Chapter 3 : November 7th, 1992 - Third Year
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“Just once. And just because it’s Potter. We’ll take out Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw damn easily,” Flint said, shrugging in what would have been an exaggerated manner were it not for his already massive size. “We have better brooms than them.”
“And a worse damn team!” Cal snapped. “The Snitch was right in front of Malfoy’s face, and he still failed to grab it! You think Diggory will perform any worse than Potter if Malfoy flies like that? Or Chang?”
“Are you the captain of this team, Brynmor?” Flint asked, folding his arms across his chest. “Because I think that I can make the right decisions to get us through the cup. We won last year, didn’t we?”
“That was only because Potter was out of action and so Ravenclaw clobbered Gryffindor! If Potter had been in action, then Gryffindor would have flown the same as they had in the previous two games and won supremely, and you know it!” Cal declared, beginning to pace and throwing a rueful glance in the direction of his captive audience, the entirety of Slytherin in general and Gabriel, Tanith and Tobias in particular.
“But we still won the cup.”
“And back then, we had Terence Higgs, who caught the Snitch two out of three times.”
“So? Potter’s good. Malfoy didn’t out-fly him, there’s not much shame in that,” Pucey said quietly, stepping around the captain. “He can catch the Snitch against Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff, I’m absolutely sure. And we have the new brooms.”
“You two are beginning to sound like botched recording charms,” Cal mumbled bitterly, whirling around to face them. “Good brooms don’t make a good team, and you two both know that. Or you should do, and you especially, Flint, or you’re no damn Quidditch captain at all. You, Pucey and Montague were beaten today by a trio of Gryffindor girls on Cleansweeps. You only scored because you were faster, whereas every single damn pass of theirs was better executed than yours were. We were beaten by a better team, and good brooms aren’t going to save us like some team reform will.”
“You going for the captain job, Brynmor?” Flint repeated his earlier challenge. “Because you sure are beginning to sound like it.”
“I’m trying to get a suggestion through your thick skulls.” Cal knew that he was crossing the line, and had already kicked it several times during the course of this argument. He didn’t care. He didn’t want to be a part of Slytherin team if they flew and operated like they did and refused to change. “We have a Seeker who bought his way on to the team, and everyone here is alright with this? He screwed up phenomenally today, and everyone in the House is happy with it?” He raised his voice, waving a hand at all of the Slytherins present.
The pause that greeted this was tentative, and Cal could actually feel everyone agreeing with him yet not saying anything. Even Tanith and Tobias, usually not caring to keep their heads down, exchanged glances and then fell quiet.
“Perhaps you’re just jealous that you were unable to make a contribution to the team as I was, Brynmor?” Draco Malfoy looked up lazily from the armchair he was sprawled on, raising an elegant eyebrow arrogantly, and wearing a smug expression that made Cal want to punch him.
“Malfoy, Potter was being chased by an enchanted Bludger out to kill him. He broke his arm. He fell on the floor and had the bones in his arm removed.” Cal resented those who tittered at this – he wouldn’t laugh at another Quidditch player’s injuries on the field, even a Gryffindor’s. “And yet, suffering all of this, he still out-flew you and caught the Snitch before you did.” He threw as much venom as he had into his voice.
Malfoy stood, his expression darkening. “I didn’t see you winning the game single-handedly, Brynmor.”
“No, I’m not supposed to. I’m meant to harass the damn Chasers and stop them from scoring or defending adequately. I did that. We were well ahead in the scoring, and Falco and I did perfectly well.” Cal jerked his head towards his seventh-year partner-in-Beating, who was slouched in the corner drowning his sorrows in Butterbeer, and could do nothing more than lazily raise his bottle to Cal in a faintly supportive manner.
“But you, Malfoy, failed to get the Snitch. You failed to even challenge Potter. Potter, with a broken arm, out-flew you. I didn’t even see you fly in any try-outs. This is the same team as last year, the team which – like has been said – won the Quidditch cup. I don’t see us beating Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw anymore than we failed to beat Gryffindor today. And what’s changed in the team? We lost Higgs. We gained you.” Cal glowered at the second-year. “Every single member of this team has fought for their place through the try-outs and through performing their very best in every single match. You have no try-out, and you have underperformed in a match.” He looked over at Flint bitterly. “Yet the bastard remains.”
“I like my Nimbus Two Thousand and One,” Flint replied.
“At least you’re honest in being bought.” Cal shook his head, scowling, and straightened up. “I demand that you run another try-out for a Seeker, Flint. Malfoy’s free to go along with it, but so are people like Finchley and Hawke. And we decide it on talent, not on buying the team broomsticks.” Cal looked over at Malfoy. “If you truly wish to see the Quidditch team perform well, and if your donation is truly out of the bottom of your heart, you’ll let us keep those broomsticks if you’re on the team or not. Though I won’t blame you for taking them away if you’re not on the team.”
