Chapter 7 : January 14th, 1996 – Sixth Year
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Cal wondered if he’d be better off killing himself before class. But then he might miss breakfast, and he was a growing lad. He did like breakfast. So it was with gritted teeth that he slid into a seat at the Slytherin table in the Great Hall, head down, trying to will the buzzing in the crowds away. Something was up, but he couldn’t bring himself to care.
It wasn’t that he was in a bad mood. He just wanted to keep his head down, because if he didn’t kill himself, he was going to kill someone else. In particular, the two someone elses sat across the table from him, bickering like an old married couple.
Not that he’d point this out. He valued his neck too much to insinuate there was anything beyond friendship between Tanith and Tobias, especially in these dark days. Because right now, their topic of argument was the same as it had been for the last two weeks: a certain dark-haired Gryffindor.
‘I can spend my time with whomever I wish, Tanith, as well you know.’ Tobias managed to keep a superior tone while he buttered his toast, looking at it as if indifferent to her and yet getting a good deal on his sleeve.
Tanith sipped her coffee. She’d taken to drinking black coffee lately. Cal suspected it was part of the image she was cultivating, but he wasn’t going to point that out, either. ‘That doesn’t make you free from criticism.’
‘And of course you will criticise everyone’s choices.’
‘Not everyone’s. Just yours, when they’re bad choices.’
Cal grabbed the teapot. If they were yelling, he thought, that would be better. Then they’d blow up and inevitably come back down again. As it was, they remained cool, calm, polite even as they sharpened their words with their glares, so he needed tea. He didn’t want to know what had triggered this latest round about Tobias’ new girlfriend Annie MacKenzie, but these days just saying ‘good morning’ could set off Tanith.
‘What makes you think you know what’s best for me?’ Tobias was saying, eyebrow arched. ‘With all the inter-House bitterness, don’t you think it’s nice some people can look beyond the petty bickering?’
‘Oh, yeah,’ Cal mumbled into his tea. ‘You’re a regular Romeo and Juliet.’
Mercifully, they ignored him as Tanith gave a derisive sniff. ‘Believe it or not, this isn’t about me wanting to ruin what you have. I’m just not sure you and MacKenzie is the best decision you’ve ever made. I mean, you’ve made bad choices -’
‘I remember,’ said Tobias flatly. ‘You were one.’
Cal stared into his tea and wondered if he could drown himself in it. It wouldn’t be a bad way to go. Except there was no explosion, and when he glanced up, he could see the slightest widening of her eyes, the rest of her expression impassive. He suppressed an oath. When Tanith snarked, everything was normal. When Tanith yelled, things were bad, but normal. When Tanith went quiet, everything had really gone too far.
‘And you had,’ continued Tobias, either oblivious or trying to bull-rush past his mistake, ‘no problem last week in Hogsmeade. You didn’t make any comments then.’
‘Well, first, I was drunk. Also, I thought it was a random snog, not anything with actual -’ Tanith narrowed her eyes at him. ‘…emotions. There aren’t actual emotions, are there.’
Tobias turned bright red, and Cal drank more tea. Normally, he found Tobias’ inability to hide his blushes funny. Right now it was tragic. ‘I don’t know,’ Tobias stammered. ‘I mean, I don’t know her very well. But we’re having fun. That’s all.’
She sat up straight. ‘Oh, Merlin, you really do fancy her, don’t you.’
There was not enough tea, coffee, or buttered toast to deal with this crisis. Cal looked around for a safe zone out of the blast radius of Tanith Cole’s impending explosion. Instead, he found the next best thing: a distraction in the shape of Gabriel entering the Great Hall, newspaper under his arm, and Cal half-rose, waving wildly. ‘Gabe! Over here!’
It wasn’t necessary to summon Gabriel; he’d spotted them and was stalking over with, Cal thought, needless determination for breakfast. Gabe didn’t feel the same way as Cal about breakfast. He was never the most cheerful of them ever, and certainly not in the morning, but right now his lips cut a thin, grim line through his face.
He sat down without a word and dumped the paper on the tale. ‘Read it.’
