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Beyond This Place by Slide
Chapter 2: Keeping Up Appearances
'One of my best Aurors down and I'm about to take the training wheels off the trainees,' grumbled Cassius Vaughn as he sat down behind his desk. 'The timing couldn't be any worse.'
'I am very sorry,' said Tobias, pulling up a chair. 'Jacob was a friend. It's all a lot to take in.'
'It's the nature of our line of work, lad. But that doesn't make it any easier to swallow. If there was a man in this office I was grooming to replace me...'
'I want to make sure he's properly honoured. That the public know of his good deeds, that he's remembered well.' Tobias scribbled a few things on the notebook which rarely left his side. 'But I appreciate if you don't want the Auror Office to look... reduced?'
Vaughn's eyes narrowed at the word, and Tobias flinched. 'I'd rather not much of a fuss were made about how a snake like Lackardy got one of my best. But you're the spin-doctor.'
'I'm the Minister's Director of Communications,' said Tobias, a little defensively.
'And the Head of the Department of International Magical Cooperation.' Vaughn leant back in his chair, feeling about his pockets without looking for his pipe and his tobacco.
'Acting. Of course. Like Shacklebolt's going to let you go when he gets re-elected.' Vaughn snorted. 'All those hats. Guess that makes you a smart fellow, lad?'
Tobias' brow furrowed. 'That's Minister Shacklebolt. And smart enough to not be called "lad", Director Vaughn.' And old enough.
'Then how come you're such a fucking idiot?'
The question was so rude and blunt that Tobias just stared at the Head of the Auror Office for a few seconds, gaping. 'I... excuse me?'
Vaughn jabbed a finger at the door to his office, which led out to the bullpen where his team of Aurors kept their desks; the home away from home for this overworked elite of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. 'I don't really give a shit about what you think the Minister needs you to do, and I certainly don't give a shit about how the public view us or how the international community view us. I don't need their approval to do my job.'
'A point of view you have made repeatedly clear all the time I've worked for Minister Shacklebolt.'
'Yeah. So you might have perfectly good reasons in your little egg-head brain of yours to keep on trotting around on Shacklebolt's behalf, but the way I see it, the world won't fall apart if the great Tobias Grey isn't around for one poxy week.'
Tobias' expression pinched. 'I don't think my personal life is really your business, Vaughn.'
'It is when it comes down to the well-being of one of my Aurors. I need them in top form, especially the ones with experience like Cole.' He snorted. 'Experience. Shit. What the hell happened to my office when some girl not two years out of Hogwarts counts as "experienced"? When a kid like Shacklebolt sits as Minister, and everyone else got promoted or killed or too messed up to be of use to me... fact is, I need her firing on all cylinders, and you're not helping.'
'I think the death of her partner might be contributing to all cylinders not firing right now. More than my holiday plans.'
'I'm not telling you to change your mind.' Vaughn puffed on his pipe. 'I'm just telling you that you're a fucking idiot.'
'So noted,' said Tobias coldly. 'Can we get on with the briefing?'
Vaughn reached for a stack of parchment. 'Lackardy coming in's the bulk of it,' he said. 'That's the only new development; the rest is training and the hunt for Avery. I'll put Savage on the processing since I won't have Cole. He'll interview him, he'll get the information down to the Prosecution Office, you know the drill. It'll be up to Riley on what she wants to pinch him for, but we can get him just on murdering Van Roden. No need to go poking our way through ancient history trying to see what we can make stick.'
Tobias' brow wrinkled. 'What were you planning on fingering him on in the first place?'
'Mostly his continued association with Avery. Which would be trickier to prove. This is all we need to stick him on, though, and that's an open and shut case. No need to make life complicated.'
'Do you think you can use him to trace Avery's activities?' Most of the inner circle of Voldemort's Death Eaters had been arrested or killed, either in the Battle of Hogwarts or in the past six months. The remainder had gone to ground, likely abroad, likely to never stick their noses above the ground. Garrett Avery was one of the exceptions, the latest poster-boy for the extremists who didn't know when they were beaten.