Flint shook his head. “This is ridiculous, Brynmor. You’re not the captain, I am, by Professor Snape’s decree. You don’t make the decisions on who’s in the team or not, or when we hold try-outs. I do. And I’m keeping Malfoy.”
Cal glowered at him. “Then I shall laugh when Gryffindor carry off the trophy this year. Or even Hufflepuff, perhaps; Diggory’s reformed the team splendidly.” He glanced over at Falco, who had stood and staggered over to him. The sixth-year Beater had been the one who’d trained him to bring him onto the Quidditch team in the first place, and they were widely renown as one of the best pairs of Beaters Slytherin had seen in years.
“I’m sorry, Matthias,” Cal continued darkly, then turned to Flint. “If you’re going to keep Malfoy, even with his pathetic level of skill and the fact that he bought his way on to the team, and not even hold a damn try-out for the spot, then I can safely say you’re a pathetic captain caring more about his own ego and connections than the team. I quit.”
Flint’s expression darkened. “Quit? You can’t quit!” For the first time, a slight note of fear had crept into his voice. Marcus Flint was unused to people speaking out like Cal had, but when they did, they usually backed down once they saw things were changing. Cal striking out like this was distinctive.
Flint turned to his one remaining Beater. “Falco! Make him see sense.”
Matthias Falco hadn’t drunk that much Butterbeer, though. “No. He’s right. If you’re doing this, Flint, you’re not half the captain MacNair was. I quit, too.” He shrugged. “I have NEWTs, anyway. And I’ve already got that summer youth team spot with Puddlemere United as it is. I don’t need to waste my time with this pissant little Quidditch bollocks.” He slapped Cal on the back heavily. “Make Bole and Derrick do it. We’re out of here.”
Silence settled down on the common room, stiff and uncertain as the two former Beaters moved off to take seats, Falco off with his friend Jacob Van Roden, Cal towards Tanith, Gabriel and Tobias. It was a few moments before a stiff hubbub returned as Flint and Malfoy dissipated also, and it was only then, when there was a comfortable hum and they were no longer being stared at that the three dared to comment.
“Are you sure about this?” Tanith asked quickly, leaning over the small table they were gathered around and fixing Cal with a rare yet perfectly genuine look of concern. “I mean… it’s stupid, I know, but to quit?”
“Or what? Sit and play all I can and still watch them lose?” Cal shook his head. “Flint cares more about staying in Lucius Malfoy’s good books than doing anything good for the Slytherin Quidditch team, and I’m having no part in it whatsoever. I have too much self-respect for that.”
“You can’t stay on the team and play well enough to make a difference?” Tobias asked quietly.
“Not really. Not as a Beater. I’m a purely supporting position. It’s important, granted, but I can’t turn the tide of a game if I’m already dealing with a poor Seeker and thick Chasers. I can’t knock out the opposing side permanently. Maybe Falco could have done, but I can’t.” Cal’s expression darkened, and he looked down at his hands. Tobias’ essay notes were still spread liberally across the table, now untouched. Quidditch had for once made him look up from work.
“If you’re alright with it, mate, then it’s the right decision.” Gabriel slapped him lightly on the shoulder. “Gobstones?”
Tanith watched the two of them head off back to the dorm, doubtless to engage in a game which would take their minds away from the recent hiccups. She sighed, glancing over at Tobias, whose head had bent over the essay notes once more, apparently already forgetting what drama had just taken place.
“Doyle really does know how to raise his spirits at the right time, doesn’t he,” she mused quietly.
Tanith sighed, giving Tobias a glare, her hand reaching down to yank his latest essay note away from him. The nib of the quill drew a long, sharp line down the parchment, and although the look she received from him as a result was resentful rather than irritated it was better than absent-minded ignorance.
“Are you even listening to me?”
“Yes, but I do have to finish this Arithmancy essay or Vector will have me shot,” Tobias said genuinely. “Cal won’t shoot me for joining in Gobstones. Besides, I think I’m beginning to hate that game somewhat. It’s a little vile.”
“You used to play it all the time.”
“That was back in the first year. Give me a little credit for growing up somewhat over two years.” Tobias looked up, giving her a wry glance. “Can I have my essay notes back, then? Please?”
Tanith let them go reluctantly. “We’ve got Hogsmeade next weekend, don’t we.”
“We do?” Tobias had grabbed his notes again and was scribbling away on them. Tanith wondered if he’d be so attentive to them if she hit them with one good, hard, Incendio spell. “Didn’t we have that at Halloween?”
She snatched the notes again. “Were you paying attention when it was delayed, Grey? Have you been listening to a word I said?”
