Chapter 8 : March 29th, 1996 - Sixth Year
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‘At last! Finally, eyes have been opened! People are doing what has to be done!’ The grating voice of Draco Malfoy shot across the Slytherin common room, reactions varying from excitement to irritation but with genuine interest guaranteed by all - because, at the least, he clearly had news.
‘Are we throwing the little twerp out the window?’ Cal muttered from the sofa he was sprawled across. ‘Because that’s beginning to sound like what needs to be done.’
Tobias gave him a glare. ‘Don’t insult the prefects, Cal.’
‘Yeah,’ said Tanith, perched on the armrest next to Cal. ‘Even if they are little twerps.’ But she’d hopped to her feet before Tobias could turn on her, and raised her voice as she faced the commotion. ‘What’s happened, Draco?’
Cal knew Tanith had to play nice due to family and business connections between the Coles and the Malfoys. It didn’t stop him from making a mocking expression, mercifully hidden from everyone except Gabriel, who grinned, and Tobias, who threw a wad of paper at him.
Malfoy either was oblivious or ignoring the lack of respect from the corner, and hopped onto a coffee table, raising his arms. ‘As of tomorrow, the balance of power in this school will be changing! No more shall Dumbledore’s hand-picked lackeys run around with almighty power as prefects!’
‘Yeah,’ Cal muttered. ‘You’re such a lackey of Dumbledore’s aren’t you.’ Tobias gave him another look, but it was clear his interest was waning as he returned to reading his copy of the Clarion.
‘Our new headmistress,’ Malfoy proclaimed, ‘is implementing new changes to move with the time. And one of these important changes, putting the power back into the hands of those who are loyal to the vision of Hogwarts’ future, is going to strengthen that future…’
Cal groaned audibly, staring at the ceiling. ‘Quit your blathering and get to the fucking point, Malfoy!’ he called out.
A titter ran across the room, but Malfoy’s glance in his direction was disparaging before he waved a dismissive hand. ‘I would like to introduce you all to the Hogwarts Inquisitorial Squad, the new disciplinary and authoritative intermediary between the Head and the students!’
A confused silence met this, until Tanith chirped up. ‘What’s it going to do? What’s going to happen to prefects?’
‘They’ll remain,’ said Malfoy. ‘But they’ll be a second class of authority compared to the Inquisitorial Squad. Of course, all loyal Slytherins are welcome to join! I’ll be drawing up a list that will be submitted to Headmistress Umbridge for her confirmation. Speak to me to express your interest.’ Then, with all the aplomb of a politician who’d just made an election-winning speech, he hopped off the table and began to swagger about the room to talk with the crowds.
‘The hell is this.’ Cal sat up. ‘What’s Umbridge’s game? What’s wrong with prefects?’
The corner of Tobias’ paper flicked down and his grimace was plain. ‘Prefects were appointed by Dumbledore and Dumbledore’s staff. She wants a new powerbase here, people to enforce her Edicts who are loyal. Let’s face it, a Gryffindor prefect isn’t going to do that.’
‘I bet the Hufflepuffs sit around playing Gobstones all day, or something, not discussing the political plight of the school,’ Gabriel sighed. ‘Lucky bastards.’
‘No, just fools with low aspirations,’ said Malfoy as he swaggered over. ‘They don’t understand what’s going on here. Leave them to their games. They’ll understand, eventually.’
Cal lounged back on the couch. He could feel a headache coming on. ‘I don’t doubt it. It must be very encouraging for you, Malfoy. Because once the Hufflepuffs begin to understand, you’ll just be one step behind them! Maybe you can ask them to help you figure out what’s going on?’
Malfoy looked at him - then turned away as if he’d not been addressed, superior expression intact. Cal had to give him credit for poise as he looked to the others. ‘I assume you’ll be signing up, Tanith, Grey, Gabriel? After all, you’re just the sort we’re looking for.’
‘Really?’ said Gabriel dryly, ‘you wound me, because I saw you just talking to Crabbe, Goyle, and Montague. I’m offended if you think we’re “that sort”.’
Malfoy kicked Cal’s feet off the sofa so he could sit down. ‘Of course we need them. Muscle. Intimidation. But I’ll also need people with brains -’
‘We know that…’
‘- to help out.’ Again, Malfoy ignored Cal. ‘The balance of power in the school is changing. It’s not Dumbledore and his bloody Gryffindors getting everything, every year, all the time. Aren’t you sick of that?’
