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Chapter 20: Risk Life and Limb
‘Someone to see you, Mister Doyle.’
Gabriel frowned at the knock on the door from his father’s secretary, who had by default become his secretary for the short time he’d been working at the now-inaccurately named Doyle & Son partnership. He had fortuitously not seen his father since he’d written to him to say he’d changed his mind, that their working together was a bad idea, but this was supposed to be his last day. He was supposed to be packing up.
‘If it’s a client you’d best ask them to wait until my father’s -’
‘It’s not a client,’ she said snippily. ‘They’re from the Auror Office.’
Gabriel frowned as the secretary left without letting him reply, and pushed his box of personal affairs to one side of the desk, going to sit down. It wouldn’t do to not look professional, calm, and in control when members of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement came to call. Whatever it was about.
He let out a sigh of relief when it was just Tanith and Katie who were shown in, and gave a grimace of a smile. ‘For a second there I thought I was really in trouble.’
Tanith, to his utmost surprise, smirked. ‘Who’s to say you’re not?’
‘Okay, then I mean I thought it was real business. Take a seat.’
They did so, though Katie didn’t look best pleased. ‘This is real business, I’m afraid, Doyle.’
‘Potter’s bright idea, I assure you. Not mine.’
Gabriel side-eyed Tanith. ‘You’re sounding so pleased.’
She gave an unusually airy shrug. ‘I think he’s being a bit pernickety, but I’ll live. He’s a kid, he’s inexperienced, I’ll indulge him.’
He leant forwards. ‘Okay. Who are you, and what have you done with Tanith Cole? You’re smiling, you’re being forgiving and understanding of someone I would expect to get right up your nose, even after -’
Gabriel stopped himself, though his unspoken words hung in the air between them anyway. Even after yesterday.
Then, to confuse him even more, Katie smirked. ‘She’s just all loved up.’
Tanith flushed. ‘Shut it, Bell.’
‘Oops, my bad. Not allowed to let on that the Chief is capable of squishy human emotions.’
‘You’ll just be squishy human if you -’
‘Do I need to be here for this?’ Gabriel still couldn’t help but smirk.
‘Just look at this rock, Doyle!’ Katie exclaimed, grabbing Tanith’s left wrist and yanking it up. ‘You could take an eye out with this thing.’
‘Let me go, Bell, or you’ll find out for sure...’ Tanith gave a melodramatic, long-suffering sigh, and rolled her eyes at Gabriel. ‘Toby and I got back together. We’re engaged. Does this need to be declared from the rooftops?’
But Tanith should have remembered that, of all of her friends, the one who’d best understand how she didn’t want to make a fuss was going to be Gabriel Doyle. His smile didn’t waver, but he just gave a shrug. ‘Saw that one coming.’
Something flashed in her eyes. ‘You saw -’
He laughed, lifting his hands. ‘Seer’s privilege.’ It was an utter lie.
Katie coughed. ‘We do, uh, actually have business here, mind...’
‘Oh. Yeah.’ Tanith rolled her eyes. ‘It’s just a formality, Gabe. I said we’d deal with this so you didn’t have to put up with Potter being earnest at you. But we...’ Astonishingly, she looked apprehensive and guilty as she hesitated. ‘We need to know Riley’s whereabouts last night.’
Gabriel’s brow furrowed. ‘She was at the flat,’ he said, suddenly guarded.
Tanith’s eyes met his, and he could almost feel them boring into him, reading his every flicker and move, and he concentrated as best he could on bringing back that old mask of control. The old mask of Gabriel Doyle, which nobody saw through.
Except for two women, one of which was sat right in front of him.
‘All night?’ she asked guardedly.
He fought back a wince. ‘She got home at... I don’t know. A bit later than usual, but not weirdly so. Half nine? From the office. We... talked. She’d had a hard day, you know this. And she went for a bit of a walk, but she wasn’t gone long.’
Tanith’s eyes were on him, and she reached into her coat to pull out a notebook. ‘How long?’
Gabriel knew, then, that he wasn’t just imagining the game of cat and mouse. He gave a casual, one-shouldered shrug. ‘Hell, I don’t know.’ Years. Eons.
Anyone who knew Tanith less well wouldn’t have spotted the hesitation. ‘How does half an hour sound? Back around ten?’
