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Beyond This Place by Slide
Chapter 16: More Important Than Them
'Brain-Box Grey!' The door to Tobias' office swung open without even a knock, and all he could hear from outside was the objecting squawk of his assistant as Dimitri Radimir swaggered in. 'It is fine, it is fine!' Dimitri called over his shoulder. 'We are friends!'
Tobias got to his feet - grabbing his cane for good measure - and waved a hand at his assistant desperately. 'It's all right! I was expecting him!' He turned to Dimitri, frantic. 'But my friends normally knock.'
'Hum. I must be more important than them.' Dimitri closed the door and strode across the gap between them, big hand extended. 'You are looking -' He hesitated, and shook Tobias' hand. 'Awful. Terrible. Tell your boss he must give you a raise immediately.'
'My boss is the Minister; I don't think I can do that,' said Tobias, giving a crooked grin despite himself as he sat back down.
'Then I should tell him. Perhaps I cause international issue if he refuses, no?' Dimitri sat down, though his genial smile was tinged with concern.
'Not that I'm not pleased to see you,' Tobias said, flipping open his planner and wondering if he'd made a mistake, 'but I thought I was meeting the Russian Ambassador's Chief of Staff.'
'You are.' Dimitri grinned toothily. 'I have been promoted.'
'Really? That's fantastic!' Again, Tobias couldn't help but smile. It was an effect his genial friend had. 'Last I heard you were still at the Conference.'
'I was. Russia has a new Representative. Director Sergeyev recommended me for this post. Matters are calmer at the Conference, and he thought I should, perhaps, have a break. And, finally, a post abroad.'
'You had a post abroad,' Tobias reminded him wryly. 'Though you may find the weather here a little less pleasant than in Greece.'
'Officially, no, that was a holiday, remember?' Dimitri chuckled. 'No, no, you are right. That was at last acknowledged as business sanctioned by the Federation. So my people can take credit for the international aid provided to Britain, no?'
'Of course, they only do that once we've won.'
'It is politics.' Dimitri frowned, and nodded at the paperwork on his desk. 'We can talk shop. There is much to discuss. But I am not joking; you do not look well, my friend. I hope you are not over-working.'
Tobias gave a rueful chuckle before he could stop himself. 'You would hope in vain. And that's only where my problems begin. But -'
Dimitri's hand came down on his wrist as he reached for the papers on the desk. 'We will talk shop later,' he said. 'Else, I know you. Else we will not talk of what bothers you at all. I refuse to discuss matters of great international importance until you explain.'
Tobias frowned. 'We're only talking about the Ambassador's housing arrangements -'
'And the Ambassador will be most upset if these issues are not corrected, mostly because I will be telling him there are cockroaches in his bath, so it is best you talk to me, and then we can fix all issues, and then everyone is happy, no?'
'Maybe.' Tobias sighed, and finally conceded. 'I broke up with Tanith. Or, to be precise, she broke up with me.'
Dimitri folded his arms across his chest. 'What did you do?'
Normally he might have snapped at this, but it was hard to take anything Dimitri said badly. That was one of his virtues. He didn't judge.
'We both got caught up with work. Me here at the Ministry, her in the Auror Office. We neglected each other. I neglected her...' He looked away. 'It's a long story. But it boils down to how I wasn't honest with her, about what I wanted, about how it would affect our relationship. And she was tired of being second place, and took my dishonesty as a sign I wasn't serious about us, and said she'd had enough.'
A long pause met his words. Then Dimitri picked up the copy of the Daily Prophet on the desk, rolled it up, and smacked Tobias on the forehead.
Tobias barely reacted. 'I suppose I deserved that.'
'Deserve is not the issue. Need? Need is the issue. Neglecting her? Dishonesty? These are not the actions of the man who felt so passionately when we were in exile together.' Dimitri cocked his head. 'Is that it? Have your feelings changed?'
'No.' He scowled. 'That's not it.'
'There is something - something else?'
Tobias opened and closed his mouth. 'It'll just sound like an excuse.'
'Speak. I cannot promise I will not hit you again, but speak.'
