A horribly loud, deep, thumping noise dragged Tanith Cole from her very weird dreams and into the real world of consciousness. Nasty, painful, head-throbbing consciousness, where to move made her feel sick and the pounding behind her eyeballs increase. What had
she done last night?
Yanking one of her pillows away and burying her head under it, Tanith did her best to piece it all together from the fractured memories of the evening before. They had all sat around in the living room at Will Rayner’s house… Cal’s house…? Just relaxing for the evening, preparing before they had to leave for the Quidditch World Cup. Then Gabriel had found Rayner’s beers in the fridge, there had been some reminiscing, some discussion of plans for next year… and then… it went hazy.
Slowly, as her mind woke up more – but wished it hadn’t – she managed to work out what the thumping noise was as she raised her head slowly. Music. Whatever was going on downstairs, it included music. Maybe, with luck, it would also include breakfast.
She had an odd sensation in her stomach – the idea of food both sickened and encouraged her. Her throat was also parched beyond belief, and though she felt she could shake off the headache with enough gritting of teeth and determination, the only thing that was going to solve the thirst was a drink.
Tanith rolled out of bed and did up the top button on the shirt of her silk pyjamas – the one which would throttle her in her sleep if she left it undone, and she wasn’t indecent without it but would rather not parade around the house showing off her chest to three hormonally-imbalanced boys. Not for the first time, she wished that the other girls in Slytherin weren’t simpering ninnies and were actually feasible candidates for friends.
She grabbed her overly large dressing gown, which could have suitably covered her by itself, though you could never be too sure, then headed for the door. Her temples were still throbbing in protest, and her feet felt unsteady, but she, Tanith Cole, was not going to be brought down by a damn hangover. Whatever the hell she’d done last night, she would deal with it with poise and dignity, and ignore any sniggering from the other three.
Tobias probably wouldn’t laugh. He was so uptight at times that he’d probably be more embarrassed than she was. Cal had been drunk too, so couldn’t comment… but unfortunately, Gabriel could make enough snide comments to compensate for his friends’ silence. And probably would.
The music – whatever the hell this rubbish was, it sounded Muggle, and she didn’t approve – came louder as she descended the stairs and headed for the source of it: the kitchen. A glance out the window had told her it was already light, and thus, Rayner would have already left the house, leaving it in the hands of four teenagers. Foolish man.
The sight that greeted her in the kitchen was enough to solidify that assertion indefinitely. Cal was perched on the counter next to a hi-fi which blared the music, still wearing the same rumpled clothes as last night and – she noted smugly – looking worse than she felt. Tobias was standing next to him, in a ruffled shirt and his boxers, buttering a load of bread with the same neat efficiency he handled everything. And, standing at the stove and wearing only a pair of tracksuit bottoms, was Gabriel, the unmistakeable sizzle of bacon rising over the din of the music. She wasn’t particularly surprised by any of their appearances, least of all Gabriel – for some reason, the sight of him shirtless wasn’t as astonishing as most people would have thought. It was just… what… Gabriel Doyle did, and she didn’t give it a second thought.
None of them noticed her, so preoccupied in their various tasks were they, until she reached out and turned off the radio, cutting out the racket which had woken her up in the first place and wasn’t sounding any better now she was down there.
Three heads whirled around to stare at her, in varying degrees of shock or surprise. Tobias was the first to react, sighing with relief and nodding gratefully. “Thank God
. You have any idea how much I’ve been trying to convince them to turn it off for the past half-hour?” he said, then turned his attention back to the bread. Whatever had happened last night, it had clearly sapped him of his energy.
Cal grunted. “I didn’t want it on. My head’s killing me,” he groaned, rubbing his temples.
Gabriel glanced at them all. “Then why the hell was it on in the first place?” he demanded, flipping the bacon over. “You think I’d have listened to that Muggle trash voluntarily?”
Tobias shrugged. “I don’t know. It was just on when I came in. I assumed one of you two had turned it on.”
Cal shrugged, falling off the counter and on to his feet with a whimper. “Will probably switched it on to wake us up before he left for work.” He groaned and collapsed onto one of the chairs around the table in the kitchen. “I wish he’d get back soon; I could use one of his anti-hangover charms.”
“Stop whining. It was your own fault,” Tobias mumbled, shaking his head. At last he glanced at Tanith again. “And how are you feeling? The elephants are on the march this morning?” he asked dryly.
The hint of a smile tugged at her lips, and she walked over to one of the cupboards and pulled out a glass. “I’ll be fine. I just need a drink,” she said, getting the carton of orange juice out of the fridge and pouring herself some. “That smells good, Doyle.”
“Of course it does. I don’t know why I
end up as the one who has to cook, but I’m sure I do it better than either of these two monkeys,” Gabriel sighed. “Bacon sandwiches… Muggles may be stupid about many things, but food isn’t one. It’s not even that complicated without magic.” He glanced over at Cal. “You want one too, Caldwyn? Maybe with a fried egg?”
The groan from Cal in response was quite enough to let them know that he did not, in fact, want a bacon sandwich, with or without a fried egg.
Tanith’s eyes fell on Tobias, and she frowned slightly as she leant against the wall, staring at him for a few moments, her mind demanding that she concentrate on and remember something. But she couldn’t quite grasp what it was… the conversation had been all of them, but for some reason he was at the centre of the memory…
Before she could get it, however, he obviously sensed her looking at him, and glanced up uncomfortably. He was wearing his glasses this morning, and although he regularly denied that his contact lenses changed his eye colour in any way, their blue did seem mistier somehow. “What?” Tobias asked suspiciously, pushing his glasses back up his nose.