'I can't comment about an on-going investigation.' Vaughn puffed again on his pipe.
'I'm in the Ministry.'
'So?' He gave a cold smile. 'This issue isn't in the public eye. I tell you those things as a courtesy, lad. Right now this office don't owe you courtesies.' He reached for a fresh sheaf of paper. 'If the Minister wants to know about the Woolwich Situation, however, I have some notes for him...'
That was as much as Tobias was going to get out of Vaughn, he knew. And, keen to avoid the veteran Auror's continued jibes at his personal choices, Tobias was satisfied to just push through the rest of the meeting as the formality that it was, and get out of Canary Wharf. Normally he was well-received in the MLE office - in his own right as a former Enforcer and with his wartime reputation, as much as for his personal connections. He held no illusions about his own reputation keeping him safe from glares today. News travelled. Tanith Cole's bad moods travelled quicker as a matter of public safety.
So it was back to the Ministry, if not back to his office, but down in the belly of the building. It made the most sense for the Prosecution Office to keep its premises as close to the Wizengamot Chambers as possible, even if it didn't make for the most pleasant working environment for one of the most overworked departments in the country.
This much was clear as Tobias walked through the front door and was almost bowled over by the figure rushing out. He stumbled, his bad leg making the impact worse than he would have liked, and was only grudgingly grateful when strong arms grabbed him by the shoulders to steady him.
'Oh, Toby. Sorry.' Tom Everard looked worn and weary, if genuinely apologetic, as he righted the taller man. 'I was just going on a coffee run.'
'You look like you need it,' said Tobias undiplomatically as he straightened his coat. 'Don't let me keep you.'
'Jen's in her office,' said Tom, and ducked out of the door.
Tobias wound his way through the network of desks across the main floor, each one with a lawyer or an assistant and a stack of paperwork, before he reached the door at the far end. He knocked and stepped in without waiting for a response.
Jennifer Riley sat at a desk which he'd originally thought to be unnecessarily wide. This had turned out to be inaccurate in the months of her time at the Prosecution Office, as there was not a clear inch of surface space to be seen under the notes, the files, and the pictures pertaining to the scores of cases her department was tackling all at once.
'Tom, if you're not back with my coffee, I swear I'll -' She looked up, and her expression turned apologetic. 'Toby. Morning. Sorry, I thought you were -'
'Tom only just left.' Tobias limped to help himself to a chair. 'He looks like he needs an Invigoration Draught, not just a coffee.'
'He stayed in the office 'til late to do the paperwork for the Nott case. I don't think he got more than four hours' sleep, but I'll be sure to send him home early so he can rest properly before court tomorrow.'
'Don't you have a kettle?'
'We did, then Hawkins tried to turn his hand to a spot of Potions-making and now it's in pieces. Some are embedded in the kitchen wall. I find it best to not get involved in these affairs.' Jen sagged in her chair. 'Is it that time again?'
'I didn't know my visits were such a source of aggravation,' said Tobias, still smarting from his rounds in the ring with Cassius Vaughn.
'No, but you do tend to come in here and fuss until everything's in order.'
'I think the country needs to be the Head of the Prosecution Office to be organised.'
She glared. 'I am organised. It's just all in here.' Jen tapped her temple. 'And don't you lecture me about doing my job properly; I don't need Mister High-and-Mighty coming down from the mountain today.'
Tobias opened and closed his mouth. 'Did I put a sign that says "Kick Me" on my back this morning?'
'I don't know, but I certainly didn't, so don't act like you're the only one in the world who knows how to act professionally.' Jen jabbed a finger at him.
He got to his feet creakily. 'All right,' said Tobias. 'Let's go.'
She stared at him for half a heartbeat, then gave a short, tired giggle, clamping a hand across her mouth. 'Merlin, Toby, for a second I thought you were calling me out for a fight.'