“I have work to do.” Tobias shook his head. “Oh, fine, Hogsmeade was delayed, we get to go next weekend. That’ll be great, I need to sort out Christmas presents anyway. Using owl-order was getting pretty annoying.” He sounded rather unenthusiastic.
“Could you be even a shade more excited? You’ve never been before, and as I talk about it all you’re thinking about is your bloody Arithmancy essay!” Tanith exclaimed, stacking the notes and moving them to the far end of the table, where he couldn’t reach them.
“I do care about exams and such, Tanith. I know the concept may be a novelty to you, working and all of that rubbish, but I, on the other hand, do give a damn. I’d like to not fail. So could you give me back my bloody notes?” Tobias actually sounded genuinely indignant.
“But I’m bored,” she moaned, giving him an intentionally provocative grin.
“Then do your Care of Magical Creatures work!” Tobias said, waving a hand dismissively.
“I thought you said that was a stupid subject nobody should be expected to put a shred of effort into?” Tanith asked, her grin broadening.
“You can put effort into it when you’re bugging me,” Tobias mumbled bitterly, reaching across the table for his stack of notes. She swatted his hand lightly. “Why don’t you go play Gobstones with Cal and Gabe, if you’re bored?”
“I hate Gobstones. I always did.” Tanith gave him a long look. “What’s the essay on?”
“It’s pretty straightforward at this point.” Tobias grimaced a little, but seemed to think a conversation with Tanith about his work was better than a conversation about nothing, if he wasn’t going to get work done. “Just on the basic theories of the levels of complexity of spells.”
“It really is.” Sometimes, Tobias could be completely immune to irony. “I mean, in other subjects, we just wave a wand and think about how we’re going to do something. We rarely ask why, or how it’s possible. Arithmancy makes you understand so many other subjects so much better. Except for, I suppose, things like Potions.”
“Arithmancy’s the nutty subject, for the hard-core nutters,” Tanith told him eloquently. “You’d be better off with Care of Magical Creatures.”
“Oh, yes, that subject goes well. How many limbs does your professor have?” Tobias laughed accusingly.
“Well, he’s got one leg…” Tanith contemplated this for a moment. “It’s not like we’re studying dangerous things yet.”
“Yet.” Tobias shook his head, and managed to snatch up the pile of notes before she could stop him, victoriously returning to his essay. “You can find me behind my stack of books when you come back after being savaged by a Chimera."
“Yes, nobody could accuse you of Gryffindor bravery, could they, Grey,” Tanith said wryly.
“Nope, but they could accuse you of Gryffindor stupidity on this topic.” He smiled slightly to soften the blow.
Their banter was interrupted at that point by the main door opening slowly and Professor Snape stepping in. Usually, the head of their house could make a subtle entrance, where he would be unnoticed until a faint comment would be heard and interrupt the disruptions of the Slytherin common room. But after the argument of the Quidditch team, most of the students in the common room were even more obviously on-edge.
Professor Snape cleared his throat in a noticeable manner, and silence fell as all heads turned to face him. The potions master’s face was impassive, as usual, yet there was a grimmer tilt to his chin than usual.
“There has been,” he declared ominously, “another attack. This time, of a student. A Gryffindor first-year Muggle-born has been Petrified, and is currently in the infirmary.” His dark eyes swept across the assembled pupils, as if daring them to make comment. Snape would look the other way regularly on many Slytherin transgressions, but would not suffer outright Muggle-baiting or bullying directly under his nose. A cheer, a smile, or any sort of smugness at the news of an attack on another student, Muggle-born or not, would have dire consequences.
The students knew this, and stayed quiet, keeping expressions impassive.
“Security will be stepped up. I know you all think that you have nothing to fear, but complacency is never wise. The matter is being dealt with, and the Hogsmeade trip next weekend shall go ahead as planned, yet I must tell you all to remain cautious, to not travel the corridors alone, and, of course, to inform me if you might know anything.” Snape’s eyes seemed more piercing at this, and Tobias wondered if he had any particular students in mind with that statement.
“Not to mention the fact that you should have all been in bed an hour ago, at least.” And with that, he was gone, talking to his students at midnight and then leaving them to their own devices. It was his general manner of running the House, with a much more laissez-faire attitude than apparently McGonagall, Flitwick or Sprout held.
He never yelled. He never took House points. He only gave out detentions when severely pressed, or when prefects officially requested them. He understood that Slytherin received a good deal of antagonising from the rest of the school, and thus glanced away when they retaliated.
He also, Tobias regularly noted with anger, ignored the bullies who gave the House a bad name.
“Well, I don’t know why we should be worried,” Tanith said at last as the hubbub returned to the common room. “It’s not like you or me are in danger, right? Just some Muggle-born kid who landed himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and whatever’s prowling out there got him.” She shrugged, seeming supremely unconcerned.