“Did we talk last night?” Tanith asked at last, frowning and deciding that she might as well find out what it was. She also ignored Gabriel’s brief snigger at this. “I just have a vague memory of… some… conversation with you.”
“Ah, so you’re not amazingly hung-over, but your memory’s still groggy,” Tobias said, obviously gambling for more time. “But yeah, we talked. Everyone talked. There was nothing specific with us.” He paused, then smirked a forced smirk. “You had had way
too much to drink last night.”
“Oh, I know that
,” Tanith said with an impatient wave of the hand. “But there’s something… something I did…” Her voice trailed off, and she didn’t put much stock in the nervous expression that crossed Tobias’s face. “Something to do with prefects.”
Inexplicably, he smirked. “Oh, yeah. You decided to get your badge out and practice your disciplinary speeches. As I recall, you gave Gabriel a detention for being too secretive, Cal a detention for being too chirpy and too Welsh, and myself a detention for being an insufferable prat.”
Tanith narrowed her eyes and tilted her head to one side as she observed him. “I suppose you are an insufferable prat. Yeah, definitely. Too much of a geek. You know, I think it has something to do with the glasses… they just don’t quite do you any favours…”
“Watch out, mate, she’ll be giving you a makeover before you know it,” Cal mumbled from where he had collapsed on the table. He raised his head to look at Tanith. “I still can’t get used to you without your long hair.”
“I had this done at the beginning of the holidays, I figured you’d be used to it by now,” Tanith reminded him, running a hand through her now slightly fluffy hair. It always looked terrible in the mornings, but short hair, she found, was infinitely more practical.
“Done!” Gabriel declared smugly, grabbing a fork and heading over to where Tobias had left the buttered bread, frying pan in hand. He skewered the bits of bacon and placed three slices each on the three sandwiches prepared in advance. “Now eat up, and enjoy. Caldwyn, I suggest you try some cereal, or something not too sickly or greasy.”
“Since when did you become a mother hen?” Cal wondered, but stood up and went to take the milk out of the fridge.
Tanith grabbed her sandwich cheerfully, the sickly feeling in her stomach fading distinctly as she began to eat. “So, last day we’ll be doing this. Then we’ve got camping, Quidditch and… return to Hogwarts.” The best thing about Hogwarts, Tanith reasoned, was that you weren’t disappointed when the holidays ended, as returning there was always pretty great.
“How much work have you lot been doing?” Tobias asked cheerfully, taking a large bite from his sandwich and making an appreciative sound. “I mean, we’ve got our OWLs this year. Got to be prepared. I haven’t seen any of you look at a book since we got here.”
Similar looks of horror were fixed on him as his three friends gaped for a moment. Tanith exchanged a glance with Gabriel, then sighed with relief as Cal decided to field this particular piece of vintage Tobias Grey bollocks.
“Tobias… it’s the summer holidays
,” Cal declared with shock. “We have a year
until our OWLs. Well, near enough,” he conceded as Tobias opened his mouth to correct him. “Not everyone’s as anal retentive as you.”
Tobias smirked, used to such treatment. “Alright… I’ll just laugh at you all when you get D’s on your papers,” he declared with the tone of smugness that irritated Tanith more than any of his other little foibles.
“Oh, we’ll do fine,” Gabriel assured him, perching on the table and devouring his sandwich. “I know everything I need to sail my way to a load of sweet P’s.”
Tobias opened his mouth to doubtless fill the room with one of his rambles about the importance of schoolwork, but Tanith decided to cut him off before he could get going. “Oh, unclench, Grey,” she sighed, taking a large gulp of her orange juice and feeling the sickliness of the hangover wear off distinctly as she did so. “He’s kidding; you know Doyle’s all but guaranteed at least an A or an E in everything.”
“Of course,” Gabriel declared immodestly. “And don’t forget the O in Divination. I may have zero psychic ability, but I’m very good at bullshitting,” he declared, leaning back and half-closing his eyes in the way he always did when doing Divination homework and picking a prediction up at random from the text book. He grinned at last. “No, I’ll do best on Ancient Runes, probably.”
“You’re not bad at that,” Tobias conceded. “But I’ll keep my focus on Potions and Arithmancy…”
History of Magic, and
Defence Against the Dark Arts,” Tanith completed for him. “You’ve had your decision on which NEWTs you were going to take since you were six, weren’t you.”
Tobias fixed her with his most venomous – which meant, in Tanith’s eyes, most amusing – glare before drawing himself to his full, not inconsiderable height. “Just because some
of us have a bit of an idea as to what they wish to do with their futures doesn’t mean you should mock them for it.”
“Yes it does,” Cal interjected solemnly from the table, which he was again sprawled across.
“Oh, shut up and study some proper subjects,” Tobias snorted. “Muggle Studies… what a waste of time; you could just ask Rayner if there’s anything you possibly need to know about the Muggle world…”
“I know,” Cal groaned. “Why do you think I took the bloody subject in the first place, you prat?”
“And Care of Magical Creatures?” Tobias continued, ignoring Cal’s interruption. “There’s a pointless piece of learning for a wizard if there ever was one…”
“Hey!” Tanith swatted him on the arm. “Just because you think that anything other than Arithmancy and Ancient Runes are a waste of time because they’re not academic
enough doesn’t mean you don’t have to bring down everyone else who thinks differently to you.”