'No, I'm calling you out for breakfast. Or, at least, a proper tea or coffee. Because my day's managed to go from zero to shit in three seconds, and you are looking so strung out that you'll probably murder someone if you don't get a chance to unwind.'
Jen looked across her desk. 'I have -'
'A meeting. With the Office of the Minister of Magic. I'm just relocating it.' It wasn't normally his habit, but his day wasn't so frantic that he couldn't take five minutes out to troop to the café nearest the Ministry.
Was it so busy you couldn't take five minutes with Tanith? He scowled to himself. This is still work. I'm just... moving it.
But Jen sagged and acquiesced, and they both seemed to judge it prudent to keep quiet as they trooped out of the office, out of the building. She was clearly crabby, and he knew he was in a mood to be oversensitive and lash back, and so they remained in a companionable silence until they were sat down in a quiet café around the corner from the Ministry.
Despite being a Muggle establishment, it was a favourite of any Ministerial workers who knew how to get a hot drink without causing some sort of a scene. Tobias had been there before and often suspected that there were more wizards than Muggles on the premises. He didn't know if it had always been like this, or if the more relaxed post-war attitudes had led to this development.
He did know they did a good cup of tea.
Jen sighed before she gulped down piping hot coffee, obviously an acquired talent. 'Thanks,' she said at last, setting the mug down. 'I needed that.'
'Evidently.' He gave a wan smile. 'You know, you could take a break. You've been doing a million cases a day, or so it seems sometimes. You've earnt time off.'
'Like you have?'
He flinched. 'Touché.'
'I'm just tired. The Nott case is unpleasant enough.'
'At least it's one of the last of the Inner Circle cases. You can perhaps rest a little bit more easily once that's done.'
'Can I?' Jen cocked an eyebrow. 'The Inner Circle almost all had outstanding Azkaban sentences, most of them for life. Those we bothered to put on trial were getting the most heinous of crimes slapped on their record. That stuff was easy. Now we're trickling down to the second-string.'
Tobias put more sugar in his tea than he normally might have. 'What makes that worse?'
'Three words: Only. Following. Orders.' Jen counted them off with her fingers. 'It's like the new version of the Imperius defence. What do we do when they turn around and say they only tortured someone because they were ordered to?'
He shrugged. 'That's not much of a defence. Nuremburg -'
'What if they were told their families would suffer if they didn't do these jobs? It's not as if they had reason to believe these were lies; families were attacked and punished for the transgressions of Ministry officials.'
'There's a world of difference,' said Tobias gingerly, 'between some poor bastard forced to do horrid things when they had no choice, and the sort of people who came out of the woodwork in the Thicknesse administration. The real nasty cases who suddenly had power, and the right to do whatever they wanted with it. Even if they weren't idealists to Voldemort's cause, even if they'd fought against Voldemort's cause originally.'
'Of course there is,' said Jen smoothly, 'and I know it when I see it. But it's not good enough for me to know it. My gut is not admissible as evidence in a court of law. I have to convince the Wizengamot.'
Tobias rubbed his brow. 'You're saying everything gets harder from here on out?'
'Considerably,' she said. 'I have to go through every little thing everyone the MLE brings in has ever done. I have to figure out what I want to push charges on, and what I want to leave well alone.'
He frowned. 'If you're convicting them at all, why do you have to pick and choose?'
'Precedent,' said Jen simply. 'I really, really don't want to get a precedent where we say that it doesn't matter if someone was threatened into committing an act - we'll condemn them for it anyway. Otherwise we'll have to put half the MLE on trial. You know, the half which stayed in the uniform last year.'
Something twisted unpleasantly in Tobias' gut. 'I see your point.'
'This is all made considerably harder by how the Auror Office is clearly picking and choosing its targets for me.' Jen glared into her cup of coffee. 'For everyone Vaughn wants me to convict, he's got two people he wants me to arrange plea-bargains for so long as they testify to skewer the first.'
Tobias frowned. 'Is that allowed?'