“Why aren’t we in danger?” Tobias asked frostily, leaning over his essay notes again but hardly writing with any enthusiasm. “Attacks on the school are damn attacks. It’s reason enough to be worried.”
“Hey, you’ve read up on the Chamber of Secrets, I’m sure of it. You know what it’s about – the eradication of Muggle-born wizards and witches and what have you. It’s not going to affect a pair from good wizarding families like us.” Tanith nudged him lightly with her elbow.
“That’s if you believe it really is the Chamber of Secrets. The mad return of Salazar Slytherin is hardly something that can be easily confirmed.” Tobias found himself mindlessly copying out the same notes as before, yet didn’t stop himself because it ensured his mind was doing something other than quietly seething. “And if it is, and if non-purebloods are in danger, even if it doesn’t affect you it’s something you should be ready to tackle.”
The ‘you’ had been direct, yet he knew Tanith would interpret it as being general. “Why?” she asked blankly. “It’s not my concern. It’s just a load of Muggle-borns.” She shrugged. “Not something that bugs me.”
“Really? Doesn’t bug you that something might well be killing off other students?” Tobias said coolly.
“Look, you know I don’t go in for all of You-Know-Who’s madness of exterminating any who aren’t purebloods, but I’m not going to cry a thousand tears and make it my duty to go on a mad vengeance rampage if Muggle-borns wind up dead either,” Tanith said, rolling her eyes.
“So as long as it doesn’t concern you, you’re fine,” Tobias checked slowly.
“Pretty much. And those I care about.”
“And the fact that the Muggle-borns are wizards and witches just like you or me is irrelevant?”
“But they’re not, are they.” Tobias looked up sharply at these words, and Tanith shrugged at him before continuing. “They’re different. You know that as well as I do. They’re not quite Muggles, but they’re not proper wizards either.”
“Lesser?” Tobias asked blandly.
“Pretty much.” Tanith shook her head. “Like I said, I’ve never subscribed to the Death Eater philosophies, and neither have my family. But I do think they should stay out of magic. It’s not their world, it’s ours.”
“I never realised you felt quite this anti-Muggle-born,” Tobias said slowly.
“They’re just… I don’t know. Not right.”
Finally, he slammed shut the Arithmancy book he’d been studying for the last hour, scowling. “I guess that makes me ‘not right’, too, then?” he asked sharply, looking over at her with only barely controlled anger.
“You…?” Tanith blinked, looking at him in a confused manner. “You’re not a Muggle-born.”
He smiled humourlessly. “True. You know about my mother. Hart family, good family, good Slytherin and wizarding stock. Ever stopped to ask about the Grey family? You just figured it was some two-bit little pureblood house. Never stopped to ask and consider it, did you.” As realisation dawned in her eyes, he nodded stiffly. “That’s right. I’m a half-blood. My father was a Muggle-born. Killed in the war by those who think like you, even if you don’t act like them.”
He gathered his notes rapidly, moving to stand. “So that makes me the son of a blood traitor and a lesser being who didn’t belong in this world to begin with. So I’m either half-acceptable, or not acceptable at all. I hardly think that’ll be good enough for the Heir of Slytherin.” Tobias looked up at her, only now just taking in the utter shock of her expression.
He didn’t stop to think of how this moment might have been challenging her thoughts, her entire way of thinking for her life so far. It seemed much easier to assume the moment was challenging their friendship. Thus withdrawal seemed to be the best option.
“Now, it affects those you care about.” Tobias straightened up, frowning and hefting his books in his arms. “Or… maybe not. I’m not going to assume either way.” He smiled humourlessly. “After all, I’m lesser. Why would I know enough to make a valid judgement?”
With that said, he turned on his heel and stormed off towards the dormitory, quite unaware that he hadn’t even given her a chance to respond to his revelation and subsequent accusations.
After all, he reasoned, it wasn’t as if she’d have wanted him to stay around her for the time that would have taken.
“You shouldn’t be sleeping in classes,” Tobias hissed across the table at Cal, who was making no effort to hide the fact that History of Magic and Professor Binns had bored him into deep slumber. “Bloody hell, wake up, Cal. Stop looking so ridiculous.”
“Because when I sleep in class, it’s my appearance I’m worried about,” Cal mumbled back weakly, but raised his head just in time to meet Professor Binns’ eyes as the teacher hovered about in front of them. Tobias being Tobias, he had grabbed them a seat at the front of the classroom, just so he could be extra-close to take notes and pay extra attention. It also meant that he was far away from Tanith, who had claimed the back left corner with Gabriel, as per usual.
“I’ll just get your notes later.”