Tobias blinked, the hint of a smirk tugging at his lips. “Of course it does. My word is law, and anyone who disagrees with me is obviously a pillock,” he declared with absolute mock-smugness.
“You’re insufferable,” Tanith sighed, shaking her head and taking a step back.
“Thank you,” Tobias replied casually, then glanced over at Gabriel, who seemed to be the only person speaking coherently who wasn’t insulting him. “So do you know when we’re setting off? Rayner’s coming back here and we’ll be heading for the camp site this afternoon?”
“Great. We have to kill twenty-four hours with a thousand and one other crazy wizards before the actual fun starts,” Tanith said, rubbing her eyes wearily.
Tobias raised an eyebrow as he glanced at her. “Right little ray of sunshine today, aren’t you?”
Gabriel lifted a hand to forestall any more bickering, much to Tanith’s disappointment. “Take it easy, you two. Handbags at dawn are not
allowed at the camp site, I’m sure,” he said in a voice of intense weariness, then looked over at Tobias. “And yes, that’s what Rayner said. He’d be back after lunch, and we’d all set off. I’m amazed he’s taking time off for the match at all.”
take breaks,” Cal grunted from where he was still sprawled across the table. “He hasn’t in a while, but when I was little he did. Oh, he had to keep up his work, which is why he sent me to a boarding school, but he does have an appreciation for leisure time.”
“Yeah?” Gabriel shrugged. “Haven’t seen it. Those Unspeakables are all the same. They do a good job, but it’s work, work, work. Rayner’s a nice guy, but he doesn’t seem like the sort who’d take a break from his high and mighty duty to go surfing.”
Tanith eyed Cal, managing to not show how nervous she was. Gabriel’s words were just creeping on the boundaries of being insulting, and she wasn’t sure how a hung-over and irritable Welshman might react. Fortunately, Cal either didn’t hear, didn’t notice or didn’t care, as he didn’t react with much venom.
“He does,” Cal mumbled. “I should know, I’ve known him a touch longer than you have.”
Tobias grimaced as he finished off his sandwich. “So, do you lot know anything about setting up tents?” he asked quickly, obviously wanting to cut off any potential arguments before they started. Cal and Gabriel weren’t in the regular habit of sniping at each other, but when they did it tended to fall to Tobias to play peacekeeper, Tanith had noticed.
Gabriel snorted. “Hell, no! What do you take me for?”
“Someone useful,” Tanith said, rolling her eyes. She glanced at Tobias. “If we’re talking tents of the Muggle variety, I don’t have a bloody clue. But normal tents… sure, no problem. How big is it? Two bedroom? Three?”
“Three. So, as usual, you’ll get to enjoy a room to yourself whilst I have to languish with these two delinquents,” Tobias told her, his voice and expression utterly deadpan, but with a distinctly amused look in his eyes.
“Hey. At least I don’t snore,” Cal said, opening one eye to squint at them all and glare a little at Tobias.
“You did last night,” Gabriel said casually as he took a sip of his glass of pumpkin juice. “Dead to the world, you were. Well, no…” His voice trailed off, and he considered this. “You weren’t even on
this world. Tobias here was dead to the world – I don’t know what you did to traumatise the poor guy in your drunken ramblings, Tanith, but he was definitely fairly distracted.”
Tanith had noticed many times in her four years of knowing Tobias Grey that he never did anything half-heartedly. Usually this worked fairly well for him, as it gave him the drive to succeed at most things he set his mind to – or at least meant that he cared enough to whine for days if he failed at it. Less fortunately, it meant that when something went wrong, it really
went wrong. In addition, it meant that his blushing was not subtle, and she couldn’t have failed to notice that he had turned absolutely bright red as he turned away to get himself a drink.
Tanith, fortunately, was one of the lucky people who could keep her cool whatever the situation. “I don’t want to know
what I did,” she lied with confident certainty. “And whatever it is, Grey, if you value your life, you will take the secret with you to the grave.”
Tobias mumbled something indecipherable under his breath, then took a large gulp of orange juice as his complexion began to turn to normal. “Don’t worry. Not even under Veritaserum is this secret escaping.”
Tanith silently swore, promising to herself that if she found out from anyone but him, she’d have to kill him. “Men. You’re all the same,” she mumbled, glaring at Gabriel in particular. “I’ll leave you to your own devices – some of us, unlike you, value personal hygiene. This means I’m first to use the shower.”
Cal sat up, obviously too fast as he winced quickly. “But you use up all the water…”
“Should have got there sooner,” was all Tanith had to say unsympathetically as she put her glass down and hurried out of the kitchen.
“Cal! Will you put that bloody flag down before you end up shoving it in my ear! You’re not Irish, you never have been, you have no Irish roots, so for the love of God, stop trying to sing the national anthem!” Tobias squawked as he swatted the great Irish flag Cal was waving away from himself.
It was true that Gabriel had been the one to secure the seats at the Quidditch World Cup, a rather impressive achievement in itself. With a father in a highly important position up at the Ministry, contact had been made with the right people, and a mere two weeks before the final, Adonis Doyle had swooped down to present the Slytherins with five tickets. Expectedly, the only parent to volunteer had been the non-parent but guardian William Rayner.
“Altair did say he would have come along,” Tanith had said, explaining why her tutor hadn’t attended, “but apparently Dad had something important for him left to do. I don’t ask what he does anymore; but it’s pretty funny to watch them all think I still believe he’s nothing more than a teacher.”
