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Falls the Shadow by Slide
Chapter 39: The Early Bird
Chapter 39: The Early Bird
Cal had expected to wake up in a dark room, probably cold and dank, likely somewhere deep in the belly of Canary Wharf or, at worst, Azkaban.
He certainly hadn’t expected to wake up in an office. Wood-paneling and tall bookshelves and the large picture of a burly Scotsman glaring down at him were not the most unpleasant surroundings to greet him after unconsciousness. Except that Cal knew where he was. He’d been here before.
He was definitely, well and truly, fucked.
That wasn’t a surprise. Cal lifted his aching head to fix his weary gaze on Thanatos Brynmor, stood next to the gangly shape of Bacchus Drake. Brynmor looked perturbed, serious - Drake, if anything, looked a little bit nervous.
Cal cleared his throat. It felt like sandpaper. ‘Thanatos.’
‘Maybe I should handle this one,’ said Drake, stepping forward and clasping his hands behind his back. ‘Let’s not presume that just because of your family connections, my boy, you’re in a better situation than you ought to be.’
‘The last time someone from the Lions of Britain was captured, they were summarily executed in the street. I’m not even in prison. I’d say I’m doing pretty well for myself.’
‘So you do confirm you are a member of the Lions of Britain.’ Drake gave Brynmor a meaningful look, before returning his gaze to Cal. ‘Will you give up their location?’
He laughed. ‘Of course I won’t. And even if I would, I don’t know it. You think there’s even the remotest chance that they haven’t moved on after I didn’t make it back? They wouldn’t wait around. They’re professionals.’
‘Professionals we’ve hunted quite successfully,’ Brynmor grunted.
‘I think their success tally has been remarkably higher,’ said Cal. ‘You’ve just been lucky. Don’t assume it’ll keep up. One swallow doesn’t make a summer.’ He leant forward, fixing his gaze on his father. ‘That’s a Muggle saying. I thought you might appreciate it.’
His father’s expression twisted into a scowl. ‘You’re awfully cheery, son. I don’t think you realise what danger you’re in.’
‘I know exactly what danger I’m in. It’s a danger I could never be in so long as I toed the party line, so long as I didn’t defy you, so long as I remained compliant and gave you hope you could convert me, pervert me.’ Cal gave a breezy smile which came surprisingly naturally. ‘I’m in danger because I’m fighting you, father. And you know what? It feels good.’
Brynmor took an angry step forward. ‘I would have given you everything, you ungrateful little bastard! You could have had a place at my side, a good job, good prospects! A respected position! You could have harvested the fruits of my labour, my sacrifices, and been one of the first to come into this better world we’re making, untarnished. I was making a good life for you!’
‘That’s what you were doing?’ Cal scoffed. ‘Making sure I never had my independence, never had a job, never had anything that wasn’t given by you? The money, the girl?’ Comprehension dawned slowly as his father’s expression twitched. ‘Good God. You sent Perkins to me, didn’t you, not as an assistant, but...’
‘She is from a good household,’ he said gruffly. ‘And she would have made an acceptable match for you. You would have forgotten about that Mudblood whore in time.’
‘You actually sent her to...’ Cal’s expression sank, though the latest realisation was both horrifying and liberating. ‘She was drugging me, wasn’t she. A love potion. That’s why...’
I didn’t betray Nat. I was tricked. I didn’t betray her. I didn’t betray her.
‘In small doses. A bit at a time. In time, you wouldn’t have known the difference!’ shouted Brynmor, but his rage could do nothing to dent the soar in his chest Cal felt as one of the last shrouds of guilt slid off him. ‘You would have been happy, in this new world we’re making, but instead you decided to run off and join the most hateful dissidents in the country!’
‘Harry Potter and his merry men would feel rather hurt by that. Merry man. Merry man-and-woman. You know.’
Drake made a small, irritable noise which reminded Cal of nothing so much as his daughter, and lifted his hands. ‘This was precisely why I suggested maybe I should do the talking,’ he said, sounding rather put out.
Brynmor growled, but he turned away to slink back to his desk, sitting down heavily. His companion gave a deep sigh, before again turning to Cal, hands still clasped primly behind his back. ‘The matter of the Lions of Britain,’ Drake continued, ‘is immaterial. We will continue to take chunks out of them, and they cannot win. Attrition alone will contend with them.’