Tobias sighed. He wasn’t one to argue. He wouldn’t just give Cal the notes later, as that was simply lazy, but he could appreciate that Binns taught History of Magic to such a dull level that it could bore all but the most history-crazed. Like Tobias. He’d just go through the subject matter with Cal later, and allow him to learn of his own accord. Everyone seemed to gather around Tobias in the evening after a History of Magic lesson, trying to catch up without being bored to tears.
“…and many historians have generally accepted that the Muggle Protection Laws were nothing more than society legally recognising the immorality and foolishness of attacking non-wizarding folk, as something both inhumane and dangerous, risking the exposure of the magical world…”
Tobias raised a hand, and this prompted Cal to sit up abruptly. Around the room, everyone seemed similarly surprised, and the classroom woke up more than it had ever been awake in a History lesson.
“Sir, I’m not sure that’s correct,” Tobias interrupted quickly, his expression all sunshine and innocence.
Binns came to a halt in his monologue, and his ghostly form blinked, turning to face the young student curiously. “Excuse me, Mister, uh, Grahams?”
“Grey. It’s Grey.” Every single time, Binns got their names wrong. Nobody bothered to correct him except for Tobias. Always Tobias. “And you might want to consider the fact that Partridge pinpointed a decrease in officially noted Muggle attacks – and, on the Muggle side, fewer ‘unexplained’ incidents we can consider the magical community to be responsible for – following the new legislation.”
Binns stared. Historical discussion was clearly a novelty, and didn’t prompt Tobias to consider that NEWT classes would be exactly gripping. He’d have to find one of the sixth or seventh-years and ask them… but then, wait, did he know any NEWT students taking History of Magic?
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw another hand shoot up, and instinctively winced as he noticed it was Tanith’s. “But you might want to consider that Partridge was a biased observer. He was Muggle-born and closely linked to the political groups searching for harsher sentences against those who worked against Muggles. Proving the efficacy of the Muggle Protection Laws suited his purposes.”
He didn’t stop to wonder when she’d read up on the subject, nor to consider the validity of her argument. Biases in History were always to be considered. Regardless, her interruption and the nature of things between them prompted him to scowl and shift slightly to face her.
“Biased or not, the figures speak for themselves. Partridge was the first person to bother to look them up. Muggle attacks might not have been ‘socially acceptable’ at that point in time, but it was still happening, mostly by groups of young, proud purebloods who knew nobody would try to stop them and considered themselves immune to the risks of wizarding exposure. Partridge pointed out that the new legislation cut these attacks by more than half.”
“Apparently.” Tanith’s brown-eyed gaze met his icy blue one perfectly calmly. “Then consider Greenford’s argument about how this information was gathered at the time. Before the laws came in, social or not, you’d still get these young, proud, purebloods” – the emphasis placed here was not lost on him – “baiting Muggles and then gloating about it. After the laws were in place, it was stupid to mention it, as they could just be imprisoned. It didn’t change anything, it just made the issue sink lower in public awareness. Another pointless attempt by the Ministry to change what can’t be changed.”
“Pointless.” Tobias blinked. “So you’re saying that the Ministry should have just sat there and let the Muggles be attacked?”
“Did I say that?” Tanith challenged. The lesson had now been forgotten; the entire class was now watching this exchange with a sort of perverse fascination, and Binns seemed far too shocked by the fact that people were talking to actually interrupt. “You’re putting words in my mouth, Grey.”
“Well, Cole, you were being vague. Perhaps I’m just using my skills as a historian to evaluate your behaviour and attitudes thus far and draw a conclusion as to what it was you were trying to say. From all you’ve said all the time I’ve known you, an anti-Muggle sentiment is exactly what I should expect.”
“Maybe if you stopped and listened for a moment, you might…”
“L-lesson over!” Binns exclaimed at last, his voice shaking. This room had probably just seen much more dissent over historical matters than it ever had in his tenure as Professor of the History of Magic, and it didn’t seem that he was taking it particularly well.
“Let’s go,” Cal hissed, grabbing Tobias by the elbow the moment their bags were stowed in their schoolbags. “Right now.” Tobias was too surprised to fight back, and thus found himself being veritably dragged out of the classroom, right past Tanith without even an opportunity to exchange with her the usual glares that they had shared over the last week.
The trip back to the common room was fast, and all of Tobias’ attempts to get Cal to stop and explain his new urgency and apparent anger failed. They bustled through the crowds of students happy in the end of lessons for the day, manoeuvred through the corridors towards the Slytherin dungeon, and clambered down the stairs to burst through the common room and over to their rooms.
“Okay, this has to stop,” Cal declared bluntly as he slammed shut the dormitory door behind him and Tobias once they had stepped inside. A long week of a barrier of avoidance between Tobias and Tanith, interjected with moments of sniping on his part and then angry retaliation on hers had frayed everyone’s nerves. Cal, being stuck in the middle, had received twice as much, and had suffered twice as much.