Truth be told, Tobias wasn’t too sad that Altair Ritter hadn’t been the one to watch over them. He was a reasonable man, yes, but still scared the living hell out of Tobias, and was likely to be distinctly more strict than the laid-back Rayner. Rayner knew what the ‘kids’ were like, and was happy to allow them to act as such. Altair Ritter expected a certain amount more decorum.
It would have meant no Butterbeer Extra, for starters.
“Not Irish?” Cal sounded affronted when Tobias finally tuned back into the matter at hand. “Of course
I’m not Irish! I don’t want to be! I am Welsh, proud of it, and today I am merely supporting my Celtic friends in spirit! You, as an arsehole of an Englishman, with your racist jackboots trampling over Scotland, Wales, and
Ireland, cannot hope
to comprehend the true depth of this solidarity, and –”
“Cal, shut up,” Tanith mumbled from where she was stuck on the bench in between the two bickering friends. She had the knees of some ancient wizard in her back, was bracketed by what she would happily call a pair of morons, and it was only the fact that they were at the front of the third level of the stand was stopping her from killing someone.
Yes, Adonis Doyle had got them tickets, but they weren’t particularly good
tickets. He’d kept those for himself, to wiggle up to the top box so he could observe the match in style.
“I have nothing against the Irish!” Tobias had to retort, much to Tanith’s despair. It would be impossible for them to avoid bickering forever, especially when one of them had cast accusations deemed to be unfair at the other. “You’re just bloody racist against the English
“It’s defence,” Cal declared haughtily. “After your evil, thieving and pillaging conquest of the great untamed native Welsh soil, you –”
“Cal, shut up,” Gabriel contributed from the other side of him. “Besides, you’re talking about Muggle stuff. That’s irrelevant. If I paid any attention to Binns’ class at all, it did teach me that the Welsh wizards had fun marauding around the northern parts of England…”
“Yes, in retaliation
against the marching of the Muggles on their native soil! They marched in protection and retaliation, and no unity between Muggles and wizard-druids could quite stand against them,” Cal retorted, so high on his horse that he couldn’t quite see the wood for trees.
“Cal, that war was one of the earliest recordings of Dark Magic. No grand crusade, just death. Both sides used it, in fact. Back then it was just considered to be a greater source of power. They didn’t realise the consequences of such magic,” Tobias said softly, drawing on his always considerable historical knowledge to bring the discussion to a screeching halt.
A deep pause hit them all, broken only by the shuffling of Tanith’s feet. “So. Let’s watch the game, shall we?”
“Krum’s going to get the Snitch. He’s better than Lynch by miles,” Cal said at last, nodding and clearing his throat a little.
“I thought the Irish squad was meant to be stronger this year?” the Quidditch-impaired Tobias asked weakly.
“They are. And I think they’ll win,” Tanith interjected, shrugging. “But Krum’s the better flier. Everyone’s saying they haven’t seen anyone with his talent in decades. Though I’ve never seen him fly before.”
“He’ll grow into that talent,” Gabriel perked up, nodding firmly. “He’s, what, only a year or two older than us? Seekers develop.”
“Ah. I see,” Tobias said, not seeing. He shook his head. “So what’s the point of this game? They have to get the Snitch through the hoops, is that it?”
Of course, having spent four years at Hogwarts and with an obsessive like Cal for a friend, Tobias knew the rules, and could on occasion find Quidditch amusing – though it was better when the players crashed, in his opinion – but it was always worthwhile to act dumb just to watch Cal do his nut.
, you idiot!” Cal exclaimed, looking like he might have a cardiac arrest. “It’s all about –”
“Ladies and gentlemen… welcome! Welcome to the final of the four hundred and twenty-second Quidditch World Cup!
“That’s Ludo Bagman commenting,” Cal hissed to Tanith over Tobias’s head. “You know – bloke who used to play for England? And the Wasps?”
“What, the Muggle rugby team?” Tobias asked, getting a swat on the shoulder from Tanith. He could see she shared his mirth, but it was probably best not to taunt Cal much further. He seemed too excited for it to be a good idea.
“And now, without further ado, allow me to introduce… the Bulgarian Team Mascots!
“Uh-oh,” Gabriel mumbled, reaching into his pockets and pulling out a pair of enchanted earplugs. The others stared at him, nonplussed, and watched as he shoved them in his ears and winked at Tanith.
“What’s that all about…?” Tobias asked, one eyebrow raised as they focused their attention back on the pitch before them. “What are the Bulgarian mascots?”
Cal shrugged. “I dunno, mate. It just looks like they’ve got a lot of…” He raised his Omnioculars. “I don’t see much. Just a load of birds meandering out onto the pitch.”
Tobias gaped. “Birds
“He means in the actual women sense,” Tanith said coolly, looking at the two of them with an air of amusement. “But he’s still wrong. They’re not women. They’re Veela. The Bulgarians love them, unsurprisingly.”
Cal and Tobias exchanged looks. Beside them, Gabriel had his eyes closed and was humming happily to himself. “Veela
Then the music started, and Tobias raised his glasses slightly to peer down at the pitch where, indeed, a hundred or so gorgeous women were dancing. It was a most pleasant display, of course, and moderately captivating, but of all he’d read about Veela, he’d expected to be more… grabbed.