Cal sat up at this. ‘I guess Umbridge won’t take the House Cup away from us at the last second. And we bloody well deserved it. It’s all about his favouritism of Potter, you know.’
Finally Malfoy acknowledged him with a thin smile. ‘You see my point. Umbridge won’t ignore other Houses breaking the rules. You know we’re undermined every time we do something well. This Inquisitorial Squad is a chance to change that.’
‘Will there be members from other Houses?’ said Tanith.
He shrugged. ‘Some. Some are suitably devoted.’
‘Just some?’ Tobias looked sceptical. ‘That won’t be fair if there are loads of us -’
‘It’ll be in our favour, yes, that’s the beauty of it.’ Malfoy’s hand curled into a fist. ‘It’s the right time to be a Slytherin. We don’t have to look at the rest of the school with shame any more.’
Cal wasn’t sure Malfoy had ever shown shame for anything, and he could see Tobias was thinking the same thing as he sat up. ‘What about -’
‘I like this,’ Gabriel interrupted, tossing his Transfiguration homework on the table. ‘It looks like we’ll win the Quidditch. Dumbledore’s not here to take the House Cup away from us. Maybe it’s time we can actually achieve on our own merits.’
‘Instead of being labelled the black sheep of the school.’ Cal frowned, tempted despite himself. ‘Because we’re evil. Didn’t you get the memo?’
Malfoy’s smile remained. ‘You understand. I’m sick and tired of our every achievement being put down to cheating, and every time we’re beaten it’s a long-overdue put-down. While Gryffindor can do no wrong.’
‘Because they’re Dumbledore’s favourites,’ Cal muttered bitterly.
‘So good and pure and brave and righteous and - oh, God, kill me now.’ Tanith rolled her eyes.
‘This is all valid,’ said Tobias, voice guarded as he raised his voice. ‘And losing Dumbledore should fix this. I’m just not sure why we need a whole new authoritative regime.’
Malfoy shrugged. ‘The prefects are all Dumbledore’s people. They’re anti-Slytherin, biased against us, opposing fairness within the school.’
Even though the righteous indignation had started to sweep him along, Cal could recognise the blatant manipulation in Malfoy’s words. If he believed equality within the school was a worthy aspiration then he, Cal, was a Niffler. ‘You think Dumbledore’s bigoted leadership can’t fade if his pawns are still in place?’
‘Then why don’t we replaced the prefects?’ said Tobias.
‘Umbridge would,’ said Malfoy, ‘but that takes paperwork, and you need good reasons to do that. The House Heads would protect them, there’d be a whole fuss. You could remove one or two, but all of them?’
‘It’s a mess,’ Tanith said thoughtfully. ‘The prefects would have to have their duties downscaled for it to work, though. And you want us to sign up?’
Malfoy nodded. ‘You’re all good, solid Slytherins. You have brains, not like Montague and Pucey. Think about it. The chance to let the Gryffindors who’ve mocked you pay.’
Tobias sat up. ‘Keeping discipline shouldn’t be about vengeance -’
‘The chance to rip House points off McLaggen for being a self-righteous turd,’ Cal said with a wistful sigh.
‘So it’s decided,’ said Malfoy. ‘All four of you?’
Tanith shrugged. ‘Don’t see why not.’
Cal grinned. Tanith was a harsh but fair prefect, and he couldn’t see her accepting her powers being stripped back. She was also the canniest of all of them when it came to Slytherin politics, and stepping away from this would cause a certain upheaval. But he, for his part, just wanted to see Cormac McLaggen and his cronies pay. And he didn’t care how petty it was. ‘Count me in.’
Gabriel looked back at his homework. ‘Sure. So long as I don’t have to talk to idiots in other Houses.’
Malfoy smirked and looked at Tobias, who remained silent. ‘Grey?’
Tobias lifted his paper. ‘Nope.’
‘I’m a prefect. Why do I need to be a member of the Inquisitorial Squad?’ The corner of Tobias’ paper twitched down, his expression suggesting this idea was on a par with wearing two pairs of trousers at once.
Malfoy bristled. ‘Moving with the times, Grey. Showing Hogwarts is changing. Shrugging off Dumbledore’s old regime. Stepping up and doing what’s necessary for Slytherins.’
Tobias waved a dismissive hand. ‘I can do that as a prefect. I don’t need to be part of Umbridge’s brute squad, if that’s all the same to you.’
Malfoy stood, expression twisting. ‘Grey, do you understand what you’re saying?’ His voice suggested he believed Tobias rather simple. ‘You’re clinging to Dumbledore’s ways.’