Tanith groaned. ‘Doyle, whatever the Ministry’s done now…’
But Cal wasn’t listening as his hands shot out for the paper, ice churning a storm in his gut as the pictures leapt out from under the headline. He took in the words, but only barely, only enough to realise the full horror and meaning of the sight before him. Because there, alongside mugshots of a dozen other witches and wizards, was his father.
Thanatos Brynmor had been a staunch supported of Voldemort in his reign of terror. But now he was in Azkaban, and all Cal had to remember him by were old photographs and government records.
It was enough to recognise the face under the headline proclaiming an Azkaban breakout.
Tobias peered at the paper upside-down. ‘Is breaking out of Azkaban the new fad? Black’s setting a trend? So much for the Ministry.’
‘Or the Dementors.’ But Tanith wasn’t wry, her frown serious. ‘How the hell did this happen?’
‘Maybe Mad Potter’s right,’ Gabriel said, voice low, grating. ‘Maybe You-Know-Who is back. I mean, it’d take something like him for a mass breakout from Azkaban, right? Not just one escaped convict?’
Cal stared at the paper, and drew a deep breath. When he looked up, he’d somehow managed to forge the ice into a frozen smile, a chiselled mask to face Tobias and Tanith. ‘Guess that saves me the hassle of keeping my father a secret from everyone. I mean, it’s there in black and white. “Thanatos Brynmor”. People would have to be pretty thick to not make the connection.’
Tanith was looking sympathetic - horribly, horribly sympathetic, as he didn’t want her pity - and Tobias looked blank as the situation sank in. They’d known, of course, had known for years, but here it, plain for them to see. But then Tobias’ expression set, and he straightened. ‘Any of them worth a damn won’t let it affect them,’ he said, voice clear and firm. ‘You’re more than that. You know you’re more than that.’
‘Do they know?’ Cal’s rictus of a smile remained, and he could hear the buzzing hubbub across the Great Hall again. This time, he knew what the fuss was about.
‘We’d better get to Transfiguration,’ said Gabriel, numb as he got to his feet. He hadn’t touched any breakfast, Cal noticed when he stopped to shove the Daily Prophet into his bag.
He’d read it later, because he knew his curiosity, his morbid fascination, would be unstoppable. ‘Oh, good,’ Cal groaned. ‘A lesson with Gryffindors. Maybe they’ll try to burn me at the stake.’ He headed for the door with Gabriel at his side, Tanith and Tobias following, their bickering long forgotten.
In some ways, that was even worse. It would normally take an act of God to stop those two from going at a topic when one or both had a bit between their teeth. And they weren’t the only ones affected; he felt the eyes fall on him as they made their way to class, but it was all the worse when they got there, one of the last groups to arrive.
If he so much as coughed, he thought he might turn the tension explosive. He met McLaggen’s glare with a surly glance, and almost jumped when Bletchley clapped him on the shoulder. He hadn’t expected a sign of solidarity, and as he looked up the rows of gathered Gryffindors and Slytherins, he realised this wasn’t everyone rounding on him.
This was two sides, polarised by the news, squaring off. He was just the powderkeg.
He stopped next to Bletchley, Gabriel flanking his other side. Montague rolled his broad shoulders and kept up the glare at the Gryffindors, and there they were, Slytherins united against the world.
Even if he wasn’t sure this was the side he wanted to be on.
‘You know, Brynmor,’ McLaggen started, but was interrupted by the gunshot footsteps of McGonagall storming down the corridor to the classroom. She fixed them all with her own stare, enough to keep the animosity at bay, for now, and as one they all trooped into the lesson without saying a word.
‘…and I expect to see two feet of parchment on the best methods of increasing mass when transfiguring inanimate objects into living beings. By Friday, without fail. I will not accept Quidditch practice as a good excuse from Misters Montague, Bletchley, or Pucey. No, nor you, Miss Bell. Your studies are more important than the Quidditch Cup, and I will say that even to my own Gryffindors.’