Beside him, Cal seemed quite captivated, though, on his feet and pressed against the barrier at the front of this level of the stand. His lips were moving wordlessly, and he seemed to be trying to figure something out as he stood there.
“This is quite fascinating,” Tobias said, turning to Tanith, who was eyeing him dubiously. “But, I don’t know; I’d expected more.”
“Nobody else did,” Tanith said slowly, frowning a little and gesturing around, where it seemed a lot of the men were as captivated as Cal. “What’s up with you? Why haven’t you been reduced to a gibbering wreck? I mean, Doyle had enough sense to stop his ears, but Cal… well, look at him.”
Tobias did, dubiously, then glanced back at Tanith. “What? You
don’t seem affected.”
Tanith took the deep breath of one who has suffered greatly. “That would be because I’m a girl, Grey.” A slow, teasing smile tugged at her lips. “You’re not gay, are you? Because that might affect the influence the Veela have on you.”
?” Tobias stared at her for a long moment. “I’m… I’m not gay! I’m as straight as a broomstick! I just… they’re very pretty, but I’m not about to jump off the stadium for them!” he exclaimed indignantly, reaching out with one hand to yank Cal back just in case he got that particular idea in his head.
“Interesting. You don’t have an immunity to love potions, do you?” Tanith asked, smirking still.
“Nobody’s ever bloody tried one. I’m quite capable of mastering my emotions,” Tobias retorted, glowering.
“Really? Maybe this just means you don’t have enough passion in you to react to them. You could be all shrivelled up inside, incapable of feeling emotion? Did you think of that?” Tanith asked, folding her arms across her chest and clearly fighting off the smirks that threatened.
“You… you…” Tobias spluttered for a long moment, then leaned towards her intently. “I am not gay, and I am not incapable of feeling emotion. I can feel plenty of emotion, thank you very bloody much.”
“Then how come you haven’t had a girlfriend?”
“You haven’t had a boyfriend!”
“I went out with Miles Bletchley last year, if you bother to remember!”
Tobias snorted. “For about five minutes. That doesn’t count. You wouldn’t say it would count if I’d been out with Melanie Larkin for two days last year, would you.”
“Well, no. But there’s a chance I’m sitting around and waiting for the right individual at the right time to pop along. We’re not talking
love life here, if you recall correctly!” Tanith said defensively, straightening up imperiously.
“Hey, you brought us onto this topic. If you’re going to challenge my love life, I have the right to challenge yours. After all, our lives affect each other right now and for the next few years, so I’m pretty sure our love lives are entwined in a similar way!” Tobias snapped, glowering at her slightly.
“What? What the hell do you mean, entwined
? Because if you’re suggesting what I think you’re suggesting, Grey, then I think you can –”
They turned around suddenly, knocked out of their intensive bickering by Gabriel’s clearing of his throat. The other boy was sitting in his chair, his earplugs in his hand, looking at them dubiously. Beside him sat Cal, who was staring off into space and idly ripping his Ireland flag apart as the Irish national anthem hummed weakly from it. The Veelas were all gone from the pitch.
“If you two ladies are done… the leprechauns are next?” Gabriel sounded highly amused, but in that deadpan way which just let them know
he wouldn’t forget this any time soon and that he’d use it against them the next time he was given the slightest opportunity.
Tobias yanked the Irish flag from Cal, jerking him out of his reverie, and nudged his friend firmly as he nodded at the giant comet of gold and green hurtling around. “I think you might find this a touch more impressive than some scantily-clad tarts gyrating.”
Cal paused, probably at the word gyrating, and Tobias realised it had to have been a bad choice. Fortunately, however, they didn’t have much of a chance to debate this when the comet split off and began to drop the golden galleons everywhere.
“Fantastic!” Tanith exclaimed at last, leaving it rather unsurprising that it would be money that might jerk her into action as she caught a few. Gabriel eyed her dubiously for a second, then winced as a coin bounced off his head painfully.
“You do know that leprechaun gold disappears after a while?” Gabriel asked cautiously, one hand raised above his head to fend off any more threatening coins that might try to concuss him today.
“Of course.” Tanith gave him a scathing look, still catching galleons. “I’m going to spend it in the shops outside. They won’t know the difference, I’m sure, and we’ll be long gone by the time it disappears.”
“That’s called theft, Tanith,” Tobias said wryly, his eyes still on the magnificent display of colour from the horde of flying leprechauns.
“It’s called resourcefulness, Grey,” Tanith retorted.
“And people wonder why Slytherin gets called the House of Evil,” Cal mused, shaking his head.
“No. They just don’t understand. They’d do it too, only they’re too dumb to think of it themselves,” Tanith said with simple conviction.
“And now, ladies and gentleman, kindly welcome – the Bulgarian National Quidditch team
Tanith applauded heavily at Bagman’s voice. “You keep your shamrock, Cal – I’m rooting for these guys.”
“But… the Veelas didn’t affect you,” Cal said weakly, looking at her in a confused way.
Tanith rolled her eyes. “I think I can like the Bulgarian team for reasons other than sex, Cal. It’s just you men who have problems with it. Oh, except for Tobias, but that’s because he’s either gay or emotionally useless.” She smirked at Tobias’ glower. “He might be celibate, too.”
“Are you just persisting in questioning –”
“Dimitrov! Zograf! Levski! Vulchanov! Volkov! Aaaaand – Krum!
Fortunately, the roar of the crowd at the Bulgarian team banished the end of Tobias’ sentence to the wind, so he gave up and sat in a vaguely sulky silence, clapping in an absent sort of way for the Bulgarian Quidditch team.
