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Chapter 13: The Dogs of War
Tobias tossed the paper down, the several sheets thudding as they hit the desk he had set up in their press room, and which Dimitri had helpfully - and mockingly - put the plaque saying ‘Editor-in-Chief’ on. Dimitri himself, along with Will and Aurora, were standing before the desk, watching him for his reactions.
So he felt guilty when he sighed. ‘This isn’t good enough.’
Aurora’s expression twisted, and she turned away, throwing her hands in the air. ‘Oh, for -’
‘It’s not!’ he said. ‘This is the first issue; if it’s wet, nobody is going to take risks to read it or to get us information. This needs to be hard-hitting. This has to be the most damning we can make it. Nobody is expecting anything of us after McGowan’s death - we have to confound all expectations.’
Will scratched the back of his head. ‘I got who I could, lad...’
‘I know, Will, and it’s not your fault.’ Tobias stood, briefly confused on why two wizards with twice his years and experience were deferring to him. ‘There are only so many people coming out of the woodwork to talk to us. This stuff about the murders in Ipswich is great. But it’s not enough.’
Aurora looked like she was going to object again, and Dimitri lifted a hand. ‘Then what is it that would be good enough?’
He sagged, turning back to rest his hands on the desk, looking across the scattered sheets of paper gloomily. It was late at night, maybe a week after McGowan’s death. They had spent their time contacting anyone and everyone they could safely to drum up information for their next release. Plenty of people had gone to ground, but they had found some.
It wasn’t enough.
‘We need to prove we’re ready to take risks, or nobody is going to take them for us. We need to get back some of the people who went when Val died, but there’s only one thing I think is going to persuade everyone.’ He lifted his gaze to them slowly. ‘We need information from inside the Ministry.’
The reaction was neither the impressed surprise, nor the disapproving shock that he had anticipated. Aurora drew a deep breath. ‘I assume you don’t just mean the memos that fly around which any two-bit administrator can help us get a hold of.’
‘No. We need something out of a Department Head’s office. Preferably Yaxley’s.’ Tobias scratched his chin thoughtfully, and was surprised to find stubble there. But then, that was the price for several days of unthinking hard work.
Aurora made a scoffing noise. ‘You do know he’s going to have the most intensive security surrounding his office? What were you planning on doing, eavesdropping his meetings? Monitoring his Floo?’
‘No.’ Yes. Tobias sighed. ‘I don’t know. But if we can get reports right from him -’
‘We can do that.’
Everyone stopped and turned to stare at Will, who gave a slightly self-conscious smile. ‘We can do that,’ he repeated.
Aurora folded her arms across her chest. ‘Yaxley’s office is going to have the highest security measures in place in the entire Ministry - except for Thicknesse’s. What do you think we’re going to sneak in there?’
‘Surveillance enchantments neither he nor the people responsible for his security have thought of.’ Will shrugged. ‘I was an Unspeakable.’
Tobias frowned. ‘They’ve taken the Department of Mysteries; they’re going to know everything you know...’
‘Not when I know that everyone on my team is either dead or accounted for and I destroyed the records before leaving exactly so I could use this research. Or, at least, so it couldn’t be used against me.’ The older man shook his head. ‘I used to work in information gathering. This was what I did.’
Aurora let out a deep, tense breath. ‘What do you have?’
‘We were working on enchanting coals to go in Floo networks. These could pipe all messages passed through to a Floo point of our choice, so we could monitor all communication and travel. I can make one in a week, maybe two. Because they piggy-back the existing Floo connection, they just break off partway through, they avoid notice. It’s not opening any new Floo connections to pipe the information back to us, so it goes undetected against all current standard security precautions.’ Will spoke slowly, but easily, as if this was the simplest thing in the world and not state-of-the-art magic.
Tobias nodded, brow furrowed still, gaze fixed on the desk. ‘We can do that. Pipe the information back to us. Get everything in Yaxley’s office, maybe someone else’s if we can make two - maybe Brynmor’s.’ Will flinched at the mention of Brynmor, but he nodded.
‘And how do we get those coals in there?’ Aurora looked between them. ‘I hate to be the naysayer here, but these are going to need to be planted in the fireplace, correct? That’s risky, at best, even to someone who’s got a reason to wander into the offices of the number one and number two of the Law Enforcement Department.’
‘And we have to get the coals to that person. Anyone with that kind of freedom to come and go is likely under surveillance,’ Will agreed.
Tobias made a small, wry, frustrated noise. ‘The magic of breaking through all the enchantments protecting the most secure office in Britain is easy, but physically walking into that office is the hard part. How ridiculous.’ He pinched the bridge of his nose, thinking.
