaced. 'Surely that's getting ourselves involved in British politics, and exposing ourselves like this is a violation of our asylum.'
'We can't just do nothing,' Tobias said bluntly. 'Besides, the Russians don't need to know!'
Slowly, all as one turned towards Dimitri, who was stirring his coffee with an innocent expression. He looked up, appearing briefly bemused, before he gave a small smile. 'I have no idea what it is you are talking about,' he said, then he coughed. 'And in Russia, if you fight against dark wizards, we do not deport you. We call you a hero.'
'You're saying people will turn a blind eye?' Tobias asked.
Dimitri shrugged. 'It has happened before.' He looked over at Aurora. 'And you know this, Ms Marlowe. It has happened.'
Aurora leaned back in her chair and sighed, running her hands through her hair. 'I think that it's entirely too late at night for us to be thinking about bringing down yet more dark wizards on our heads,' she said.
Will nodded. 'No. Of course. I am sorry, Ms Marlowe, for bringing this to your door.' He got to his feet, hands opening apologetically. 'We should get some sleep.'
Tobias gave a small snort. 'We can sleep,' he agreed, but then his eyes found Will's.
'But in the morning,' he said quietly, 'We're helping Val McGowan.'