Despite himself, yet again, Tobias gave a flicker of a smile, but it soured as he let his thoughts wander in the direction he'd not allowed them to take. 'I've felt, a little...' His voice trailed off, and he waved a hand. 'A little like she's been hiding things from me. But I don't know what. And I can't put my finger on it. And so I don't know if I was just crazy, or what, but I... it bothered me.'
'Did you ask her?'
He snorted. 'You don't know Tanith,' he said. 'Asking her directly could have caused explosions. I did my best, I came at her sideways like I always did, like always worked, and got... nothing. Not even a hint, then, that she might have been lying. But then I'd walk away, and the feeling would come back, and...' Tobias sagged. 'Like I said. Sounds like an excuse.'
'What you tried did not work,' said Dimitri slowly. 'And this is what you always did? Before the war?' Tobias nodded. 'That was a long time ago.'
'Not that long.'
'Long enough. People change. Wars change people.' Dimitri pointed at his leg. 'You came back with an injury, a scar. It changed you. She was here all this time. Maybe, perhaps, she has changed too. Has scars, too.'
Tobias frowned, thoughtful but uncertain. 'I barely even know what she went through.'
'There you have it. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe you are wrong, and there is nothing she has been hiding.' Dimitri shrugged. 'But maybe not. And maybe, just as you have been dishonest, so has she.'
Tobias slumped in his chair. 'I hope not. I hope she can be happy. But it's done.' Dimitri lifted the paper again, and Tobias raised his hands. 'Hey! Hey, what's that for?'
'One day you told me that you stood in defiance of your Lord Voldemort because of her, and love of her. One day you told me that she was what you fought for, why you persevered. You stood in front of your Azkaban prison and performed greater magic than I have ever seen in order to break her loose. And now you stand in the real world, with her at your side. And when she has disappointed you, and when you have had hard choices, you have let her slip through your fingers.'
Tobias threw his hands in the air. 'Fine, fine. I screwed up, I -'
'That is not what I would beat you for!' Dimitri tossed the paper down. 'I would smack you because after all of this, you are sitting here and saying it is done? You are Tobias Grey! You defied the government to bring justice to Britain! You defeated Idaeus Robb when he meant to kill you. You tried to rally all of Europe to your cause. We told you, again and again, that it could not be done, or that it was too dangerous, and time and again you ignored us, and you proved us wrong.'
It was impossible to stop the low, rueful chuckle in his throat. 'That was easier,' Tobias said, knowing his feelings were ridiculous even as he expressed them. 'That was just the risk of death.'
Dimitri gave a lopsided smile and shook his head. 'It is not done. You are not done. You look at yourself, and your heart, and if you would still have her, you are not done. Prove to her your feelings, and your honesty. Prove to her that she can be honest with you. And if she cannot bear it, if she cannot be honest, if she cannot forgive, then that is her failing, and you may walk away, head high, knowing you did your utmost.'
Tobias stared at the desk, his brow furrowing as Dimitri's words sank in, and he drew a sharp breath. 'You're right.'
'When there is a brick wall in front of you, my friend, you have two choices: to walk away, or to run at it. If you walk away, then you will be safe, but you will never know what could be beyond it. If you run at it? You may break through. And yes, you may fail, you may smash your face against that wall, you may break yourself upon it.' Dimitri leant forwards. 'But at least you ran.' He jerked a finger at him. 'You taught me that.'
Tobias grinned, his first honest grin in about a week. 'I don't run so much any more -' He threw his hands up protectively as again Dimitri reached for the paper. 'Okay! Okay! You've bullied me into trying to be happy!'
Dimitri laughed, clapping his hand down on the desk. 'Good. Good! See, you look better now. You do not look healthy, but I have seen you almost dead before, and you looked even better then. I know what was different. There was no fight in your eyes when I came in.'
'I wasn't conscious when I was almost dead, so my eyes couldn't be open for you to see fight -'
Dimitri waved a hand dismissively and Tobias laughed again. It had been a while since he could do that without feeling sick.
'Now. Room arrangements. I promise I will not make up any cockroaches...'
'Duck, weave, find cover. Do whatever it takes.'
Harry lunged to one side as Tanith's Stun flew through the air at the spot he'd been a split second earlier. 'We don't have any cover,' he pointed out, gesturing around the broad, empty training room down in the belly of Canary Wharf.
'Huh. True enough. Guess you'll have to move faster.' Tanith whipped around to flick another spell at Katie, who back-wheeled desperately to not be hit.