'It's how business is done,' she said, 'and Vaughn has so far been doing a perfectly good job of prioritising the really nasty customers and cutting loose the little fish. But this is meant to be justice. We're not meant to be deciding the outcome before we hold the trial, innocent or guilty.'
'Your record remains outstanding.'
'Because these men and women don't have a defence. There's not a lawyer in the country who wants to get within a Quidditch pitch's distance of these cases, so we're assigning the most overworked and under-motivated people we can spare. And that's fine when we're debating if Dolohov murdered sixteen people or seventeen, but when we're moving into these more complicated cases... nuance is everything.' Jen rolled a shoulder uncomfortably. 'I didn't sign up for this work to prosecute in a kangaroo court.'
'I'm sure you'll figure it out,' said Tobias, and he meant it, rather than trying to push her concerns under the rug. 'You're one of the most honest people I know. I struggle to name anyone else in the Ministry with your integrity.'
She gave a wan smile, and sipped her coffee. 'Thanks. And sorry, I just... needed to blow off some steam. What ruined your day?'
He hesitated. 'Jacob Van Roden is dead. He was killed last night by Bernard Lackardy; the Aurors have him in custody.'
Jen winced. 'How's Cole?'
'Upset. She's been given a week off.' Tobias ran a hand through his hair. 'Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?'
'How do you and Gabe manage it?' He waved a hand. 'I mean... he's wandering the world. You're stuck in an office all hours God sends. Isn't it hard?'
She paused for a few long moments, gaze going thoughtful as she gathered her words. 'It is,' said Jen delicately. 'And yet, it's sort of... not. We make time for one another. It's as simple as that. We make sure we're taking time off at the same time. Or if he's home, he makes sure he does simple things like be there when I'm back, make sure I have dinner. If I'm off and he's away, I go see him.'
Tobias frowned ruefully at the table. 'That simple, huh?'
'That simple.' Jen gave a sad smile. 'There's something my mum told me about love, which I didn't really get when I was with Nick and I think that was telling. I just assumed she was lucky, or being idealistic, or something. She said that when it's right, it's easy.'
He flinched. 'That's funny,' he said, unamused. 'People kept on telling me that relationships are hard, that you have to work at them.'
'Maybe you do,' said Jen. 'Perhaps it's just that when it's right, you don't mind.' She took a sip of her coffee. 'Bear in mind my parents were a little older when they got married. It probably helps to have a few screwed up relationships under your belt already. It's like a map through the minefield.'
Silence fell between them, until Jen reached for her case and pulled out a few sheafs of parchment, clearing her throat. 'You... probably want the breakdown on the Nott case for tomorrow, don't you.'
And then, like that, they were back to focusing on work. Tobias always enjoyed his meetings with Jen Riley more than anyone else in the Ministry, and not just for their shared background. They were sufficiently alike in how they approached their work and their ideals that it was easy for them to be on the same page.
Truth be told, he probably could have scrubbed the Prosecution Office from his list of departments to interact with. Jen Riley didn't make screw-ups he had to smooth over. But he needed at least one meeting in his weekly catch-up which didn't make him either feel like he was running into a brick wall, or made him want to bash his head against said brick wall.
That was what his next meeting was, down with the head of the Obliviators, yet another rapidly-advanced youth who had proven to hold a particular talent for smoothing over massive catastrophes but lacked the imagination to calm down minor hiccups. The meeting consisted of his outlining for Tobias a proposed cover-up of some wizarding youths' exuberance that was hitting the Muggle public eye with a story which had been used before - and Tobias trying to explain why this was a particularly bad idea.
By lunchtime his stomach was growling away, hard work always giving him an appetite and frustration only fuelling it, but the trials of the day were not set to end. He made it out of the Ministry on time, apparated down to Diagon Alley, found The Golden Fork and the table for two that had been reserved, and all-in-all worked hard to adhere to his schedule.
Only to be left sitting alone in the most expensive and fancy restaurant in wizarding Britain, while the elite wandered in and out for their chic little lunchtime meetings, and he perused the menu while peering repeatedly at the door.