Tobias stood as McGonagall reeled off instructions for the essay he knew would consume the rest of the week. At least, if he couldn’t find something else to consume him, and he suspected that would be easy. Juggling work assignments was one thing, even if it was a damn sight harder with NEWTs than it had been with OWLs, but between personal woes and the real world creeping in at the outside, this would be an impressive set of acrobatics.
‘Say what you like about McGonagall,’ Tanith muttered as she shoved her textbooks away, ‘but she’s horrid to everyone when she gets going. Even Snape shows favouritism.’ It was the most they’d spoken all morning, kept silent by studies as much as by the news which had caused not a peace treaty, but a détente.
‘And you know Potions this afternoon is going to be a barrel of laughs,’ he sighed.
‘At least it’s with the Ravenclaws. Not the Gryffindors or Hufflepuffs. I don’t mean anything about MacKenzie by this, Grey, but don’t expect me to get friendly with the lions if they’re going to keep this up.’ This was the glares and muttering thrown at their row of tables, or more specifically, at Cal. It had lasted all morning, and while it was from the usual suspects most of all, the overwhelming majority had thrown him at least a suspicious glance.
He had to give a grunt of agreement as they headed for the door. Cal and Gabriel had bolted right away, making it to the corridor before waiting for them in quiet discussion. Tobias knew there were some parts of Cal’s life where Gabriel was better equipped to help him, and aspects of the war were amongst them. He didn’t know why, but he did know he wished he could give Cal more help than just moral support.
Moral support, it seemed, would be needed. The hairs on the back of his neck rose before he heard Wilson’s voice drift across the hubbub of Slytherins and Gryffindors, because somehow, sometimes, words carried.
‘You know, I thought some people would be in a better mood today.’ Wilson lounged against the wall next to McLaggen and Anderson, but his gaze found Cal. ‘Shouldn’t you be more cheerful, Brynmor?’
Cal’s expression didn’t change, but Tobias saw his shoulders square. ‘Should I?’
Tobias was too far away to join them without stalking across the lines of daggers glared, and so he and Tanith lurked at the periphery, watching as McLaggen raised an eyebrow in surprise.
‘Isn’t this a day of great celebration for all the snakes in general? And you in particular?’
At least now everyone could stop pretending they weren’t listening. A hush fell, and Tobias and Tanith scuttled sideways to join the Slytherin lines which were unconsciously forming opposite the Gryffindors. ‘You got something specific to say, McLaggen?’ Tobias burst out.
It was Anderson, whom Tobias had always thought to be a reasonable bloke, who answered with a smirk. ‘I thought the meaning was clear. Death Eaters escape, and now all your parents or their buddies are back in action.’
Bletchley shrugged. ‘My parents never had anything to do with Death Eaters. Why should I be cheering?’
Tobias’ hand clenched into a fist. ‘My father was killed by a Death Eater. Are you saying I’m happy about this breakout?’
‘And yet,’ said Wilson, ‘there you are, shoulder-to-shoulder with a Death Eater’s son.’ They’d sat around a table at New Year’s, had drinks and cheered and laughed together. But they couldn’t fight the facts of Gryffindors and Slytherins on a day like this.
Cal’s voice was low, rough. ‘As you can see, I’m not cheering. I know Gryffindors aren’t renowned for being smart, but maybe you should put those brains swollen with smug pride to fucking use and figure out why I’m not thrilled.’
A rumble ran across the Gryffindors, and Tobias’ lips thinned. Why had nobody told the idiots to back off? Everard and Riley, prefects, lurked at the back, making no effort to intervene. Even Annie had her eyes downcast, pretending to be somewhere else. Weren’t they meant to be the smart ones, the reasonable ones, diffusing this?
Didn’t you give up stopping Montague and Pucey from baiting the Muggle-borns? The over-buttered toast churned in Tobias’ stomach. The tables had turned.
‘Sounding pretty defensive.’ McLaggen and Wilson exchanged the smug looks of a double-act. ‘Not sure why, if you’ve got nothing to hide about you and Daddy dearest, or are you protesting your innocence too much?’