“I’m just waiting for an apology,” Tobias said stiffly as he threw his schoolbag across the room onto his bed. “That’s all I want. I’m not going to shrug and just say that it’s nothing and forget it, and you know it.” He looked over at his friend. “And you’re just as pissed off as me about her stance.”
“What, you ever thought it was different? Did this come as a surprise to you? She was raised in one of those mad, old families. It’s a bloody surprise they’re not a house of Death Eaters. She never said it outright, but you knew it was there. You just chose now to pick a fight, so don’t act all surprised,” Cal retorted, throwing his bag aside.
“Why would I choose to pick a fight with her over it? It’s not like it’s something I’ve been ignoring until now,” Tobias muttered bitterly, moving over to his bed at last and sitting at the foot of it, knocking his bag off and onto the floor. History notes threw themselves everywhere, but he ignored them.
“Because now we have some monster of the Chamber of Secrets marauding the corridors and attacking people? And because, if you end up in the wrong place at the wrong time, you might well be a target?” Cal folded his arms across his chest.
“Cal, wrong place and wrong time for some rampaging monster would make you, with bloodlines that you can trace back however many centuries, a valid target. Don’t piss off rampaging monsters – it’s a good rule.” Tobias scowled, staring out of the enchanted window. Although the Slytherin rooms were underground, almost under the lake, the gloom had often been too much for many students, and thus an affect not dissimilar to the enchanted roof of the Great Hall had been employed in the common room and dorms.
“But right now, more than in probably over ten years, where you stand on the issue of Muggle-borns is becoming important. Give Tanith a chance – you think she ever needed to stop and even think about her opinion?” Cal said, with surprising awareness. But being as trapped in the middle of the situation as Tobias was, albeit for different reasons, his deep perspective shouldn’t have been as unexpected as it was.
“No. That’s why I’m just giving her a chance to apologise.”
“Mate, you’re waiting for her to apologise right as you antagonise her and make snide comments,” Cal said darkly. “Remember who we’re dealing with – Tanith Cole. She’s not exactly going to win Miss Humble of the Year Award. The more comments you make, the more pissed off with you she becomes.”
“She’s in the wrong here!”
“Yes, but you’re just making it harder for her to accept that by being an arse about it all!” Cal threw his hands up into the air, moving over to sit down on his bed, which was directly opposite Tobias’. “This is a bloody miserable time for everyone. Except for the thick Slytherins cheering as Muggle-borns drop.”
“She’s practically one of them.”
Cal kicked him in the shins. It wasn’t hard, but it was sharp enough for him to recoil and glare. “You know she’s not, so don’t talk like that again or I’ll wallop you properly. She’s better than Ed and Miles and Malfoy and all of those other pillocks. And you know it.”
“Humph. She’s been spending a notable amount of time with Melanie and Ariane lately. Those two aren’t exactly friendly or open-minded. There’s a reason I didn’t tell people I was a half-blood. I only told you last year because you told me about… you know.” Tobias shrugged.
“Yeah. My issues.” Cal shook his head. “She’s not going to tell the others. I have spoken to her about this, much like I’m yelling at you about this right now.” He shrugged. “Look, we’ve got Hogsmeade tomorrow. That’ll be a trip away from the school, and should clear our heads, you know? Talk to her then.”
“I’m waiting for an apology,” Tobias said stiffly. “She’s insulted me, she’s insulted my Dad, and I don’t want to talk to her any more if it’s going to be when she makes me the ‘exception’ to her little rules. Because she’s wrong, and I’m not suffering that.”
Cal stood, looking faintly amused. “You’re holding out for an apology from Tanith Cole. This could be amusing. I wonder if you’ll have any blood left in your body when she’s done with you tomorrow.” He smirked. “Seriously, you two just need to talk without sniping.”
“I don’t snipe. I comment.”
“Sure, just like she doesn’t retaliate, she just… answers.” Cal rolled his eyes. “Swings and roundabouts.”
“Never mind. Gabe will drag her down to The Three Broomsticks tomorrow. We’ll just be there and you two can talk, and stop acting like little kids. It gets annoying, and it means I’m not allowed to act as stupidly or as immaturely as possible. I have to be the baby-sitter, instead of the baby-sat.” Cal shrugged, heading for the door. “You two need to start being grown-up again, or Gabe and I might act childish and go blow something up.”
“Just to get our attention?”
“Just because we feel like it.”