Not like the lifetime it felt. He tried to not grimace again, because it felt short, far too short a time for all the while he’d spent locked in the gloom, but he could read the inference in Tanith’s words. She wouldn’t have given him this time out of nowhere; it had to be what Jen had given them, and so that had to be the truth, even if checking the time had been the last thing on his mind last night.
‘I guess so,’ he said, forcing a casual note into his voice. ‘What’s this about?’
Tanith looked at him for a few long seconds, and he couldn’t tell if she believed him or was just choosing to do so. ‘We’re just trying to close off some avenues. You’ve helped us do so.’ Then an expression of sympathy crossed her face. ‘Is everything okay between you two?’
‘It is now.’
Then Katie swore, suddenly and loudly, and they both jumped as they looked at her. She subsided with an apologetic air. ‘Sorry. I - shit, Doyle, you saw -’
It had taken her longer to put two-and-two together than he’d expected. The Lions had known he’d seen the deaths of Nick and Cormac, but only now had it come out just what that death had been. He tensed. ‘I did.’
‘And you didn’t tell her -’
‘It’s done, Bell, she and I have dealt with it. Are dealing with it,’ Gabriel said through gritted teeth, and he saw Katie subside with an anxious, apologetic air.
Tanith had gone a bit pale, but when Gabriel met her gaze she drew a deep, stiff breath. ‘You knew.’
He nodded awkwardly. ‘I knew.’
She nodded Katie. ‘We can go. Her alibi checks out.’
Katie looked tense, but didn’t argue, and gave Gabriel a sympathetic glance. ‘Glad you two are okay,’ she said. ‘Don’t know if I’ll be home for dinner. I can always make sure I’m late...’
He found himself smiling at the offer. ‘Thanks. But don’t stay away on our account. We really are fine.’
‘Then I’ll try to repeat my specialist performance of the third wheel. I think I’ve got it down super.’
‘Do you three find that awkward?’
Gabriel and Katie looked at Tanith with some bewilderment, and she looked a bit surprised herself at having asked the question. She pushed back of a lock of hair self-consciously. ‘Just Tobias and I are talking about living together. And we’re not sure where. And it came up that maybe he’d just move in with me and Cal doesn’t have to go anywhere. I don’t know, it seems weird, being a couple with someone else there.’
‘Thank you,’ said Gabriel dryly.
‘I don’t mean that. I just mean it’s not what people tell you is going to happen, is it? You become a couple and you get your own place and then that’s it.’
Katie shrugged. ‘For us it’s a bit about the money. But - and assuming Gabe and Jen aren’t just bitching behind my back all the time about how much they hate having me around - I don’t know, it’s fun. Jen and I have been friends for years...’
‘I like having you around,’ said Gabriel abruptly.
Tanith gave a wry chuckle. ‘Remember this moment, Bell; he doesn’t make overt statements like that much.’
‘I can see why you two are good friends, then.’
Gabriel smiled apologetically at Katie. ‘I could talk some crap about liking Jen having a friend around, or liking there being someone in the flat when we’re all working long hours. But it’s not really that complicated. I have grown accustomed to your presence.’
‘Careful, it’s undying declarations of love next,’ said Tanith, getting to her feet. ‘But we’ve taken up enough of your time wittering on about my personal issues when we’re all supposed to be working.’
Katie stood, but at the mention of work her expression had shifted into a more studied one, and Gabriel wondered how much of the unspoken communication that had run between him and Tanith she’d picked up on.
Tanith had to be wondering it as well, because she waited until Katie had turned her back to get the office door to look at Gabriel. Their eyes met for only a split second, but Tanith’s gaze was serious, and he knew her looks, the subtleties of this woman who rarely expressed her feelings overtly, well enough that she might as well have been shouting her thoughts from the rooftop.
He just gave her a small nod, and wondered if a secret was being kept in exchange for a secret.
Because he had definitely just lied to them about Jen’s alibi for the previous evening.
Then they were gone, and Gabriel got back to packing up his affairs. His father had reopened his law firm in a rather comfortable part of Diagon Alley, not far from Gringotts, in the financial district which would no doubt attract a certain clientele. That clientele had mostly only come in once the ‘& Son’ had been added to the sign, either genuinely reassured by the presence of a man with a good war record in the company, or knowing it looked better to go to such a company.