Tobias fixed him with a cold look. ‘I’m sticking with this Muggle idiom: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’
Tanith stood quickly, moving to Malfoy’s side and guiding him away by the elbow. ‘I’ll talk to him, he’s just in a mood,’ Cal heard her hiss, and from the way Tobias’ eyes flashed, he fancied he heard too. But this placated Malfoy enough to make him leave with his list, looking disgruntled.
She turned back, jaw clenched, and Cal resisted the urge to hide under the sofa. Their relationship had been much more tense these past three months - which of course could have nothing to do with what had happened at New Year’s. And, yes, there Cal was, about to turn into a Niffler again if he believed that.
Minor arguments were now much more heated, especially when they coincided with new information about Tobias’ relationship with Annie MacKenzie, the relationship that stubbornly refused to die. Neither Cal nor Gabriel would dream of telling her the snippets that reached them through Tobias, and Tanith didn’t move in circles to hear the Gryffindor gossip, but the grape-vine was powerful. When she got a snippet, she got snippy. When she didn’t get a snippet, she snapped. For any reason she could find under the sun.
This situation sounded like a great reason to snap, and Cal grabbed his Quidditch magazine as she opened her mouth.
‘That wasn’t smart, Toby.’
Cal peered over the top of the magazine. No last names. First name, in a familiar form. Was this a sneak attack?
Tobias shrugged. ‘I don’t care. I refuse to sign up to that old toad’s personal team of bullies. I’m a prefect, I’m here to keep the peace, and I can do that fine as I am.’
‘I said it wasn’t smart, not that it wasn’t practical. You’ve rejected Malfoy, but more importantly you’ve rejected Umbridge. She’s a Slytherin supporter, and she sees we were always going to be her most loyal allies against Dumbledore.’ She planted her hands on her hips, biting her lip with a frustration Cal was still surprised wasn’t being taken out on Tobias.
‘Yeah, imagine that,’ muttered Gabriel. ‘Dumbledore marginalises us for decades and we turn out to have no loyalty to him.’
Tanith didn’t snap at him for interrupting this private discussion being held in public. Cal now wondered if the apocalypse was already happening beyond their walls. ‘You have a point, Gabe,’ she said instead. ‘The prefects are from Dumbledore’s institution. They were appointed by him, they enforced his rule.’
‘They enforce Hogwarts rule, Tanith.’ Tobias sounded snippy at last. ‘And have done for centuries. This is bigger than Dumbledore, Hogwarts is bigger than Dumbledore. Umbridge just can’t see this. I refuse to sign myself up to her bid for power and control.’ He stood. ‘You know this is wrong. You all know this is stupid. So I refuse to sit here and listen to you try to convince yourselves that this is a good idea.’
Cal watched him stalk towards the dorms, nonplussed. ‘I don’t know why he’s sulking,’ he said. ‘He could give Summerby detention for a year for drooling over MacKenzie. He’d like that.’
Tanith snorted. ‘Grey’s just being stupid. He’ll see sense soon enough. The Inquisitorial Squad might be bollocks, but he knows how to play the game, he learnt with us.’
‘The game’s stupid and boring, but it does give us a quiet life,’ said Gabriel. ‘I thought he preferred that.’
‘He’s just wound up because this is a “principle” thing.’ Tanith smirked. ‘He’ll come around once he sees sense.’
‘You said that about him and MacKenzie. Three months together, and still going strong.’
Cal was unsurprised when Tanith threw him a glare and stalked off to her dormitory without another word. ‘Smooth, Gabe. Real smooth.’
Gabriel shrugged. ‘Whatever. I’m right. She’s being just as dumb as him. At least he’s not so up to his neck in denial he’s going to be swallowed whole. Remember Valentine’s Day?’
Cal groaned. The Hogsmeade trip had been hellish, the two of them with Tanith while she kept conjuring up reasons to seek out and pester Tobias to interrupt his date with Annie. After two intrusions, they’d dragged her to the Three Broomsticks and bought her drinks until she gave up on embarrassing everyone involved.
‘Denial is not just a river in Egypt,’ Cal sighed, ‘and Tanith is definitely not an Africa sort of person - ow!’ He jerked at the swat on the back of his head, and looked up to see Tanith stood over him, glaring. ‘I thought you were pissed with Gabe?’
She shrugged. ‘I forgot my quill,’ she said, grabbing it and turning to go.
He laughed. ‘Yeah, that’s it, Tanith. Try that dramatic, angry exit again. It has more impact the second time in as many - ow!’