The first prefect to wade into this disaster turned out to be Tanith. Except she wasn’t using her badge when she stomped forward, wand slipping into her hand, eyes blazing. ‘You want to shut your mouth, McLaggen, or I’ll give you something to protest about.’ Tobias put a hand on her shoulder, but she shrugged it off, and he let it drop. She wasn’t in a blind fury. This was a calculated retaliation, he realised - and it was an effort to draw their ire off Cal.
‘Oh, did Brynmor show you some spells he learnt from his Dad?’ McLaggen smirked.
‘I was going to go with shutting you up by being prefects,’ said Tobias, and stepped up to join her. He glared at Everard and Riley, who had the good grace to look sheepish. ‘So I suggest you back off.’
‘And fuck off,’ Tanith added. ‘That’s my official recommendation.’
‘So, when his back’s the wall, Tobias Grey stands with the Junior Death Eaters,’ said Wilson.
‘I stand with Cal!’ Tobias snapped, whirling to face him. ‘Because he’s my friend, because I don’t give a damn who he is, and because he’s worth ten of you, you arrogant, self-righteous, judgemental Gryffindor bastard!’
McLaggen gave a bark of laughter. ‘Your Dad would be thrilled to hear you defend the son of a Death Eater, I bet.’
Red flashed across Tobias’ vision, and the next thing he knew he had McLaggen pinned against the wall, wand thrust under his chin, and his voice came out in a furious rumble. ‘Don’t you talk what my father would like, or ever try to use him as a tool, McLaggen, or I swear to God I will hex you six ways to Sunday.’
He was distantly aware of voices raising behind him, and realised he’d set off a chain reaction. Wilson had gone for his wand, which meant the Slytherins had, too, and then most of the Gryffindors, and now Jen Riley was kicking into action, wading into the middle and bellowing for both sides to stand down. She had a set of pipes to rival McGonagall when she chose to act.
But he didn’t care. McLaggen looked still too shocked to be afraid, the blood was rushing in his ears, telling him to kick off, blast him, and it was only when a hand fell gently on his forearm that he realised how close he’d come to acting.
His first thought was that it was Tanith, trying to calm him down so he didn’t lose his prefect’s badge. But it wasn’t. It was Annie, and that she was protecting McLaggen didn’t help his mood. He jerked away, wand lowering, and glared at her. ‘You’re not siding with him, are you?’
‘I will if you hex him!’ Annie retorted. ‘You’re acting crazy.’
‘I’m acting…’ He took a step back, and rounded on the gathered crowds. Tanith had been with Riley, uniting in an act which probably hurt her in her soul to stop this from becoming an all-out brawl. With the violence averted, all eyes were on him. ‘I’m not the one who seems to think that having a Death Eater father, even if you don’t even remember him and were raised by the man who took him down makes you a Death Eater yourself!’
‘Toby? Don’t bother.’ Cal hadn’t moved from the wall, flanked by Gabriel, whose hand hadn’t left his wand in the whole process. ‘They’re just proving themselves to be the hypocrites we’ve always known they are. So much for Gryffindor nobility.’
‘Oh, come on,’ said Wilson, proving himself not that bright as his own girlfriend glowered at him for rising to the bait. ‘Death Eaters are from Slytherin, why should we give you a free pass?’
Tanith turned with icy control, and pulled Melanie Larkin’s copy of the Daily Prophet from her hands. ‘No Gryffindors fell to the Dark Arts - oh, wait, I think Idaeus Robb would have something to say about that,’ she said, pointing at the picture of a tall, willowy man with dark, receding hair. ‘Not to mention the great Sirius Black himself!’
‘Exceptions,’ said Wilson, wind going from his sails a bit.
‘I think we should watch you,’ said Tanith, intentionally over the top. ‘I mean, you’re known for your jokes against those who stand against the great, smug Nick Wilson; I remember what you did to those Hufflepuffs last year. Maybe you’re the Death Eater in training, with a nasty streak like that.’