He wondered how many would leave with him. How many would take the further separation of father and son as a condemnation of the father and his dark record, and how many would think that, if Gabriel Doyle didn’t want to associate with Abidan Doyle, maybe they shouldn’t either.
He couldn’t find it in himself to feel guilty about this.
So Gabriel was done in the next hour, the box of what little affairs he’d brought into the office sealed up to be transported home by the secretary, and didn’t let himself linger once he was done. He’d come here for a purpose, and not only did that purpose no longer exist, but Jen had been right - it had been a bad idea to begin with.
It was in the stairway down to the street that he ran into Cal, and though his friend looked a bit tense he was clearly delighted to see him. ‘Hey! You’re late for lunch, I was just going to stop by...’
‘If you’ve got a legal question,’ said Gabriel wryly, ‘then you might want to make an appointment with someone else. Otherwise, I’m going to be free for lunch for the foreseeable future.’
Cal squinted up the stairs towards the office. ‘Short employment.’
‘It was a bad idea.’
Still Cal was frowning, and Gabriel patted him on the shoulder - and steered him back down the stairs. It had been hard enough to get into all of this with Jen. He wasn’t sure he was ready to get into it all again, not even with Cal. ‘So did you want a late lunch?’
Cal grinned, a bit wanly but not insincerely. ‘Always. I bet I can get us a table at the Golden Fork even without a reservation...’
So that was where they were within half an hour, and so hungry were they that even when they’d made their orders Cal instructed them to keep the pre-starters coming.
And the pinot grigio.
‘You know I only drink wine when in the company of women and you,’ Gabriel told him with a wry smile once he was halfway through a glass.
‘Difference is, the women make you pay. I take you to a swanky restaurant and pay for you to drink in the afternoon.’ Cal made a face. ‘I do this a bit too often. That’s kind of depressing.’
‘Have another drink. That’ll make it better.’ Gabriel swirled the wine around in his glass cautiously. ‘So what’s up?’
Cal looked briefly indignant. ‘Can’t I just be -’
‘Fine.’ Cal sagged. ‘I wanted some advice.’
‘And Tobias is, what, dead?’
His expression twitched. ‘I already asked him. I need more.’
Cal scrubbed his face with his hands. ‘It’s about Thanatos. And, well, about me. I need someone who can give me advice about... me. And Tanith and Tobias both have way too many issues caught up with him to be able to look at things... without bias. I mean, their bias is completely okay and normal and it’s useful to hear these things from people Thanatos hurt, but... I mean, did you ever even meet him?’
Gabriel shook his head. ‘Not until we broke into Canary Wharf. I don’t know if “fought” counts as “met”.’
‘Right. Yeah.’ Cal sagged. ‘I’m just stuck with what the right thing to do is. He’s in prison, forever, pretty much. And it would be so easy to just let him be locked up and throw away the key and forget about him...’
‘Wasn’t that pretty much what you wanted to do before?’ Gabriel cocked his head. ‘You could have visited him last time he was in Azkaban. Why didn’t you?’
Cal hesitated. ‘Will, I guess. We never really talked about my parents. My mother’s dead, my father was in Azkaban, he raised me. That was all there was to it. But now it’s different. Everything’s changed. And he’s still my father.’
Gabriel was no stranger to these conversations with Cal. He remembered, all too well, sitting by the lake with his friend at school and assuring him that blood wasn’t the be-all and end-all, only to have his own argument used against him in the context of magical inheritance.
He’d taken that one on the chin. But that had been almost three years ago now. A lot had changed.
He rolled his shoulders awkwardly. ‘I don’t know what you expect me to tell you the other guys can’t.’
‘I don’t know,’ Cal admitted, not seeming to see his awkwardness. ‘But you’ve not... you’ve never judged me over this. And -’
‘Did Tanith and Tobias judge you?’ Gabriel said sceptically.
‘I - no. But it’s... difficult. He’s my father. It’s important, still, on some level. However much I might try to deny that -’
‘Cal, what the hell are you doing?’
Cal blinked as he heard the snap in his friend’s voice, and straightened slowly. His expression fell. ‘Asking you for -’
‘Are you just going to keep on asking people for advice until one of them tells you what you want to hear?’ Gabriel challenged tensely. ‘Because if so, you can skip me from the process, because I am not going to tell you what you should or shouldn’t do about Thanatos Brynmor. I’m not going to tell you that your relationship is important or irrelevant because it’s your relationship, and -’
He stopped himself and took a deep swig of the wine, a bigger gulp than a good vintage like that deserved, really, but it felt heavy and acidic in his belly.