Cal’s eyes narrowed. ‘Then what do you want with me, if you’re not going to jump on my father’s brainwashing bandwagon?’
‘There is a more significant purpose you can help us with than the Lions of Britain. Namely, your old friend, Tobias Grey.’
He scoffed. ‘We’ve been over this before. I don’t know anything.’
‘Like hell you don’t,’ sneered Brynmor from his chair. ‘You spent over three months running with the Lions of Britain. We know they’re in touch with one another. Like hell you don’t have more information.’
But Drake lifted a hand, awkward, and Brynmor fell silent. It looked rather more like he was choosing to listen, rather than that Drake held over him any of that same power and authority that Idaeus Robb had commanded over his friend.
‘We don’t really need to know anything about his operations,’ said Drake delicately. ‘We know enough. We know where he is. It was easy to pay attendants to the Conference to trace his apparition. We know what he’s intending. We know what he’s up to.’
‘Then why do you need me?’
‘We need to get to him. And that’s not really possible with him on that damned island of his. We could, perhaps, get agents in, but loyal men sent in enough numbers to overcome his defences and the defences of the island itself will raise too much suspicion. They won’t get five metres before the Greeks are on them.’ Drake spoke pointedly, and glanced at Brynmor a few times, as if reminding him.
Cal gave a one-shouldered shrug. ‘I don’t see how I can help with that.’
‘If we cannot come to him,’ said Drake, ‘then obviously we need him to come to us. And that is where you can help us.’
‘You know how he thinks,’ said Brynmor coldly, ‘and you know how to make him leave the island. What he’ll leave the island for.’
‘He didn’t leave Moscow when you had Tanith Cole locked up in a prison; what on Earth else do you think is going to get him to come running?’ spat Cal.
‘Something subtler,’ said Drake. ‘And yet more direct. There’s going to be a way to do this. And you’re going to work with us to hammer something out.’
Cal snorted. ‘Like hell I am.’
‘You have been arrested, Caldwyn, as a member of the Lions of Britain,’ said Drake. ‘There is literally no punishment we could not bring down upon you for this.’
‘And I don’t care,’ he said frankly. ‘There is not a thing you can do to me that’s going to make me betray my friend. Not in the world.’ I’ve been there before. Never again.
Drake sighed. ‘Your loyalty is admirable,’ he said, ‘but misplaced.’
‘I have a question.’ Cal looked up, blinking against the harsh light of the flickering fire. ‘If you’re so desperate to know how Tobias Grey works and thinks, then why the hell did you wait until you had me in custody, instead of going to Tanith Cole?’
Something dark and unpleasant lit up in Thanatos Brynmor’s eyes, and he brushed a piece of paper on his desk. It formed into an airplane and swished out, through the tiny hatch above the door, into the corridor outside and out of sight.
‘Because there’s one thing which I have over you which I don’t have over Tanith Cole. Not unless I want to arrest her, and frankly, that’s not worth the bother.’ There was a brief, begrudging glance at Drake at this.
The door-handle rattled, and Cal forced himself to keep his gaze on his father, forced himself to not show any fear at whatever it was that Brynmor had sent to be brought inside. He drew a deep breath. ‘And what’s that?’
The burly Enforcer who’d stepped in looked down at the bedraggled young woman he’d been dragging behind him, and backhanded her at the outburst. The impact was enough to knock Nat Lockett’s head around, and the sound rang out in the suddenly silent office, broken only by the slamming of the door behind them.
Thanatos Brynmor gave a grim smile of satisfaction. ‘Leverage.’
Cal stiffened. ‘You son of a -’
‘You’re all so very noble, you band of friends. So loyal. It’s an admirable trait, that you’d suffer and die for one another. The trick is to turn such a virtue into our advantage,’ Brynmor continued, getting to his feet. ‘And so enter the loved ones who are not a thousand miles away. I cannot bring in Tanith Cole’s family unless she went renegade without bringing down a world of public strife. I can, however, execute one Mudblood without anyone giving a damn.’
His wand was in his hand, pointed straight at Nathalie, who was on her hands and knees and fighting for breath. Cal hated to think what had happened to her, not just in Azkaban but in the trip here; her face showed the bruises and swelling of more than just that one blow. She was pale, thin, and barely recognisable under the dirt.