“And now, please great – the Irish National Quidditch Team! Presenting – Connolly! Ryan! Troy! Mullet! Moran! Quigley! Aaaaand – Lynch!
Cal let out a cackle of delight as he practically bounced up and down on his chair, and punched Tobias companionably on the shoulder. “Come on, Toby – today… today, you’re going to see Quidditch as it’s never been played before. And Hogwarts matches will look dull in comparison!”
As the players hurtled out onto the pitch and Cal stood to cheer with the rest of the crowd, Tobias reasoned it would probably not be a good idea to point out that he thought Hogwarts matches were dull anyway.
“You can’t deny that this was absolutely bloody amazing!” Cal exclaimed, elbowing a fairly tired Tobias as they sat around the merrily blazing campfire outside their tent the following night, clutching bottle of Butterbeer Extra that had been pretty easy to get hold of in the rather frantic and informal atmosphere of the World Cup and cheerfully dissecting the game they had just witnessed.
“I’m not denying it.” Tanith smirked at the still slightly subdued Tobias, whose glazed-over eyes were fixed on the flickering fire as he swigged from his can every few moments, ignoring the rambling of his friends. “Only the dull one here is.”
“The dull one here is sick of going over a Quidditch game for four hours straight,” Tobias mumbled, resting his head in one hand and lifting his bottle of Butterbeer to his lips with the other.
“Then go to bed. We’re not keeping you here,” Cal said lightly, still grinning and perfectly jovial even in the early hours of the morning. Rayner had gone to bed some time earlier, leaving his foster-son and friends to their own devices. Gabriel had headed off a short time ago on one of his walks, and they only hoped he wouldn’t trip over a lingering guy rope and bring down any annoyed wizards.
“What, in this racket?” Tobias said, raising an eyebrow. “I don’t know how Will’s managing to get to sleep at all.”
This was, in fact, a mystery. People were staying awake long into the night, huddling around campfires, drinking various things, singing, dancing, celebrating, and generally making quite a suitable noise.
Cal shrugged. “Will can sleep anywhere,” he said casually. “He says it’s a lesson learnt from working in the field.”
“Obviously it was this particular field, as he seems dead to the world,” Tanith observed, leaning back to poke her head in the tent and check on the man responsible for them. “He’s very casual about us, isn’t he?”
Tobias narrowed his eyes cautiously as Cal threw a glare at Tanith. “He knows what he’s doing,” the Welshman warned her slowly. “He’s not neglectful. He’s taken good care of me my entire life, and just knows that there’s a stage when we start to spread our wings and get some freedom.”
Tobias leant forwards, grinning the hopeful grin he wore when trying to disarm a situation. “And you don’t want to complain about that
, Tanith, do you! Otherwise we’d be in bed, beer-less.”
Tanith smiled thinly, but her eyes were twinkling and she nodded and winked at Cal, who seemed to calm down. “I wasn’t complaining,” she said calmly. “Just observing. It’s pretty cool.”
“My mum would have a fit,” Tobias mused sombrely, looking into his Butterbeer bottle. “What she doesn’t know can’t hurt me.”
“My parents wouldn’t care,” Tanith said, waving her hand dismissively and seeming a little too casual in her words and manner. “They leave me to my own devices even more than Will does, and don’t care the way he does.”
“Count yourself lucky. You don’t want to have a woman swooping around you all the time, making sure you’re not doing anything wrong and acting as if you’re still eleven,” Tobias said, still a little gloomy.
Cal smiled wickedly. “How do you think Gabe’s parents deal with him?” he asked cheerfully.
Tanith rolled her eyes. “Yikes… Having a son who’s the most secretive little bugger alive and has a tendency to go and lurk off in the middle of nowhere on his own for hours at a time can hardly encourage the most closely-knit of families.”
“Well, none of us were born in the most family-building of times,” Tobias observed, knocking his bottle lightly against Cal’s. “Rise of You-Know-Who, and all that.”
“Yeah, having Death Eaters for parents can kinda throw a spanner into the works,” Cal said, shaking his head and looking totally unconcerned. Tobias had to know by now that his friend didn’t dwell on his parentage, but still looked as if felt a bit stupid for bringing it up.
They fell silent for a few moments, listening to the cheers of celebrating Ireland fans, the crackling of the campfires, the shuffling as wizards and witches moved around. Suddenly the noise of the campsite seemed that much quieter, and as they strained their ears through the lull to make sure they were only imagining it, another rush of sound finally reached them, filling the gap left by the previous silence.
Cal stood slowly, the only slightly alcoholic Butterbeer Extra making him feel a numbness behind his eyes but not affecting him much more than that. “What’s… what’s going on?” he asked quietly.
Screams could be heard from back towards the centre of the camp site.
Tobias was on his feet in a second. “Doesn’t sound good, whatever it is,” he said, watching as the campfires flickered more and more, extinguishing, and the noise of the shrieks and commotion rising. In the camps near them, other wizards and witches were similarly rising, looking around in a confused fashion towards where chaos seemed to be rising.
A shuffling from behind them prompted them all to turn around, and Will Rayner emerged from the tent, his grey hair sticking out at odd enough angles to show that he had indeed been asleep, but his eyes and posture spoke of an activity and a vitality which didn’t quite suggest that he had been anything except wide awake all night.
“What’s going on?” he asked intently, cool and professional as he adjusted the collar of the Muggle polo shirt he wore and gripped his long wand firmly, casting his green eyes around the campsite.