I’m the last person to give advice about paternal conflicts.
Cal winced. ‘I’m... sorry?’ He cocked his head, clearly confused. ‘Are you okay?’
‘I quit my job and you’ve not even stopped to ask why,’ Gabriel said, unusually bitterly, and Cal flinched this time.
‘...I figured you’d tell me if you wanted me to know.’ Gabriel had to pause at this, knowing Cal was right that this, at least, was how he normally behaved. And before he could reply, Cal took a careful breath and asked, ‘why did you quit?’
Before he could stop himself, Gabriel had the gall to say, ‘I don’t want to talk about it.’
Cal threw his napkin down on the table in frustration. ‘For fuck’s sake, Gabe -’
‘Look, you want to know what I think? What I really think?’ Gabriel cut him off, knowing he was being unreasonable and trying to claw back a modicum of helpfulness. It would do better than an apology, and he knew he wasn’t very good at those. ‘You just need to decide what you’re going to do, and stick to your guns on it, and to hell with what anyone thinks. I think you do want to have something to do with Thanatos because otherwise this would be an easy choice. So you have two options: suck it up, and do it. Or, if you have doubts, by all means keep trawling people for advice - but actually go to someone whose advice you’ll fucking follow, because I am not someone to be polled for my opinion on how fathers can be dickheads.’
‘Shit, Gabe, I just wanted your help.’
‘No, you wanted me to validate you,’ Gabriel said grouchily. ‘And I’m not your girlfriend, so I’m not here to tell you everything that comes out of your mouth is perfection.’
‘Never had a girlfriend who did that,’ Cal said gloomily, and Gabriel could tell he was trying to add a touch of levity to their conflict. ‘Nat just knocked sense into me, and unlike Tanith, she did it by being right.’
‘Then maybe she’s someone whose advice you’ll actually follow.’
A silence fell upon them both, and Cal reached out to refill their glasses, a silent, obvious peace offering. They both sipped their wine in gloomy reflection, before Cal sighed deeply. ‘...see? You did have something helpful to say, after all.’
Gabriel pushed some hair out of his face, guilt gnawing at him. ‘Oh, shit, Cal, I’m sorry,’ he said awkwardly, sincerely. ‘Can we just have some lunch and you can tell me about the game?’
Cal did perk up a bit at that, and Gabriel couldn’t help but grin too, because Cal’s smiles were endlessly infectious.
And Quidditch was a lot easier to talk about than dickhead fathers.
Katie put her hand on Tanith’s elbow as they appeared in the Apparition Chamber back at Canary Wharf. ‘Do you actually believe Doyle?’
Tanith’s expression twisted, and she grabbed Katie’s wrist to drag her out of the Chamber, away from the prying eyes of the transport supervisors, and into the empty corridor. ‘First, don’t do that,’ she hissed, and then waited for the door to swing shut behind her, Katie’s eyes wide and confused. ‘Second, don’t ask me those sorts of questions in front of other officers.’
‘I don’t think I’m undermining you, if that’s -’
‘You never know who’s listening.’
Katie cocked her head and yanked her hand from Tanith’s grasp. ‘Wow. You really are paranoid. I know there have been leaks but it’s been nothing more than some low-level administrator desperate for a little bit of press -’
‘You don’t know that, and there are worse kinds of eavesdroppers than just the ones who’ll run to the press.’
‘The war’s over, Chief. You can breathe, you know?’
‘Perhaps.’ Tanith straightened. ‘But also don’t ask me those sorts of questions when who knows who’ll choose to mention something to Potter and Weasley. Especially not when we’re considering what we will and won’t be telling them about the interview.’
Katie made a face. ‘Okay. Point taken.’ She took a deep breath. ‘But. Do you?’
‘We both know that there’s no way this is Riley. Even if she had somehow snapped and wanted to tear me to pieces - and I’m pretty sure she’d do that in public and manage to get a standing ovation for her efforts - there is no way she went after Mulready, Phelps.’ Tanith swallowed. ‘Or Jacob.’