The irony was not lost on him, though he doubted it was deliberate. And, sure enough, when the doors swung open and in waltzed Cal Brynmor, the broad smile that sat on his face was nothing if not apologetic.
Of course, the staff recognised him at once. Tobias hadn't been recognised, and though he knew he preferred it this way it was hard to fight the pinch of jealousy. He'd only spent time in exile in the war and been editor of the biggest Resistance paper. He was only a senior official in the Office of the Minister of Magic, and a Ministerial Department Head. He was probably one of the most influential men to walk into Diagon Alley's foremost restaurant, and yet they didn't give him much of a second look.
Puddlemere United's hottest new Beater, however, got fawned over like he'd killed Voldemort with his bat at the last game.
He was wearing sunglasses, a pretentious move which Tobias could only conclude he got away with in wizarding society because it was too backwards to know that it was a ridiculous thing to do in early November.
But he sauntered past the swish wooden tables, bathed in the bright wintery sun shining through the tall windows and reflecting off the stylish chrome of the restaurant which could have looked tacky but The Golden Fork managed to pull off. Tobias suspected that The Golden Fork could have pulled off a pauper vomiting in the front window as appropriately stylish.
He had no idea why Cal had picked this place for them to eat.
'Sorry I'm late!' his best friend declared, sincere but clearly brushing it off. 'Team photos took longer than expected.'
'You mean the photographers brought friends,' said Tobias dryly. 'Women. Girls. All there to feel your muscles and coo.'
'Aren't you sorry you went into ruling the world?' Cal propped his sunglasses onto his forehead as he sat, smile downright cheesy. 'I bet nobody wants to feel a Ministry official's bicep.'
'I'm okay with this. I'm also hungry; let's eat.'
'Easy, boyo.' Cal lifted a hand, and flagged down one of the servers. He'd not even looked at a menu, and instead just ordered some olives, bread, and marinade.
'Cal, it's lunchtime,' said Tobias a little peevishly as the waiter turned to leave.
'Good point,' he said, and waved the man back. 'And a bottle of merlot.'
'I meantthat's not food.'
Cal frowned. 'It's a pre-starter. Bread, olives. We'll eat them while we peruse the menu to stave off the worst of our hunger. This isn't a pub, Tobias, you don't wander in, scoff down your steak and kidney pud, then hurry back into the office. This is the Golden Fork. Dining here - lunching here - is an experience.'
'I have a two o' clock meeting. I don't have time for a strung-out meal.'
'Postpone it! Aren't you, like, super-duper important, or something?'
'It's with the Minister!'
'Great.' Cal grinned. 'Tell him to join us and I'll sort him tickets for the next game; he's a fan.'
Tobias glared. Kingsley Shacklebolt was a fan. But before he could summon an appropriate retort the waiter had returned with their appetisers and the wine, which Cal swirled around in his glass and tilted up to the light before he finally took a taste of it and declared that it was, in fact, fine to drink.
As the waiter went away, Tobias' glare only intensified. 'You couldn't bloody tell if it was corked.'
'You're the Minister's Director of Communications,' said Cal. 'Don't tell me you don't know all about keeping up appearances. That's your job.'
'My job is to make sure that the Minister's goals to make a better Britain don't get misinterpreted by the public or screwed up by the Ministry.'
'And, apparently, to be Mister Cranky Pants.'
He might have recovered from the bad start with Jen Riley, but a couple of hours with a stubborn Obliviator and starting the day being mauled by the Auror Office's finest was still leaving him bruised, and Tobias' scowl merely deepened. 'Jacob's dead.'
Cal had been sipping his merlot at the time, and almost spat it out. 'You're kidding.'
'Last night, on the job. A suspect he and Tanith were taking down got lucky. Or unlucky, since the bastard's now looking at a murder charge.'
'Of an Auror, no less. Son of a bitch.' Cal ran a hand across his bristly hair. 'Is Tanith okay?'