‘We need someone who works in the department,’ Aurora said simply.
Something cold twisted in Tobias’ gut. ‘...Tanith.’
‘Cole?’ Will straightened, and frowned. ‘She’s still in the department, by all accounts. But she’s going to be on the list of people being watched; her owl and Floo at the very least will be supervised. Doubly so because she lives with Cal, and you bet your arse Brynmor’s not going to leave him alone.’
The two exchanged grim glances, neither one of them satisfied with the prospect of whatever Thanatos Brynmor’s intentions were towards his son.
‘Can we get them into the country via a more secure route, and get someone to pass them on to her?’ Aurora wondered.
‘The more links there are in the chain, the more likely it is to go wrong. And if we’re really unlucky, someone’s actually watching their flat and anyone unusual visiting is going to be checked out.’
‘And that’s another person endangered by this, as they’ll have to know what it’s for to tell Tanith what to do...’ Tobias straightened and turned, breaking into an agitated pace. He had never realised he did this while thinking frustratedly until Tanith had mocked him for it, he remembered wryly. ‘We need to get in touch with her directly.’
‘I can arrange that.’
It was Dimitri’s turn for everyone to turn to look at him dramatically, and the burly Russian grinned toothily, evidently having counted on this. ‘I wanted to make you all do that,’ he confessed sheepishly. ‘But really, I can arrange that. Floo.’
Will squinted. ‘Her Floo’s going to be watched. Anyone coming in is going to be identified. And if it’s from an unknown location they’ll probably detain them. If it’s from Russia, i>definitely detain them.’
‘Not if it is not a direct link from Floo to Floo. You have been studying it in your magic coals; you know that is subtler.’ Dimitri folded his arms in front of him.
‘What do you have in mind, Dimitri?’ Tobias raised an eyebrow.
‘All communications from outside Britain into Britain through Floo will be monitored. Except for embassy connections. No country will stand for their embassies being watched. We can patch a Floo connection to the Russian embassy in London and the authorities will not know.’
‘He’s right, but you bet any connection between the embassy and somewhere in Britain will be noticed, as will anyone physically leaving or trying to apparate or Portkey out of the embassy,’ Aurora said.
‘That is not what I have in mind.’ Dimitri walked over to Tobias’ desk and pulled up the spare chair, turning it to straddle it. ‘We can get the embassy to help us. We open up a Floo communication between us and them. Legitimate. Unobserved.’
Tobias leaned on the desk. ‘Then what?’
‘Sometimes there are... how do you say, glitches? In the Floo. Sometimes the connections briefly go down along to the wrong fireplace. Usually this is not noticed, not even by the people sending or receiving. And it lasts only a fraction of a second before the Floo system corrects it.’ Dimitri drew a deep breath. ‘I think we can fake one. Briefly, to her flat, or somewhere else we need.’
Tobias looked at Will. ‘Would the Floo monitoring pick that up?’
Will shrugged. ‘I don’t know. He’s right, these glitches are commonplace. If it lasts only a second or so, then it might not be picked up, it might not even be cared about. The only concern I have is if someone looks at the records, sees the glitch is coming from Russia or the Russian embassy, and gets suspicious. But they would probably have to look for it, it’s not procedure to record glitches.’
‘That’s not enough time for a message,’ Tobias mused.
Dimitri nodded. ‘But it is enough time for someone to go through.’
‘Oh, no.’ Aurora lifted her hands. ‘I see where this is going. Then how do they get back?’
‘Another glitch, timed, ten minutes later or however long they need,’ Dimitri said. ‘They would have to be standing in the fireplace at the exact moment of the other glitch.’
Aurora turned to Tobias, eyes blazing. ‘This is crazy, and dangerous.’
‘It is.’ He nodded, scratching his chin again. Then he turned to Will and Dimitri. ‘How quickly can you make the coals, and how long will it take you to arrange this with the embassy?’
‘That’s the last. We should be secure.’ Jennifer Riley lowered her wand, the last visible signs of her spells rippling into nothingness as she turned away from the heavy metal door to the block of flats.
Nick Wilson grunted. ‘But for how long?’
‘My wardings are perfectly fine.’
‘They found us last time.’
Riley narrowed her eyes in the gloom of the dingy corridor. This particularly miserable building in a run-down corner of Hull had been quite a find, inhabited by very few Muggles at all and far from the eyes of the Death Eaters and the Ministry. The twelve of them had systematically cleared the entire building for signs of any magical spying, and it had come to nothing.