‘Of course not. I guess Harry was being thorough, but...’
‘But it wasn’t her. So anything which crosses her off the suspect list faster, like a good alibi, is fine by my book. It stops us, and Harry, from wasting our time.’
‘That still doesn’t answer my question. You gave him the alibi; I thought that was so you could read his reaction...’
‘Why do you want to know? What does it matter?’
Katie hesitated. ‘Because he’s a good liar. Because I never suspected he knew it was you who killed Nick and Cormac - and I’m not standing in judgement of you there. But he lied, to Jen, for months. Even just a lie of omission.’
‘That has nothing to do with the case.’
‘Neither does you believing him blindly now out of gratitude for him keeping your secret, even from his girlfriend.’
Their gazes met, and Tanith squared her shoulders. ‘All of this is moot,’ she said quietly, ‘because Jen Riley isn’t a serial murderer, and questioning Gabe’s alibi would prove nothing more than a waste of everyone’s time. Jen gave Harry the times. Gabe confirmed them. She was back before I was attacked. It’s done.’
Katie hesitated. ‘You’re still not answering the question.’
‘I don’t know.’ Tanith grimaced. ‘He’s hard to read. You know that. So I’m definitely not wasting my time on a possible lie about an alibi for someone who’s definitely innocent.’
Katie watched her for a long moment, then drew a deep breath and nodded. ‘You’re right. There’s no need to mention the doubts to Harry and Ron.’ She straightened her uniform coat. ‘Ever thought you’d lie to The Boy Who Lived to protect Jennifer Riley?’
‘Never thought I’d work with you, Bell. Life changes.’
‘And to think you had a happy face on this morning.’
‘This is my happy face.’
‘It looks an awful lot like your regular face.’
‘It is, it just means it’s not bruised from headbutting Harry for being overly keen.’
‘Oh, relax, Chief, you know he’s good at his job.’
‘He is, which just adds to his infuriating-ness.’
‘I don’t think infuriating-ness is a word.’
‘And now you can see my not-caring face.’
‘Also an awful lot like your regular face.’
The two of them wandered into the bullpen and towards the sectioned-off corner where the team was set up. By now they’d covered the wall with various maps pertaining to the several break-ins they’d been dealing with, and in the time she’d been gone the little markers on there had begun to grow.
Ron and Harry were sat at the desks, a pile of untouched folders next to them, mugs of steaming tea in hand. Harry looked apprehensive. ‘How’d it go?’
‘Checked out, just like I told you it would. Riley’s clean.’ Tanith watched him as she spoke.
Harry visibly relaxed. ‘Good. Even if that does leave us down a suspect.’
‘Bringing our list to what, zero?’ Katie wondered.
‘For now.’ Tanith gestured to the folders on the desk. ‘These are the files from George Weasley’s store, at last, of everyone who bought Boom-Doh in the last month. We get to go through these files and start crossing the impossible off the list and drawing up some likelies.’
‘I am thrilled,’ said Katie blandly, ‘thrilled to be a part of this process of Auror investigations.’
‘And we’re out of milk,’ Ron offered, tilting his teacup to her.
‘I now understand our murderer’s motivations,’ she deadpanned.
‘We do the boring leg-work right, we eventually make it to the exciting chase sequence where we risk life and limb for little pay and less acclaim.’ Tanith sat down and sorted the folders into four approximate heaps, helping herself to one. ‘So now we buckle down, whine less, and get some work done.’
It was, indeed, destined to be long and dull, and consisted mostly of making a list of people they expected would quickly be found to not be remotely feasible as suspects - but they would need checking out anyway. So they were so eager for a distraction that when there was a fluttering from above, they all looked up to see a paper airplane swooping in.
Harry reached out to catch it, then turned it over with a frown. ‘This isn’t internal...’
Tanith’s breath caught, and she snatched it out of his hand. ‘I know this.’
Her father had devised all sorts of methods of rapid communication in and about the Ministry and with his agents. Altair had explained them to her once before, and she’d seen his various ministerial tricks, the messages by owl or by Floo which would, upon being legitimately passed through the Ministry post, deliver themselves through the building.
And indeed, the crest on the paper was the Cole family crest. Heart pounding in her chest, Tanith unfolded the letter.
And stood as he heart moved from chest to throat. ‘I’ve got to get home.’