Cal shrugged, not even slightly surprised by Rayner’s sudden emergence. “We’re not sure. Everything was calm just now, and then… screaming, coming over from the centre of the campsite,” he reported almost automatically.
Rayner nodded, narrowing his eyes through the gloom to try and see what was going on. “Right. I should get going. You three… stay here,” he said coolly, pointing at them steadily and heading off into the darkness, striding with an authoritative air.
Tanith glanced around slowly, looking suspicious as Rayner disappeared. “Where the hell is Doyle?” she asked, her voice low and sounding a little worried.
Cal chewed on his lower lip. “He can take care of himself,” he said, a little dismissively, although he didn’t feel all that convinced by his own words.
“How do you know?” Tobias challenged, staring after where Rayner had headed off to. “We don’t know what’s going on, so how are we supposed to know if he can handle it?” He sat back down slowly, his beer abandoned, looking very discontented.
“Will’s going out to find him,” Cal said with more certainty.
“Will didn’t seem to notice he was gone.” Tanith peered into the gloom pensively.
“He noticed,” Cal said, again with a sizeable amount of conviction.
“Will has other things to worry about,” Tobias pointed out. “He has to find out what’s going on and deal with it. I doubt looking out for Gabriel is going to thus be his number one priority in a crisis.”
Tanith nodded, yanking Tobias to his feet. “Come on, Grey. We’d better go look for him. God knows what Doyle’s liable to find himself mixed up in,” she said, Tobias co-operating willingly as they both pulled out their wands.
Cal’s hand unhappily settled around his own. “Will told us to stay here,” he protested weakly, though he knew that it was no good.
“Who knows what’s out there?” Tobias said, shrugging. “It might be nothing.”
“Then Gabe will be quite alright,” Cal said defensively.
“But it could be serious,” Tanith countered.
“Then we shouldn’t move!”
She grabbed him by the elbow and yanked him out into the darkness after Tobias, who had already departed. “Stop being stupid, Brynmor,” she scolded. “Come on, Doyle might be in some serious trouble. Who knows
what’s going on?”
“Yeah.” Tobias glanced over his shoulder, smirking. “I mean, I always have to keep you two in line and stop you from doing the stupid things. Don’t take my job away from me here, mate,” he said.
Cal shoved his fists into his pockets and trailed after his friends reluctantly, fatigue and slight tipsiness tugging at him, but able to push it to the back of his mind. “I knew that git’s loner tendencies would land us in a big pile of… rubbish some day,” he mumbled discontentedly.
“Come on,” Tobias instructed, sounding impatient as he continued to stride through the camp, Tanith scurrying along in his wake and Cal slouching unhappily behind. Other people from nearby campsites were similarly roused by the commotion and were huddling around their fires, seeming to try and work out was going on.
Cal could hear snippets of worried conversation, hushed mumblings and confused mutters from those they passed by as they moved along, and he was surprised to note how extensive the undercurrent of fear seemed to run. These were people who were part of a society which had been deeply scarred by fear, and weren’t about to let old habits die.
“Tanith! Grey! Brynmor!” An imperative voice rang through the darkness, and a slightly-built boy a little shorter than Cal appeared at Tanith’s side, brushing his bedraggled blonde-white hair out of his eyes and wearing an unreadable expression.
“Draco?” Tanith came to a halt, as did the others, and gathered around him. “What the hell’s going on here?”
Draco Malfoy shrugged. Cal peered at him suspiciously – despite the insanity and the fact that Malfoy seemed a little flustered, there was still that underlying smugness the boy always emanated radiating off him.
“I’m not entirely sure,” Malfoy replied, sounding oddly confident. “Security here is a complete and utter joke – nobody seems to know, and nobody’s got anything under control. Fudge really doesn’t have a single clue –“
“Have you seen Gabriel Doyle anywhere?” Cal demanded, interrupting roughly. He rarely had time for Malfoy’s ramblings.
Malfoy raised an elegant eyebrow. “Doyle?”
“Yeah, the sneaky little bugger who occasionally hangs around with us. The one who beat the tar out of that Gryffindor prat Harding last year,” Tobias prompted, not having much more fondness for Malfoy than Cal, but seeming ready to put that aside to get answers.
Malfoy shook his head. “No, I haven’t seen him. But in this chaos there could be anyone lurking absolutely anywhere… it’s complete insanity.”
Something about his attitude didn’t quite ring true with Cal, but he didn’t have the patience for Malfoy and his nonsense as he grabbed Tanith and Tobias and yanked them further along. “Right, thanks, whatever,” he mumbled over his shoulder.
“See you later, Draco,” Tanith added hurriedly, seeming to see the importance of moving along but apparently not wanting to be rude.
There was yet more chaos where they’d got; more people running around, screams of fear filling the air and the complete insanity apparently growing. But there was no obvious sight yet of what had caused the pandemonium.
“Oh, God,” Tobias groaned, suddenly coming to a halt, Tanith bumping into his back and Cal stopping next to them. Ahead of them stood a small procession of tall, dark, masked wizards, waving their wands as all around stared, gaped, then seemed to move on in fear. There was no sight of anyone even vaguely authoritative in the area.
But what made the view even more terrifying was the fact that these dark wizards had people suspended in mid air, making them twirl around and bob up and down, rotate and dip. It didn’t take more than a few seconds for Cal to recognise one man as Roberts, the Muggle groundskeeper, and guess that the others were his family. It took even less time after that for him to put two and two together and an ancient memory tug at him to identify the masked wizards.