“Here. Drink this. It’ll make you seem a lot less moody,” Cal said as he slid a mug of Butterbeer across the table in The Three Broomsticks he and Tobias had commandeered. Even though this was the first time either of them had been to Hogsmeade, they hadn’t stopped to look at the sights and check out the sweet shop or any of the fun their classmates were taking part in. Tobias had wanted to, but Cal had swept him down the main street without even a chance of looking around, and practically shoved him into The Three Broomsticks.
A meeting with Tanith wasn’t something Tobias wanted to miss, truly. She would probably have some rather devastating way to deal with tardiness. But they were a good fifteen minutes early, and if this did take all afternoon like he was afraid it would he’d stand no chance of making it down to the bookstore to nose around.
“I’m not moody,” Tobias insisted as he sipped the Butterbeer rather sulkily. “I’m just annoyed that we’re right here, right now, when we have a good while before Tanith’s expecting us to be here. Gabe will have her here on time, don’t worry about your precious little happy friendship-fixing plan.” A slightly patronising tone crept into his voice, tinged with bitterness and anger at the situation, though not particularly directed at Cal specifically. It was more of a general unhappiness.
“Oh, yeah. Because let’s go to the bookshop. That’ll solve things with Tanith,” Cal said sarcastically. “It may be your answer to everything else, but it’s not going to work with this one. You may actually have to find social skills.”
“All I want is an apology.” Tobias swirled his Butterbeer about, staring into the steaming contents of his mug idly.
“You may be here a time. Tanith Cole, remember? Oh…” Cal’s voice trailed off as he stared over Tobias’ shoulder at the door, and he grinned faintly. “Hey, she’s just as nervous and prompt as we were. There’s a surprise. Guess she really does want to talk.”
Tobias stiffened, but didn’t talk. “Or Gabe just wants the fun that I want out in Hogsmeade and decided to get Tanith here as soon as physically possible.”
Cal gave him a glare as he stood. “Stop pretending you have better places to be, or I really will begin to believe that you don’t want Tanith around. And then I’d have to hit you. Kinda hard.” He grinned humourlessly, then sauntered over towards the doorway. Tobias twisted discreetly to see him pause by Tanith, exchange a few words with her he couldn’t hear over the bustle of The Three Broomsticks on a Hogsmeade day, and then head for the door where Gabriel waited. As Tanith turned in his direction he shifted to look away, acting oblivious.
She approached, tentatively, and even though his ears were straining to notice her arrival he was only completely aware of her presence once she was standing over him, looking sheepish and guarded all at once. “Mind if I sit here?” she asked, her voice casual and yet guarded.
It was such a harkening back to old days of early Hogwarts that he couldn’t help but grin a little, and nodded to the chair opposite. “Cal didn’t touch that Butterbeer, by the way. I guess he bought it for you.”
“I’ll pay him back later.” The tone of Tanith’s voice as she slid uncertainly onto her seat suggested that it was more than a drink she owed Cal for. It did make him stop and think, for an uncertain Tanith was truly a novelty to him.
There was a silence as she sipped the Butterbeer and he continued to stare in his until the steam began to make his glasses mist, and gave him the excuse to pull them off and absently clean them with the sleeve of his robes. He wasn’t going to make the first move.
But as she looked across the table at him, it seemed she didn’t have to. “Cal mentioned that all you really want is an apology,” Tanith said at last, sounding as if the word ‘apology’ had been dragged out of her unhappily.
Tobias only grunted in reply, staring at the Butterbeer. This was ridiculous. He didn’t want some forced apology just so she could play nice and pretend everything had gone back to normal. Things weren’t normal. He couldn’t cope if she would smile one minute and act like his friend and then insult those who represented his whole background, his whole heritage. His father had been a Muggle, he’d been to a Muggle primary school – ostracised and ignored for being ‘weird’, but time had allowed him to gain enough perspective on that to just recognise the simple cruelty of children. They weren’t… nothings, like so many of his classmates claimed.
So he didn’t want to hear Tanith give an apology she didn’t mean. If he couldn’t change her, then…
“But I know an apology isn’t quite enough. I’m sorry. I really am. But you deserve more than just that.” Tobias looked up, blinking at Tanith as she gazed at him earnestly across the small table. There was no hint of anything but sincerity in her expression and voice.
“Wait a second.” Tobias frowned. “Did you just apologise to me?”
Tanith gave him a faint glare. “Yes. I did. Don’t push it, Grey, this is what you’re getting. Take it or leave it.” Without waiting for a reply, she pressed on, leaning forwards slightly. “I still think you might want… an explanation.”
“I’m not sure how you can really explain… bigotry.” Tobias smiled humourlessly.
The mug of Butterbeer had been halfway to her lips at this, and she slammed it down on the table angrily as he spoke, fixing him with a fresh glare. “Are you even going to listen, or are you going to exercise the sort of closed-minded manner that you’re angry at me for exhibiting?” she demanded, her voice tight.