'Is this your idea of training, Chief, or just an excuse to take pot-shots at us?'
'Most wizards,' said Tanith, standing in the centre of her three trainees, 'will rely upon their wand above all, their magic above all. That'll limit you. What happens if you lose your wand?'
'You run or you lose,' said Ron, barely ducking in time.
'Wrong.' Tanith flicked another spell at Katie, which brushed her shoulder and knocked her over. But still Tanith didn't stop. 'Keep rolling, Bell. You're not dead 'til you're dead.'
The fourth spell flung hit her, and Katie flopped onto her back, breathing hard. 'I'm dead.'
Tanith's lips twisted. 'Half the time a wizard doesn't know what to do if they can't throw a spell back, can't put up a Shield Charm. They might try to run for cover, but how good are they at not being hit?' She lowered her wand and nodded at Katie, who just waved a hand weakly in the air and still didn't get up. 'Think about the effort you save in a fight even if you have your wand. You don't have to throw up any Shield Charms.'
'We did fight a war, you know,' said Ron ruefully.
'I know.' Then Tanith threw a spell at him and he only barely reeled out of the way. 'Then how do you get out of this situation?'
'Find a fallen wand,' said Ron, darting sideways. 'Find a way out -'
She almost, almost didn't hear the footsteps behind her in time. But although Harry had demonstrated he could take her in a wand fight, although Katie had demonstrated Tanith couldn't break through her Shield Charms, although Ron had proven he could take a battering in a fight and keep on going even when she'd assumed he'd been beaten, there was one area where she was undeniably better trained and more experienced than them, and that was mundane hand-to-hand.
She turned as Harry was almost upon her, and almost casually flipped him over her hip. As he tumbled, she used his momentum against him to toss him down onto the mat, wand coming up to the back of his head.
'That,' Tanith said approvingly. 'You do that.'
'Fall on my face?' said Harry once she'd pulled back, and he sat up with a cheerful expression.
'On most wizards that'd work. Unfortunately, I'm not most wizards.' She looked up at Ron. 'Nice distraction.'
He grinned bashfully. 'I'm not quite as dumb as I look.'
'Most wizards, especially Dark Wizards, will rely excessively upon their magic and not consider alternatives. They will not train themselves in alternate forms of combat, and so not only will they not use them against you, they will not be prepared to defend themselves. I have, wandless, beaten an armed wizard twice my size thanks to the element of surprise and training which he was not prepared to cope with.'
'Hand to hand combat is on the Auror training,' Harry said, picking himself back up.
'But not to the degree I will train you. Because that's one thing I can teach which most other Aurors won't, or which you can't learn yourselves, or which you don't already know. Practice, and you can beat wizards who outclass you in magic.' She folded her arms across her chest. 'Therein ends my trite wisdom of the day. You mentioned you had reports?'
'I did,' said Katie, still on the floor. 'Then, you shot at me.' But she sat up, dusting herself off. 'Finally got a full magical analysis of the break-in at Phelps' place.'
'The open window?'
'Harry was right, the lock hadn't been bust with magic - exactly. And it was too tough to force by hand. Further inspection has showed some trace elements of Explosive Elixir, but not enough to suggest it was poured across the window-frame, and that would have blown the window open, not bust the lock.' Katie got to her feet. 'There was also trace amounts of - and you're not going to believe this - something non-magical which seems remarkably like silly putty.'
Harry's brow furrowed. 'What?'
Tanith paused - then she looked at Ron. 'You know what this is.'
He stared at her, completely nonplussed. 'I do?'
'Sure. Putty. Explosive Elixir...'
A look of dawning comprehension crossed his face. 'Boom-Doh?'
'Finest release from your brother's shop this side of the war.' Tanith nodded grimly. 'We have a toy enthusiast on our hands.'
'We're saying our vigilante lined the window-frame with Boom-Doh and then set it off to bust the lock?' Katie scratched her nose. 'That would bypass any anti-magical charms on the lock, be quieter than any sort of explosive fluid, and be more forceful than your average person's brute force. Pretty ingenious.'
'There are times I wish George just made toys,' Ron groaned.