“Death Eaters,” he choked, causing Tobias and Tanith to look sharply at him, confused. “Sweet Jesus…” He looked around wildly, trying to avert his eyes from the sickening sight, looking at the crowds to see if there could be anyone who would stop it. But there wasn’t – people were gaping, staring, and then moving on. “Merlin! Why isn’t anyone stopping them?” he gasped.
Tobias’s jaw was set, and it looked as if he too was trying to quell anger, though there was a light of fear in his eyes. Tanith merely looked sickened and disgusted.
“Because they’re not stupid,” she mumbled, unable to tear her eyes away. “This… job for Aurors…” Her voice trailed off. “We need to find Gabriel. Quickly.”
“Yeah,” Tobias said, grabbing her by the elbow and pushing Cal along. The Welshman was still staring at the masked Death Eaters, feeling sick and horrified, and was barely aware of his friend’s nudging. But he did move along reluctantly, knowing he couldn’t make much of a move and just silently willing Rayner to come along and sort them out.
“Let’s just go find Gabe,” Tobias said quietly to him, knocking him out of his reverie and prompting them to move along, heading towards the small copse organised for Apparating.
Cal nodded. “He’ll probably be in there. He likes his woodland,” he mumbled.
“Let’s just find him and wait in the woods until this all blows over. I’m not too inclined to go back out there,” Tanith said, looking a lot edgier than Cal could remember having ever seen her to be.
“Yeah.” Tobias nodded fervently. “But we’re never going to find him in this gloom. We’ll have to wait for him to come to us, and you now what that sneaky, lurking, skulking, suspicious little bugger is like. He’ll –“
“Someone say my name?”
Cal jumped so much he thought he’d hit his head on the low hanging branches of the outermost trees of the copse as Gabriel emerged from around the far side of the nearest trunk, looking as casual and unconcerned as ever.
“Doyle! Where the hell were you?” Tanith grabbed him by the elbow and yanked him back towards the gloom of the wood. “We were looking for you, you great lug! Come on – we have to get out of here.”
Gabriel’s eyes narrowed as he looked at where there were still a few flickering campfires left, and the procession of Death Eaters was now resisting the efforts of the Ministry officials to get to the Roberts’.
“What’s going on?” he asked suspiciously.
“You mean you didn’t realise something was wrong from the screaming?” Tobias demanded, sounding exasperated as he grabbed Gabriel’s other arm and helped Tanith in pulling him along. “The place has gone completely topsy-turvy; there’s no way that –“
For the second time in a few scant seconds, Tobias was interrupted – this time not by anyone speaking, but rather the sudden flaring of magic from somewhere in the vicinity and a flash of green above prompting them all to stop and stare at the sky.
Again, Cal felt sick as recognition hit him, and a wave of nausea swept over him. Even as Tobias and Tanith started to tug on a stunned Gabriel, Cal’s knees buckled and he fell to the floor. He knew he’d never known what the implications of the Dark Mark had used to be, but he’d had his taster of that flavour of terror, and was not anxious for another.
Surprisingly strong hands gripped his shoulders and hauled him to his feet, and Gabriel clapped him on the back, pushing him forwards firmly. “Come on, Cal. Let’s get out of here,” he murmured in his friend’s ear, almost echoing Tobias and Tanith’s earlier words, though with a note of consideration Cal would have never thought Gabriel would be capable of.
that?” Tanith demanded, sounding severely shaken. Cal managed to dryly note that most girls he knew would now be on the borders of hysteria, but Tanith merely sounded as if she’d just had a slight shock.
Tobias shook his head. “I don’t –“
“It’s the Dark Mark,” Gabriel told them grimly. “You-Know-Who’s sign. It would appear over the houses of families the Death Eaters had hit.” He cast his eyes back at the crowds, who were even more frenzied at the sight of the Mark, even the masked wizards fleeing. “No wonder everyone’s panicking.”
“Yeah,” Cal mumbled, his mouth tasting bitter. “I’d have thought you’d have read that in one of your books, Tobias.” For some reason, it felt exceptionally good to make a dig at his friend that made things feel as if they bordered on normality.
Tobias threw him a dark look as they headed further into the depths of the small copse. They wouldn’t get lost, but they’d probably be quite safe here. “Shut up,” he mumbled, but there was no venom in his voice and Cal thought he’d gone fairly pale – though that could have just been the emerald light reflecting off his face. His expression was uncharacteristically grim, and there seemed to be no twinkle of anything – amusement, curiosity, enthusiasm, all the usual suspects – in his eyes. Tanith was standing a little closer to him than she usually would, looking sombre and – did he dare think it? – a little scared. Gabriel still had a solid grip on him, and was mumbling something quietly under his breath as Cal felt his knees shaking and silently hoped they wouldn’t give way again.
He had never thought that he would see the Dark Mark except in a book, or hear of it from anything other than Will’s recollections. He had never thought he would see the white masks of the Death Eaters ever again, or see their dark processions coming with malicious intent. But he had, and the implications were all too clear. He knew it would take much to see Tobias sickened and dead of all light of life. He had never thought anything would happen to scare Tanith and have her going to anyone for comfort and reassurance. He had never thought that Gabriel would even know what compassion or fear were. And he had never, ever thought that his legs would collapse from under him for anything of lesser importance than a Quidditch match.