Anger surged in him. ‘Then why the hell did you leave us both dangling for months, huh?’
‘Because you had been behaving, and because I believe in rewarding good behaviour. It had been my intention, if you continued to adhere to the rules and expectations I was setting out, that she might eventually be released and allowed to return to Muggle society,’ said Brynmor with a sneer.
‘Not to mention your friend Grey’s recent activities,’ said Drake tensely. ‘Riling up the international caucus against us has made, I regret, your father’s fondness for you take second place. We all have to make sacrifices for the good of the nation.’
‘And once, I wouldn’t have killed her simply because I knew you would never forgive me.’ Brynmor’s expression twisted into a scowl. ‘But now I see that there is nothing I can do which will undo the brainwashing of that Mudblooded old fool.’
Drake turned to Cal imploringly. ‘You know your friend. You know how he thinks. There has to be something, some weak spot. You don’t have to spit it out now, but you have to agree to work with us to find the right scheme, the right ploy, which will get him off that island.’
And then there he was. Yet again, on the path to betray a friend. Cal’s eyes met Nat’s - blazing, desperate, and terrified - and his breath caught in his throat. ‘I...’
‘You don’t think I’ll do it?’ snarled Brynmor. ‘Crucio!’
Then the air was filled, filled with Nat’s screaming, and perhaps was made all the worse by the Enforcer pinning her down on the floor so she couldn’t even writhe. The sound bounced off the perfect, neat wooden walls, and the portrait of Barnabus Rourke on the wall looked downright outraged.
‘Stop! Stop, please!’
That was him, screaming the plea loud enough to be heard over her screams, loud enough to make his throat raw, but still his father kept up the torture of his girlfriend for a few seconds more before he snapped his wand up, away.
And despite everything his father had said about how he committed his evil deeds out of necessity and with no relish, Cal could have sworn he saw a glint of satisfaction in his eye.
‘I’ll do it,’ he gasped nevertheless, eyes locking now on Thanatos Brynmor’s. ‘I’ll help. I’ll help you get him. Just... don’t...’
Because they would, he knew. And it was inconceivable, utterly inconceivable, to think of trading Tobias’ life for Nat, but if he refused then she would be dead in seconds. If he agreed... then so many things could happen. Nothing was certain.
Or that was what he’d tell himself to get through just this little bit.
Drake nodded; Cal noted the tall, willowy man had an expression of distaste at something, be it Cal’s desperation, Nat’s presence, or the wanton torture. He dimly recalled he’d never heard of Bacchus Drake being involved in the brutal aspects of Death Eater actions; his misdeeds, claimed to be courtesy of the Imperius curse, had all been bloodless espionage or facilitation.
‘Good,’ he said quietly. ‘Just give us something. A way to get to him.’
Cal inhaled sharply, surprised to find his breathing ragged, even if he’d just been sat there. ‘There’s no way,’ he said carefully, ‘to get Toby to want to leave. Not if he’s entrenched there, and for so long.’
Brynmor scoffed. ‘This is supposed to appease us?’
‘Wait.’ His voice shook. ‘He won't want to leave. And there’s only one person in this world who can make Tobias Grey do something he doesn’t want to do.’ The words felt like tar in his mouth as he met his father’s gaze, and again sold out his best friends.
A night shift had left her worn and weary, and not able to face going home alone to an empty flat. So it was with heavy footsteps that Tanith clumped up the stairs of David’s flat building, preferring the many steps and the many floors to that infernal contraption of the Muggle elevator.
She’d been doing nothing more than routine paperwork until Bacchus Drake had come along at about two in the morning and banished her down to the records room to file some utterly irrelevant pieces of information about the Lions. Allegedly she’d been the only person around who had the clearance to see the data, and she’d had nothing better to do.
Since Tanith could think of lots of better things to do than to spend five hours in that cramped, cold, and unpleasant room, she had to conclude that Drake had just done it because he didn’t like her.
But it was better to work under him than Lestrange, or Robb. He was more inclined to courtesies which, while seeming obligatory, didn’t seem forced, didn’t seem to physically hurt him to extend. And although his role had been much more that of an administrator than an enforcer and so it made little difference in practice, he didn’t have his partner’s fondness for brutality. At the very least, his organisational style of leadership meant he was in the office more, and Brynmor was in the office less.