'I never wish that,' said Tanith with a frown. 'Those things have saved too many lives.' She pointed at them. 'Clean up. Then we're going to have to ask George Weasley for a full list of sales of Boom-Doh over the past... let's make it a month, and we can work backwards. I want us to know every person who bought this stuff. We run those names past the profiles and suspects we've got so far, and if we have to, we go through every single person.'
'It's getting late,' said Ron, looking up to the windows, 'but I can drop by on my way home, talk to George at the shop.'
'I'll go; I still live across the way from the shop,' said Tanith. 'I'll have him hand any sales records over to you tomorrow; I want the full list of names of purchasers, with obvious innocents crossed off, by the time I come back.'
Katie pursed her lips, but Harry frowned. 'Back from where? What's tomorrow?'
Tanith grimaced. 'Tomorrow,' she said, 'I'm in court.'
For once he made it home after Jen; the entire point of working for his father was that, along with the prestige and wealth, it wouldn't occupy all of his time. But he'd let her know he'd stay in the office, let her know he'd be late, and wasn't too surprised to find the flat dark, with indications the girls had shared a bottle of wine before retiring.
Gabriel tried to be as quiet as possible when sneaking into the bedroom, changing in the dark and slipping into bed with the minimal amount of fuss, but still the warm shape beside him rolled over.
'Sorry,' he whispered, his voice deafening in the dark. 'I didn't mean to wake you.'
'I wasn't asleep,' Jen murmured, and it sounded like she was telling the truth. 'I never sleep well without you.'
'That makes it pretty thoughtless of me to have gone to Tibet for two weeks.'
She slid up beside him, resting her head on his shoulder. 'Funnily enough, I got a lot of late nights in the office that fortnight. What happened?'
'Just a meeting,' he said, and frowned at the ceiling. It was the truth, and yet, a lie. 'Some of my father's old colleagues in the Ministry who'd run a mile from him when he was let off. He wanted me there to make it clear that his poster-boy-for-progression son wasn't a lie.'
'Even if he is.'
'I...' He couldn't bring himself to argue the point. 'I was thirteen when my mother died.'
He didn't even know why he said it, why he blurted it out; he knew he'd meant to say it, at some point, to tell her, but why it came out then was a mystery to him. But she didn't seem surprised, just nestled in closer.
'It was in the summer. I was home from Hogwarts. She'd been ill for a while...' Gabriel worked his jaw wordlessly for a few long moments. 'I didn't tell anyone. I wasn't in the habit of talking about my family, they didn't know anything anyway. I didn't want to be pitied, I didn't want them to think that knowing that gave them some insight into my life or some right to enquire further. So I didn't tell them.'
'You were thirteen,' she repeated quietly, thoughtfully. 'And you already wanted to keep people at bay that badly?'
'I didn't want them to know.' His throat tightened. 'Hogwarts was - at Hogwarts I could be whatever I made myself. Nobody needed to know about my family, about my father. Even my brother was older enough that we could keep our distance, and he'd left Hogwarts by the time she died. My professors knew, but making sure I was okay? That was Snape's job. You can imagine I got caring and compassionate support.'
She tensed at his side at last. 'I'm sorry.'
Gabriel shook his head. 'It was a long time ago. And I wanted it that way. At Hogwarts, I could be anything. If my family was suddenly someone else's business, they'd know...' He hesitated, the words choking him for half a moment, before he pushed through. 'Know what a failure I was, know I wasn't good enough, know every single truth my father drummed into me over the years.'
'And they never asked?'
'Tobias was a half-blood Slytherin, Cal had Death Eater parents, and Tanith was discovering she disagreed with everything she thought her family stood for. We all had our reasons to not talk about our families. They never pushed.' Gabriel closed his eyes. 'And I never volunteered.'
'So you became Doyle.' She said the name with the same inflection she'd used when they'd first met, properly met, during the war, and he felt her fingertips brushing his hair back from his forehead. 'Superior, detached, confident Slytherin.'
'Nobody asked him questions. Nobody expected answers. Nobody needed to know.' Gabriel nodded weakly. 'It took time before I realised that perhaps my father wasn't right, that perhaps I wasn't a waste. It took listening to Cal and Tanith talk about how their fathers and families didn't define them. Learning how parents could be wrong.' He took a deep, shaking breath. 'And that maybe I could contribute something other than a snarky comment or failure. Maybe I could do something else. Even if I wasn't a very good friend, I was a friend. That became... worth something, and the terrible irony was that although I drew strength from it, I couldn't ever embrace it, because I still didn't want them to know. That was a step too far, still.'