Much as she loved her boyfriend, she wasn’t thrilled that he was picking just as she had finished the long and arduous task of securing their new hide-out to voice his discontent.
‘That was bad luck,’ she said. ‘Not my spells. We couldn’t have anticipated the movement of that werewolf pack, or that the Death Eaters would be right behind them.’
Wilson peeled himself from where he was slouched against the wall - and with whatever substances drenched this building, ‘peel’ was not a bad word. He had been right to get them to hide out in and around Muggle society, with which their enemies were unfamiliar, and he took it all for granted so easily. She, however, struggled with how he could be so blasé in the face of the difficulties these people faced. The poverty.
‘They almost got us.’ His voice dropped a little, and nerves could be heard alongside discontent. ‘You say they were lucky - well, so were we.’
She shook her head. ‘I’ve stopped thinking of Doyle’s visions as “luck”.’
He frowned. ‘Then what are they now? Predestination? You honestly think he’s leading us to some greater plan?’
Absent-mindedly she tried the door to the rooftop. It rattled, but remained locked. ‘I don’t know. But I do know that they’re responsible for most of our success so far. I can rely on them. I won’t rely on luck.’ She saw him fold his arms across his chest, knew he was approaching one of his infamous sulks, and stepped forward to rest a hand on his forearm. ‘They got you out.’
He snorted, but there was less of an edge to it. ‘You got me out. Cole got me out.’ It sounded like that admission hurt him.
‘If it hadn’t been for Doyle, I wouldn’t have trusted Cole.’
Wilson blinked. ‘He had a vision?’
‘No. But he told me that all magic would be dead in the world before Tanith Cole would sell us out to Death Eaters.’ Riley gave a one-shouldered shrug. ‘He’d given me no reason to doubt him.’
‘He is useful,’ Wilson acknowledged begrudgingly. ‘But he’s still a creepy little -’
‘Nick, we’re long out of school,’ Riley chided. ‘I don’t think you get to use “Slytherin” as an insult any more.’
‘I was going to go with “snake”. Or just “creepy little bugger”. I don’t like the way he looks at... people.’ Wilson glanced away, brow furrowing.
She sort of knew what he meant. Gabriel Doyle’s eyes had always been dark, but when she’d known him at school he’d smirked more, and barely bothered to look people in the eye with his haughty, mysterious demeanour. Nowadays he smiled less, and looked at people. Looked at them hard, like he was looking not through them, but into them, and she couldn’t help but wonder what he saw.
But she didn’t think that was all Wilson was going on about. ‘He’s helping us get through this,’ she said soothingly, ‘and so, some day, it’ll all be over. We won’t have to be on the run any more. We won’t have to hide any more.’
Wilson’s frown just deepened, and her heart sank as she drew back. But, instead of drifting deeper into his brooding, he reached out to grab her by the wrist quickly. ‘I’m sorry.’
Riley blinked. ‘What for?’
‘I ruined your life. You could be at home, safe and sound, with your parents, and your sister, and...’
‘And I’d be living a lie. Forced to play nice, forced to live by their rules.’ Riley shook her head. ‘That’s no life at all. I couldn’t do it; I don’t know how Cole manages to be one of them. And if I hadn’t left... I’d have lost you.’ She stepped in closer, gaze lifting to meet his, and lifted an impulsive hand to play with the hair at the nape of his neck. ‘That would be less than no life at all.’
His expression had softened, but guilt lingered in his bright eyes, and he drew a sharp breath. ‘Jen...’
But she didn’t let him finish, just leaned in to press her lips against his even as he breathed her name against her mouth, and for long, blissful moments the outside world, their lost lives, the pain and the pursuit, all faded away.
Then footsteps echoed up the stairs and they heard a familiar voice clearing their throat. ‘Oh, I...’
Riley closed her eyes and drew back, and heard Wilson mutter venomously. ‘Doyle.’
‘Yeah.’ Gabriel Doyle ran his fingers through his hair. The world turning upside-down couldn’t make the man get his hair long enough to be tied back, or short enough to not be unhelpfully messy. ‘Sorry. They were looking for you downstairs. Wanted to make sure you weren’t entangled with trouble. Instead of, you know, each other. I think we’ve taken all that for granted.’
‘...and are you satisfied it’s safe up here now?’ Wilson let her go to put his hands on his hips.
Doyle shrugged and jerked a thumb over his shoulder. ‘I have better things to do than watch your octopus impression, Wilson. But I thought you might want to know that McLaggan’s back. And he’s got the papers.’
Wilson straightened immediately, all business. ‘Right.’