It was a small mercy.
Though it hadn’t saved her that night, and so she’d decided pestering David was preferable to being alone. It was a Friday, but he’d have the day off, he’d be in, and even at this hour he wouldn’t object to her at least crashing on his couch for a few hours. Just so she was somewhere warm, with food, with company.
It had been a little stilted between them since their acceptance that what they had was, by definition, fleeting. Certainly the issue of greater intimacies hadn’t been raised again; an invisible line had been drawn, and apparently the desperate escape from reality that they were engaged in together was not enough reason to cross it.
But he was still there. Someone to talk to, someone to listen to, someone to just be in the company of. It was ill-defined, but it was what she needed.
He’d always been that.
She was almost surprised to see the sun peeking its way through the window of his corridor at this time of the morning. So often had she made it here in darkness, in the evening or at this time. But it was almost summer now, Tanith reminded herself, the end of April - no, the beginning of May, just. May the first, that day.
Summer. It was ridiculous how, under such a shadow of suffering, the simple thought was enough to raise her spirits, just a little.
Then she saw the figure standing in the corridor.
Her hand came instinctively down to the holster of her wand at her hip. It wasn’t that other tenants being around at all sorts of hours was unusual. Plenty of people left for work, or came in from night shifts, or went off to shop or jog, and early morning Friday was absolutely no different.
But none of them did it in long, dark, wizarding robes.
He’d been standing by the lift, clearly expecting her to come that way, and when she came up the top of the stairs he froze as he saw her, just as she froze. She didn’t recognise him - although the cut of his cloak was certainly Ministry, certainly a uniform, she couldn’t tell the colour as he stood, silhouetted by the morning sun, just a dark, ominous shadow.
And though he’d frozen in surprise at the unexpected sight of her, his hand, too, was on his wand.
Long seconds ticked out between them. Her gaze flickered from his, to his stance, to his hand, and she fought to stay still. Just the slightest twitch could give her intentions away, could let him know when she was going to make her move, and she had to be utterly impossible to predict if she was going to be faster than -
Then he twitched, and her wand was in her hand and shooting a Stun at him before his was even fully raised. It smacked him in the chest and he went flying, hitting the corridor with a thump, and didn’t move.
Breathing coming ragged, Tanith bolted down the corridor, muttering ‘Petrificus Totalus’ at the Ministry official to properly make sure he wasn’t getting up. But he wasn’t her target, wasn’t her primary concern so long as he was no longer a threat.
Her fist hammered on the door to his room, loud and long and frantic, and he took a while to respond, even if she had to have sounded like she was bringing the building down. He had to know it was her, had to know she would be stopping by at this hour, why was he taking so long to answer -
She was just about to give up and blow the door off its hinges when he opened it, in his dressing-gown, bleary-eyed and confused. ‘What? What is it?’
Tanith leapt forward to grab him by the arm, and he stiffened, eyes wide, confused, and afraid. ‘We’ve got to get out of here. I don’t know how or why but they’ve found us, and they’re going to get you too if we don’t...’
There was something in his eyes - something lost and bewildered - that made her voice trail off.
And just as she was realising that his bemusement wasn’t simply sleepiness, he shook her hand off, agitated, and stepped back. ‘What’s going on? Who the hell are you?’
Then her gaze swung round to land on the fallen Ministry official, and she noticed the colour of his robe. Dark brown.
Her breath caught in her throat and almost choked her as she backed off. ‘No...’
Once she crossed the threshold, out of his flat and into the corridor, David didn’t hesitate. The door slammed shut in her face, hard and solid, and the scraping was heard seconds later of the deadbolts and chain being properly secured in place. ‘If you don’t go away,’ came his muffled, scared voice, ‘I’m calling the police, I mean it!’
He didn’t remember her. Didn’t remember a thing.
Footsteps on the stairs caught her attention, and Tanith whirled around to see two figures, also in their robes, coming down from the floor above, wands in hand. Dark green robes. Auror’s robes. Lackardy and Mulready. They’d come for her. At last, for whatever reason, it had been one day too many that she’d gone free.
This time she didn’t stop for a stand-off. This time she didn’t go for her wand, this time she didn’t go to fight, or dodge, or stage some sort of cunning counter-attack.
This time Tanith turned and ran.