She had shifted up in bed to wrap her arms around him, and now it wasn't him holding her but the other way around.
'I never understood - I still don't - why my father hated me. My brother was quiet and dutiful and did everything he was told and he was fine, but for me, it was different. Nothing I did was right, nothing I did was good enough, and nothing I did could ever prove I was anything but a worthless failure.'
Jen kissed him on the temple. 'Some men are so weak, so petty, that they draw strength from putting other people down, from controlling them. Even their own sons, especially if they see a potential in them they themselves don't possess.'
'It got better when my mother died,' Gabriel murmured. 'Not because she contributed in any way - she didn't do anything, she didn't stop him, and I can only wonder, if he was like that to me, what kind of hell did he make for her? But I guess he did care, because when she died he became more isolated, more distant, easier to dodge.
'And it got better, despite it all, when I found my gift.' He couldn't help but sneer a little, because being a Seer had been a burden, and then it had just become a part of him, like a limb, but he had never wanted it. 'It got better when Tanith found out and that was like... something, like a secret part of me that someone knew. And that was an okay secret, because I could control it, but it was still someone knowing me. And... and not judging me.
'And it got better because it was something I could do to have an impact on the world, or at least the people I cared about. I used it. I saved Tobias' life with it, in the one vision I ever changed. And he doesn't know, the only other person who even knows that is Tanith, but he doesn't need to know. I know.' He was speaking faster now, past the worst of it, words tumbling out of his mouth as he stumbled to his conclusion.
'It gave me purpose and it gave me achievements and it proved, to me, even more, that my father was wrong. But even when I came back from Brazil it was just because I had that vision of Canary Wharf, just because I knew I was supposed to, and because I knew it would help Tobias and Cal. Whenever I said I didn't come back to fight the war, I didn't come back to fight the good fight, I was telling the truth.
'And then there was you.' He opened his eyes to find hers, gaze clear and strong. 'And I could fight a little for you, but you kind of didn't need me to do that. So I could fight with you, and... and it seemed cheap to fight for you, with you, and not care about the things you were ready to give your life for.' He gave a weak, one-shouldered shrug. 'I mean, I cared, but I wasn't quite about to die for them if I could help it. So that gave me more purpose.
'Then you fell in love with me. And I reckoned if someone as... brilliant, as passionate, as brave, as astonishing as you, could believe in me, then my father's opinions could burn in hell.'
He took a deep, shaking breath, using the silence to gather his words, and she kept silent, letting him, knowing him well enough to know that he wasn't done. 'I've never told anyone even half of that before,' Gabriel murmured. 'I never wanted to. But I'm... I'm sick and I'm tired of having these walls around the people I care about. I don't know if I'm ready to stand up and explain everything to everyone, but I'm tired of keeping everyone away.' He managed a smile, managed to meet her gaze to show her it. 'You did that. Burrowed your way in by having faith in me when you didn't have to, by being there when I had nobody, by bringing down all of these walls and now I don't... I don't think I need them any more.'
For long, long moments, she said nothing in return, just stroked his hair and held him close. And when she did speak he could hear the tremor in her voice, and hated the idea that his words had caused her even the slightest anguish, even if it was for the best. 'Thank you,' she murmured, 'for telling me.'
He said nothing, knowing he didn't have to, and after a few seconds her breathing slowed and her own composure came back. 'However you want to do this - this thing with Daedalus Cole. Whatever you need. I'm with you. But...' She faltered for only half a heartbeat, and it was only by knowing her that he heard the hesitation. 'I think you should do it without your father. I think we can find another way. And I think you made the right decision when you started cutting him out of your life.'
Gabriel hesitated, then she was pushing him onto his back gently and was above him, her hair tickling his face even as her lips found his. When she pulled back her voice was low, urgent. 'And your father's opinions can burn in hell. Because I stand by what I said. You are a good man. You are a brave man. You are a loyal man. And I love you.'
He kissed her and this time, for the first time, he actually believed her. On all counts.