'She wasn't hurt. Vaughn's given her the week off.'
Cal popped an olive into his mouth as he peered suspiciously across the table. 'And?'
'And? She's upset.' Tobias rolled a shoulder.
'And she asked me to take the week off with her. And go somewhere.' He hid his discomfort by starting on the bread. 'And I can't, and so she was upset.'
'Why can't you?'
'Because I'm busy.'
'You think anything's going to ha-'
'Can people stop treating me like I'm some paranoid obsessive, or something?' Tobias snapped, getting more attention at his raised voice than he'd really have liked. He drew a deep breath as Cal raised an eyebrow, surprised and a bit miffed, and lowered his voice. 'I am not just deciding that I need to stay. I actually have some concept of my job and my responsibilities, and I can't take a week off.'
'More people than you work in the Office of the Minister.' Cal cautiously filled up his wine glass.
'Yes, but they're responsible for policy, for the smooth running of government. And they're good at their jobs, so nothing's wrong. It's my job to convince the public of this fact, to convince the public to elect them. We're three points down after the last poll, and I need to turn this around and keep it turned around.' Tobias took an irritable sip of wine. 'You know what my weekly meetings consist of? What they're for? So long as I have these, there is much less chance of the various departments, divisions, and offices screwing up in the first place. If I keep my finger on the pulse of each of them then I can get to anything they're doing before it goes public. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.'
'I get that,' said Cal, lifting a hand. 'But what do you think is going to happen in one week?'
'I think that the election is not so far away and everyone is watching the Minister like a hawk, eager for some screw-up. I think that Albert Nott's trial is upcoming, the last of the big-name trials, and the press are going to be hungry for some drama.' Tobias sagged. 'I have poured so much into this for the past few months, and we're approaching the final hurdle. If we fall down at this, then it'll have all been for nothing.'
'No, it won't.' Cal leant forwards. 'If I recall correctly, you got into this job because you wanted to help Shacklebolt as Acting Minister begin the rebuilding work. You've done that. Our international prestige is back. Hogwarts is being rebuilt. Ministerial reorganisation has gone smoothly. I appreciate that the Minister's had to make some hard, necessary choices, and his opponents are skewering him on them in public even if they'd do the same thing. But you didn't get into this for approval ratings, and you didn't get into this to get Shacklebolt elected. Even if he loses, whoever takes over from him is going to benefit from your hard work, because you've helped make Britain a better place. It'll hardly have been for nothing.'
'That is how I started,' said Tobias. 'And I wasn't planning on sticking it out. But you know what? I like this work. I like being involved, I like keeping my finger on the pulse. And I respect Minister Shacklebolt, I think he's a great man, a great leader. I think Britain would be greatly diminished if he loses the election. I think he's the best man to lead us into the future, and I want to help him make that future.'
'I know you're good, Toby, but do you really think his entire election campaign is going to fall apart because you took a week off work?' Cal gave a lopsided smile to take the sting out of his words.
'The Nott case is huge. It's the last of the Inner Circle cases. This is the final furlong and I need to spin every story to creep our approval ratings back up. I made a commitment to the Minister. After the election I can take a break, take some time off, and... you know. Get things back on track.'
'After the...' Cal cocked his head. 'I thought you were all going to resign after the election.'
'We're all going to offer the Minister our resignations,' said Tobias. 'Whoever gets in. But that's to give them the freedom to pick a team for the future.'
Cal frowned. 'And if he refuses your resignation? I thought you didn't want to stay in the government long-term?'
Tobias hesitated. 'If the Minister asks me to continue to serve, I'm going to have a hard time saying "no".'
'Okay.' Cal sipped on his wine.
Tobias blinked. 'Okay?'
'Yeah. It's your life. This is me, mate, I'm hardly in a position to begrudge you your ambition to do well. If you're happy, I'm happy; all we can do in life is try to make ourselves happy. I can't tell you how to be happy.'
'I'm sensing a "but".'