Wilson’s eyes flashed. ‘And I think you need to stop pretending like you haven’t got corrupt friends! You’re just as likely to wind up that way yourself -’
‘Hey!’ Tobias stepped forward again at that. ‘You’re talking to someone trying to become an Auror. What’re you doing about the Death Eaters, Wilson? Bitching at a group of Slytherins?’
‘Death Eaters recruited from Hogwarts last time,’ he pointed out. ‘Brynmor’s a Death Eater’s son; makes him a prime candidate.’
Tobias glanced towards Cal at this, but he was nowhere to be seen. Gabriel remained at the edge of the crowds, arms folded across his chest as if gatekeeper for whichever way Cal had fled, but it was plain to see he’d had enough, left it all behind, and Tobias could only wonder how much he’d suffered before he’d removed himself.
‘You missed Potions. Snape isn’t pleased,’ Gabriel said as he crossed the grass to where Cal was perched on a tree stump, gazing across the lake. ‘I think you’ll need to go explain it to him.’
‘Explain what? I was sulking, so I skipped class?’ Cal frowned at the rippling waters, not looking up. ‘I’ll just take the detention.’
‘You never know. He might listen, considering everything.’ Gabriel sat on the stump next to him. ‘I know. Snape being understanding? Long shot.’ He handed his bundle over. ‘I stole some sandwiches from the lunch table.’
Cal glanced down. ‘Thanks. But I’m not hungry. You don’t need to worry about me.’
‘Is that you saying you don’t mind if I go? Or you saying you want me to go? Because I got nothing more important to do than check up on you.’
Gingerly, Cal reached for the bundle. ‘Well. If you got nothing better to do.’ He’d looked forward to breakfast, he reflected. Now a really late lunch was a chore.
‘Caldwyn, do not go all self-deprecating on me. You’ll talk yourself down, I’ll big you up, and either way I’m not going to do anything except sit here with my mate.’
Cal took a bite of the sandwich so he didn’t have to answer. ‘Nobody else bothered to come down?’ he said at last.
‘Oh, so you did want attention.’ The corners of Gabriel’s lips curled with a tease.
‘No, I just - I figured it’d be all of you showing up, not just you coming solo.’
‘Tanith and Tobias are arguing. I thought I’d slip out, it’s getting irritating. Yes, Tobias snogs MacKenzie. Tanith needs to get over it.’
‘Tell me about it.’ Cal handed over one of the sandwiches. ‘Though I bet she’s got new ammo to use with the Gryffindor display today.’
‘And she’s using it. Not that she doesn’t have a point. They were bang out of order with what they did. I don’t know if our Gryffindors are dumber -’
‘Everyone’s dumber in a crisis.’ Cal rubbed his temples. ‘I thought we’d got a peace accord with Wilson and McLaggen. I guess I was wrong. But everything’s going to hell everywhere in the school, with Umbridge and the Potter stuff.’
‘The world’s turning against the Slytherins. Despite what Bletchley was saying, I think he loves it. He was talking with Warrington and some of the others in the common room when I left. I think they’re planning on upping their game. Kicking off in the corridors, maybe some duels amongst the NEWT students, that sort of thing.’ Gabriel’s lips thinned.
‘You know,’ sighed Cal, ‘I never really liked Wilson, but I didn’t think he’d be as much of a tit as he was earlier.’
‘Ignore them,’ said Gabriel. ‘They’re Gryffindor idiots. Anyone who suggests you’re a Death Eater in Training doesn’t know you. There’s nobody in the House more likely to give Malfoy a thump when he makes anti-Muggle-born comments. McLaggen’s a pureblood and doesn’t hide that he’s proud of it; he’s got more chance of becoming a Death Eater than you.’
‘So? People don’t care about me, or facts. All they care is that Thanatos Brynmor, renowned Death Eater, is my father. I’ve had to live with this for years.’
‘Then ignore the bastards! You’re the only one who matters!’ Gabriel punched him on the shoulder. ‘You’re not the only one with a bleak bit of history. We’re the generation born during the war. Things get complicated. People worthwhile will see you as who you are, not based on who you might be, or how you were born.’