Riley stepped up. ‘Let’s take a look at -’
‘Oh, no you don’t,’ said Wilson. ‘He and I put the plan together based on the intel. You get to pick over it when we have a full and complete plan. Fresh pair of eyes. That’s how it works. I’ll see you at dinner.’ He looked for a moment like he was going to give her a goodbye kiss, but he instead threw Doyle a surly glance and went for the stairs. His shoulder brushed Doyle’s rather roughly, and he gave a humourless smile. ‘Sorry, Doyle. Just checking if you’re getting any useful visions.’
Doyle lifted a finger to his temple. ‘I’m getting vivid images of you falling down the stairs and breaking your neck. Do they count?’
Riley gave him a disapproving look as Wilson scoffed and disappeared down the stairs, footsteps echoing eventually into nothingness. ‘You don’t have to antagonise him, you know.’
‘He doesn’t have to be an enormous dick, you know.’ He ran his fingers through his hair. ‘The more I get to know you all, the more I realise that I was wholly, one hundred per cent, right about him all along. He really is a meathead.’
‘He’s a good man.’
‘Yeah.’ Doyle rubbed the back of his head. ‘You know he gave me my first ever vision? And you know how they’re triggered by physical contact? Merlin, I wonder how that could have come about.’ He rolled his eyes.
‘School was school. Surely we can leave that all behind us.’ Riley went to go past him, then stopped, hesitating, when she was closer. ‘What was the vision?’
All of a sudden he looked uncertain, shifty, and looked down for a moment. ‘You.’ Then he lifted his gaze, and looked at her like that again. ‘You don’t want to hear it.’
Riley straightened. ‘If it’s about my future -’
‘It already happened.’ Doyle spoke quietly, and in the gloom, his dark eyes seemed even more enveloping. ‘I saw you. At Annie MacKenzie’s funeral. You were wearing a green coat, and Wilson had his arm around you, and you wept on his shoulder as they lowered the casket.’
Her breath caught. ‘You were there,’ she recalled, though it was a strange sensation to be disquieted at the prediction of something that had already happened. Pointing out it wasn’t so mystical as all that still helped.
‘I couldn’t tell you what Sawyer or Everard or even Wilson himself were wearing, but the look on your face that day is going to be with me ‘til the day I die. How you looked up at me -’ His expression had folded by then into one of sympathetic anguish, and he’d half-lifted his hand to her before stopping. She’d barely noticed, entranced by his words, until he jerked back and looked away.
‘Him. How you looked at him,’ he corrected with a frown, then he cleared his throat and when he looked back, he wore a smirk and was just Gabriel Doyle, obnoxious Slytherin, yet again, like a year hadn’t passed and nothing had changed. ‘I’m hungry. I don’t suppose you girls have cooked anything?’
‘Cook it yourself, Doyle,’ she said, shaking her head and starting down the stairs, but he fell into step behind her. She supposed it wasn’t to annoy her so much as he had nothing to do in the stairway himself. ‘We’re not your house elves.’
‘We could get some, you know. I think I’m having a vision where they need freeing and, in their gratitude, decide to cook and clean for the brave resistance fighters...’
‘Are you having any useful visions, Doyle?’ She threw an arch look over her shoulder.
He shrugged. ‘Not since the werewolves. It might be best I don’t have visions. I might be able to control them better, but it’s still going to be something big and dramatic in a person’s future I see, and I’m no better at changing them.’
‘Do you think the future’s immutable, then?’
‘Like I said. It can be done. I don’t know what us following the visions as much as we’ve been doing is going to do to... to them, to my perception, to time. But don’t count on everything remaining stable.’
‘What about this big vision of yours?’ she asked, glancing at him. ‘Can that be changed?’
Doyle’s expression sank, the smirk fading. She wasn’t sure at what point it was that she’d trusted he wasn’t a fraud. She’d agreed to his help on behalf of Wilson and the others, when she’d been helping their resistance group covertly from the Ministry, but they’d kept him under close watch. Within a week he’d had a vision of them conducting a raid on a target they’d never even considered, and from his information the plan had been drawn up like clockwork.
When she’d asked why he was coming to help, he’d just shrugged and said he’d had a vision. As of yet, Gabriel Doyle hadn’t seen fit to tell her what it was. Although Riley’s curiosity was beginning to bubble over, she’d begun to feel bad for asking. It always killed his smiles when she made him think about it.
And yet, anything which could be a threat to her people, she had to follow up on.
‘I don’t know, said Doyle, shoulders sagging. ‘And I don’t even know if I want it to.’