Cal shrugged. 'But, last I heard, you were going to leave the government after the election. And it's entirely your right to change your mind - you're good at this, Toby. I think Shacklebolt can attribute a great deal of his success in the public eye to you, I think you've done great work in restoring Britain's international image, and from what the papers are saying Shacklebolt should be aiming to sit in the Minister's chair for twenty years and then hand the reins over to you.'
Tobias' eyes narrowed. 'And...?'
There was a hesitation, and Cal winced. 'Just... if you've changed your mind. If this is what you want to do. If this is your life... you might want to tell Tanith. Last I heard she was expecting you to not be doing this job come Christmas.'
Tobias sagged, resting his head in his hands, and the waiter came by only to be waved off by Cal. 'I haven't... had this conversation with her yet, no. I wasn't really sure how to. She was pretty angry when I said I couldn't go away with her - but she's upset.' He managed to miss Cal's dubious expression, still not looking up. 'It's not like our erratic time together has been all me.'
'She's an Auror,' Cal agreed. 'Long and unsociable hours and the likelihood of being summoned to go chase bad guys in the middle of the night. Or dinner.'
'Which has happened at least twice,' Tobias pointed out. 'I'm not the sole cause of this relationship stalling. At least my erratic lifestyle has an end date.'
'Maybe had.' He scowled. 'And she does think that, just because she's out chasing bad guys and doing good things right there and then, that her career's more important than mine. Just because mine is more detached.'
'Has she said this?'
'She's not needed to.'
'Well, if you're psychic, then I don't know why you're justifying yourself to me.'
Now Tobias did look up, his frown directed at his sarcastic friend. 'Do you have any actual advice, or are you just going to join the line of people beating me up today?'
Cal shrugged. 'I'm only suggesting you be honest.'
'How'd that work out for you and Nat?'
It was a low blow, but it struck home as Cal winced. 'All right. I guess I deserved that.' He took a big gulp of wine. 'Nat and I wanted different things. A different lifestyle - she wanted to be abroad a lot, I wanted to stay here, she wanted the Researcher career, I wanted the Quidditch, it just - it wasn't gong to work. And we tried to reconcile our differences, and we tried to compromise, but it wasn't just about our jobs. We'd changed. And by being honest we figured it out pretty early on, and we're still friends.'
'She threw your team award at your head.'
'But she turned down a lot of money for a tell-all story to the Daily Prophet.'
Tobias blinked. 'That doesn't mean you're friends, it just means she has standards.' He shifted his weight irritably in his chair. 'Besides, you like being single.'
Cal looked briefly indignant. 'I'm sorry things didn't work out between us, don't act like I'm -'
Then he stopped as a shadow fell over them, and they both looked up to see the light from the windows blocked by a pair of girls, probably a couple of years younger than them who would likely have been in Hogwarts if it hadn't been predominantly shut down for the year. Tobias thought he might have recognised them but really wasn't sure.
'Hi!' said one, unnecessarily chirpy and clearly nervous. 'Um, we're sorry to interrupt your lunch, but we - well, we saw you play on Saturday, and we thought you were great, and could we... please...?'
Then a quill and parchment were thrust out at Cal, about as politely as such a gesture could be, and despite the interruption Cal wore a broad, toothy grin which he turned on both girls as he took the parchment. 'Oh, good afternoon, ladies. Of course, of course, it'd be a pleasure - you know, my friend here's quite important too...'
'Cal. I'll kill you. I mean it,' growled Tobias, then turned a rather wan, polite smile to the girls and kept his head down while the autograph went on. But Cal clearly loved it, clearly loved the attention, and so he stayed quiet and didn't interrupt while his friend was his charming self for a couple of minutes that would likely brighten up the girls' whole day.
And by the time they were gone, Cal's whole mood had improved, and he started to talk about upcoming games, his team's schedule, the trip to go play in Norway in a few weeks, and Tobias was more than content to let difficult questions and emotional issues fall by the wayside and just enjoy a very good lunch.