Cal drew a deep breath, and failed to fight the thought which had started to worm in his gut. ‘This is coming from you. You. You’re the one who cares most about blood. Tobias is a half-blood, he doesn’t care. Tanith has had a change in priorities. Not you.’
‘Yes, but - look, Caldwyn, I’m not about to go collar a first-year Muggle-born and call them a Mudblood! Sure, I’d rather they weren’t at Hogwarts, but that doesn’t mean I want them all dead. I’ve a long way to go before I get there.’
‘Except,’ said Cal, looking to him, ‘if blood dictates who and what we are, then shouldn’t I have tainted blood? If having pureblood parents makes you a better witch or wizard by default, then why’s Tobias the half-blood the best student in our year, maybe the whole damn school? If blood really has such a sway over who we are, then why aren’t I running after Thanatos to learn Unforgivables off Death Eaters right now?’
Gabriel stared at him, spluttering.
‘Exactly,’ sighed Cal. He stood up, tossing the remains of his sandwich into the lake. ‘You always thought I didn’t give a damn about blood because that would condemn my foster-father - my father, to hell with anything else, he raised me. But I have to not care about blood.’ He looked over his shoulder at Gabriel, eyes glittering. ‘Else I have to believe my blood makes me an evil bastard.’
‘That’s mad,’ said Gabriel, launching to his feet. ‘You are who you are, and you’ll make your own lot out of life. Thanatos Brynmor has no more to do with it than any one of those escaped prisoners.’
‘Sure.’ Cal nodded. ‘Then why do those who say lineage doesn’t affect Muggle-borns condemn me for my family? And why do you, saying blood does affect us, not condemn me? We’re picking and choosing here, which makes neither of us right.’
There was a long silence as Gabriel stared at him. Then he drew a deep breath. ‘Let’s get back. Maybe Tanith will have killed Tobias, and his Gryffind-whore will raise the lions up for vengeance. We might not have to worry about this.’
It was, Cal knew, the closest to an acceptance of his words he was going to get. If Gabriel disagreed, he would have argued. His silence meant he’d heard and was, at the least, mulling it over. What the response was would remain to be seen, so he said no more as the two fell into step on the winding route back towards the castle.
‘You know,’ he said after a minute, ‘once Tobias is finished with McLaggen, he’ll hex you six ways to Sunday if he knows you called MacKenzie a whore. And I won’t stop him.’
‘Let him,’ Gabriel growled. ‘I’m not feeling Gryffindor-friendly right now. Ask me again later, when MacKenzie actually sticks her neck out against those housemates of hers.’
‘Like we do all the time when Montague’s taunting Muggle-borns.’
Gabriel groaned. ‘It’s just the way of things, mate. It’s why Tobias and MacKenzie being together is a bad idea.’
‘It is,’ Cal sighed. ‘And I suspect, despite today, that’s not going to change yet.’
‘If you hex McLaggen,’ said Tanith, ‘they’ll take your badge.’
‘I know,’ growled Tobias as they stalked down the corridor. ‘But it’ll be worth it.’
‘Then you’ll never make Head Boy. I thought that was what you wanted?’
‘What I want -’
He saw Tanith’s eyes roll skyward as they recognised the voice, but he forced himself to keep calm and look calm as he turned to Jen Riley. And froze when he saw the Gryffindor prefect’s interception of them was joined not by Tom Everard, as he’d expect, but Annie.
He swallowed, glad the corridors between potions classes and the library were quiet. ‘Hey.’
‘The fuck do you want?’ said Tanith, always more to the point. ‘I can point you at Drake and Larkin if you fancy Gryffindor vs Slytherin 2: This Time, We’re All Arseholes.’
‘I didn’t come to fight,’ said Riley, catching her breath. ‘And this is a sort of two-pronged chat. Annie’s hijacking this so Grey doesn’t get a Gryffindor queue.’
Annie rolled her eyes. ‘Thanks, Jen.’
Tanith glared. ‘Do I need to be here for this?’
‘I want to talk to you both,’ said Riley, and gestured down a side corridor. ‘Quietly.’