He winced. “Point taken. Go on.”
She paused, taking a deep breath to visibly calm herself, gathering thoughts and finally getting a gulp of Butterbeer down. “You’ve met my family. Met my father, mother… my sister escaped, but you don’t need her to complete the picture. You know what they’re like.”
He shrugged, feeling like being intentionally difficult. “They seemed nice enough.”
“Yeah. When they bothered to talk to me, or you.” Tanith gave him an unhappy grin. “Never Death Eaters. None of that in my history. Loyal supporters of the Ministry in the war.” She sniffed ruefully. “But don’t get us wrong. The Coles are a pure-blooded family, and proud of it.”
“And not proud of those with less than pure blood,” Tobias said bitterly.
She had the good grace to look embarrassed at this, her eyes flickering down. “Look, I’ve had all week to think about things. What you said, about your dad. Cal talked to me about his foster-father, the Muggle-born fellow, too. I’m sorry if I’ve been snappish with you the last few days, as well. It’s just… weird.”
“That, I’d agree with.” He nodded slowly.
“I guess some of what Altair’s been telling me since forever sank in.” Tobias winced a little at the reference to her tutor, Daedalus Cole’s ‘handyman’, Altair Ritter, the scariest Squib he’d ever met. “About ability defining us. I just took what he was saying at first about not being exclusive to magic. He might not have any… power, but…”
“But the Ritter family’s pure-blood, right?” Tobias guessed.
Tanith nodded slowly. “I just think he’d be so disappointed in me right now,” she admitted quietly. “I completely missed so much of what he’s been trying to teach me. He kept saying how I had more ‘potential’ than my sister, and I always assumed that was… in magic, in lessons. He taught me about art, literature, music, what Muggles would call a ‘classical’ education but which the wizarding world often overlooks. And all I could do was take that, nod, and stick it in my happily Magical, enclosed world.”
“You’ve never been as closed as Montague or Bletchley,” Tobias insisted, frowning slightly.
“Same train of thought. Just not acting on it. This week… I guess it kicked in.” She shrugged. “You’re… uh… you’re one of the best people I know, Grey. You’re a good guy. You’re a great wizard. There’s nothing ‘lesser’ about you. But you’re a half-blood…”
“Which contradicts all you thought in the past.” He nodded, scowling a little, taking her compliment but a little nervous of consequences.
“So it means something’s wrong here. Either what I’ve seen with my own eyes – you – is wrong, deceptive, somehow screwed-up… or what I’ve been told is incorrect.” Tanith smiled tightly. “Any good historian knows that a primary source might be biased, but it’s usually more valuable than a secondary one.”
Tobias chuckled, a little nervously. “Thank God for Mister Ritter, then,” he sighed, shaking his head. “Otherwise you really would be as stupid as Montague and Bletchley.”
“Yeah, when you get told day after day that ability defines us, any hierarchy of ‘blood’ becomes less important. It’s why I don’t kow-tow to Draco like others do.” Tanith gazed out the window slowly. “That didn’t skip over to half-bloods and Muggle-borns because I always figured, before… that they were of lesser ability.”
“That’s the problem with Slytherin. It’s mostly pure-bloods, so people like Montague don’t get exposed to those who’ll prove them wrong,” Tobias sighed. “If, perhaps, they would just look at what some of the Muggle-borns are doing, see how brilliant they can me, they might not be complete arses.”
“There’s you. You’d be ‘lesser’ in their eyes, if they knew about your dad.” Already, Tanith seemed both sheepish that she had held this viewpoint, and scornful that others still maintained it. “But you’re better than them. So you can present the example.”
Tobias laughed. “Yeah. Right. A nice theory, but I’m no world-changer or role model.” He shook his head, smirking and grimacing at the same time. “And they don’t recognise that I’m just ten times better than them.” His expression turned wry. “They’d just dismiss me more than they already do if they knew.”
Tanith sighed, and nodded. “I guess you’re right. We never do stick our heads up.”
“They’d just get chopped off if we did. We’re too much of a challenge to their happy little worlds to do anything and really get away with it.” Tobias finished off his Butterbeer, then set the mug down with a satisfied grin.
Tanith nodded again and smiled tentatively. “So… apology accepted?”
He gave her a long look. “You’d probably kill me if we continued to be angry at each other any longer,” Tobias said at last, his grin broadening, and he straightened up. “But c’mon. It’s not like Hogsmeade will last forever. And I’ve still hardly seen anything.”
“Me neither.” Tanith grinned, standing. “Zonko’s sounds good?”
Tobias nodded, also clambering to his feet. “Sure, so long as we can hit the bookstore later… oh, and the sweets, my sweet-tooth is crying out for attention…”
“So, like the rest of you, really…”
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