‘Why, in case someone spots you talking to a Slytherin civilly?’
‘Bloody hell, Cole, will you just listen?’
Despite himself, Tobias glanced to Annie, and they exchanged small, amused looks at the sniping. He let out a deep breath, and made himself relax. ‘Alright, alright. What’s up?’
Jen Riley glanced up and down the corridor and seemed to judge it quiet enough to talk. She still paused to gather herself, running a hand through her hair. ‘I’d like to apologise for this morning.’
‘Which bit?’ said Tanith archly. ‘The part where Gryffindors jumped Cal for no reason, or the part where you did fuck all?’
‘You didn’t intervene except to threaten people,’ Riley pointed out - then caught herself, exhaling. ‘I can’t apologise for the others. It wouldn’t be right.’
‘That,’ said Annie dryly, ‘and they’re not sorry.’
‘You shock me,’ sneered Tanith.
Riley’s lips thinned. ‘I am sorry I didn’t do more, sooner. I didn’t expect this. It wasn’t decent of me as a prefect, and it wasn’t decent to you guys. Or to Brynmor. I don’t have a problem with him; I don’t think the guys do generally, it’s just - everyone’s been so tense. They had to blow off steam.’
Tobias folded his arms across his chest. ‘If I told you Montague and Pucey are just blowing off steam when they’re pricks, you’d call me out for defending them.’
She faltered. ‘Okay. Fair enough. It wasn’t good of them, and I should have stepped in. And I should continue to step in. I don’t know how much they’ll listen, but I’ll try to get them to leave Brynmor, at least.’
‘Where’s Everard?’ said Tanith sharply. ‘Shouldn’t he be here if Gryffindor prefects are finally doing their jobs?’
‘I can’t talk for Tom,’ said Riley.
Annie scoffed. ‘You say “jump”, Jen, he’ll say “how high”. The point is that Nick and Cormac might listen to you, but they won’t listen to him.’
‘It’s easy,’ Tanith continued. ‘You just withhold privileges from Wilson until he behaves.’
Riley ignored that. ‘The three of us - okay, four of us, with Tom - need an accord. We’ll smack down this issue.’
‘I thought we did that this morning.’
‘Without threatening to hex people’s faces off, Cole.’
‘Did a damn sight more than you wishing you were someplace else, Riley -’
‘Bloody hell!’ Tobias snapped. ‘Will you two stop for five seconds? Tanith, stop being so aggressive, Jen, stop rising to the bait. If we’re going to put an end to this, we need to actually work together.’
Tanith stuck her nose in the air. ‘I’m just -’
He rounded on her. ‘For Cal’s sake.’ That took the wind out of her sails, and she subsided with a guilty expression. He looked to Riley. ‘You’ve got a deal. We can’t stop Miles or Montague from doing their thing, but that’s always been the case.’
‘Though you say, “deal”,’ mused Tanith, more calm. ‘This sounds more like “you contain McLaggen and Wilson, we reap the rewards.” Not that I’m complaining, but what’s our part in this?’
‘For you to give us a chance,’ said Riley. ‘And make sure Brynmor and at least Doyle do, too. And, while I’m beating them in line, for you to just… evade instead of confront.’
‘Run with our tails between our legs,’ muttered Tanith, but she caught Tobias’ glare. ‘Fine. Whatever. I’d like to take the lot of you to task for being judgemental hypocrites, but this is for Cal. He doesn’t want a fight. And he doesn’t deserve it.’
Riley nodded. ‘That’s all I wanted. Peace accord.’ She glanced at Tanith. ‘In which case, Cole, you and I should clear out of here.’
There was an arched eyebrow in response. ‘Really? Why would I -’
Tobias grimaced. ‘Tanith, please?’
She looked at him, at Annie, glanced at the ceiling - then turned away. ‘Fine. C’mon, Riley, I can brief you on exactly how you strip Wilson down to size -’
‘Oh, joy, Tanith Cole wisdom on being a bitch; like I didn’t get a crash course in that for the last six years…’
Annie was covering her smirk with a hand as Tanith and Riley left the way they’d come, leaving just the two of them down this patch of abandoned corridor. ‘They do not get on, do they.’
‘I’m not sure Tanith gets on with anyone,’ sighed Tobias. He shoved his hands in his pockets, frowned at the walls, and wondered how he was supposed to start a conversation when he knew he wasn’t the one who was supposed to apologise. ‘So…’
‘I’m sorry,’ she said, as easy as that. ‘I didn’t mean to tell you that you were wrong this morning. I just - you really lost your temper at Cormac.’
‘He said -’
‘I’m not saying he didn’t deserve it.’ Annie lifted her hands, grimacing. ‘But you should have seen yourself. He’s about twice as big as you and you had him backed up against a wall.’
His recollection remained fuzzy. ‘I guess I did, at that. I wouldn’t have hurt him.’ Probably. ‘I didn’t mean to worry you.’
‘He and Nick can be… him and Nick… but their hearts are in the right place. It’s just sometimes their brains aren’t.’
‘Yeah, I imagine sharing a scant collection of braincells can displace things,’ Tobias drawled.
‘I thought it was all going to kick off, I was just trying to stop you. A bit because I didn’t want to see Cormac get hurt, even if he deserved it. A bit because I didn’t want the situation to get worse. And I guess I…’ She grimaced, and rubbed the back of her neck. ‘I always thought of you as outside of these Slytherin-Gryffindor fights. Like I try to be.’
‘If it’s Miles, or Ed, or Adrian, I am,’ he said, turning to face her, seeking her gaze - because he needed to make sure she was listening, and he needed to be sure she understood this. ‘But this was Cal. He’s my friend, he’s my brother, and he is not, is not a bad guy. Whoever his father is, Cal isn’t him. And if people are going to give him hell, I’m going to be right by his side.’
Despite his ardent tone of voice, a smile played about her lips. ‘Careful, Toby. You’re sounding Gryffindorish.’
‘And you, scooting along with Riley to make peace after I was buttered up by her peace offer. That’s a little Slytheriny,’ he pointed out.
‘Yes, well. When it matters, I play to win.’ But her smile faded, and she met his gaze. ‘I am sorry I didn’t back you up today. Everything happened fast, and I’ve not seen Nick in that kind of mood before. It’s different for us, free Death Eaters means more people who might hurt us.’
Tobias winced. ‘I didn’t think of it that way,’ he admitted. Nick Wilson getting angry because he was a Muggle-born in the line of fire made a lot more sense. Cormac McLaggen having his back just like he, Tobias, had had Cal’s back, rang true. ‘But we’re in Hogwarts. We’re safe.’
‘We’re not,’ said Annie, ‘but if I played it safe, I wouldn’t be chasing after a Slytherin, would I?’
His heart surged as she smiled again, and he couldn’t help but return his own silly grin. ‘Who says I need chasing?’
‘I guess I’m still figuring out how to read you.’ She took a cautious step closer. ‘I understand now you were backing up your friend.’
Tobias’ expression twisted guiltily. ‘I’d be lying if I said I never kept my head down when my housemates are dicks. And sometimes it happens fast.’
She nodded, and reached out for her fingertips to brush against his, a request as much as an invitation. ‘So, what do you say, Toby? You accepted Jen’s peace accord, but… what about mine?’
He smiled despite himself. ‘You know me. Ever the pioneer of ideals and principles… like inter-House cooperation,’ he said, but when she stepped in and kissed him, all principles - of Slytherins and Gryffindors, even of Death Eaters and their sons - could not have been swept further from his thoughts.
A/N: Yes, that’s right, while the original contents of this chapter are basically unchanged… I had to add the end scene. Tobias and Annie had a tense confrontation in the original version, only for that to go completely unaddressed; presumably it got resolved off-screen. And I figured that while I was adding a reconciliation of Tobias and Annie, I might as well beef up the glaring flaw in Jen Riley’s upcoming arc of her doing naff all during that scene.
Plus it was fun to write her and Tanith bickering when they’re both younger and pissier and get on even less well.