‘I was very surprised to see your name was not on the list submitted to me by Draco Malfoy, Mister Grey.’
Tobias kept his back ramrod-straight as he stood before the desk of the Headmistress in her office. He had taken no small degree of satisfaction from the Office of the Head of Hogwarts refusing her entry, but he wasn’t going to show it right now. Even if a cheap mockery of power suited Umbridge perfectly.
‘You were?’ He settled on dumb neutrality for safety for now.
She peered at him over her spectacles with beady eyes. ‘Indeed. You are a fore-running prefect in your year. A prime candidate for Head Boy. One of the shining examples to your peers in Slytherin House. I would have thought to see you as one of the first names on the list.’
Tobias winced. ‘I am, as you say, miss, a prefect. As such, I do not see any need to sign up for the… Inquisitorial Squad. The duties I wish to perform for Hogwarts can are covered by my responsibilities as a prefect of the Sixth Year of Slytherin House.’
She narrowed her eyes, but after years of Tanith Cole’s angry glares, Umbridge’s were inconsequential. ‘You do not recognise this as a great opportunity to prove your worth to the school? The Inquisitorial Squad is something else entirely. I would have thought you would aspire to more, like a good Slytherin.’
‘There are many schools of thought as to what makes a “good Slytherin”, miss,’ said Tobias neutrally.
‘The other prefect of your year, Tanith Cole - a good friend of yours? - has signed up for the Squad.’
‘That’s her choice.’
‘As has Caspian Warrington, Esmerelda Fawcett, Draco Malfoy, Pansy Parkinson. You are the only Slytherin prefect to not.’
‘May I ask what makes you so different to all your compatriots? What might make you unsuitable?’ Her voice took on a syrupy, sickly sweetness of condescension.
He was impassive as he spotted her trap. ‘If all Slytherin were the same, it would be a very dull House.’ No, that was a schoolyard retort. Tanith thought she played ‘the game,’ thought she was unrivalled. But he knew now he’d entered a whole new echelon in this conversation. ‘It’s about my scheduling.’
‘You do not believe yourself capable of sustaining both duties and your studies? Your Housemates believe they can.’
He gave a vacant, polite smile as she reached the conclusion he wanted her to. ‘Not at all. But these individuals have been fully dedicated to their roles as prefects. If their attention is now on their duties as members of the Inquisitorial Squad - and I know they will be devoted - it simply stands to reason that they will be unable to perform as prefects to their full capacity.’
‘The Inquisitorial Squad takes precedence over prefects in matters of discipline. The prefects are merely… backups.’
‘In matters of discipline, yes, as you say. But there are other prefect duties. Organising celebrations in the school, room allocation and supervision of the societies you have permitted to be reformed since Educational Decree Twenty-Four. There is more to a prefect’s duties than patrols and House Points. And as not all other prefects of other Houses are on the Inquisitorial Squad, it would cause an imbalance of power if Slytherin prefects did not keep up those duties.’
Umbridge’s sweet smile convinced neither of them. ‘So you are sacrificing yourself for the good of Slytherin?’
‘I am,’ said Tobias. ‘Which brings me to my next point about the Squad. I’ve not seen a single non-Slytherin on the list of potential members. Which is unfair.’
‘The Squad is an instrument of change. Out with the old, in with the new, a new shining future. Slytherins have been excellent in seeing the flaws in the old system, which makes them perfect for the Squad. Members of other Houses are still… misguided by Albus Dumbledore’s teachings. Which makes them unsuitable. It is as simple as that.’
‘The prefect system has worked for centuries,’ Tobias pointed out. ‘And it will continue to work for centuries more when your Inquisitorial Squad has faded into nothing, a failed experiment of control.’
So much for staying cool.
Umbridge made a steeple of her short, stubby fingers. ‘This is a very unnerving display from someone of your status, Mister Grey. Professor Snape always spoke highly of you. I had always assumed it would be you who would make Head Boy next year. But it seems that his faith was misplaced, not if you feel this way about the future.’ Her eyes met his coldly. ‘You will not join the Squad?’
Tobias tightened his jaw as he saw this chance to back down, to fall in line. He drew a sharp breath, and gave the answer they’d both expected. ‘I will not.’
‘Then I think that your attitudes will be of no use amongst the prefects, either.’ She stuck out her hand. ‘I would like your badge, Mister Grey. It should go to someone who understands what Slytherin House needs.’
He rocked at that, eyes widening. ‘What?’
Umbridge remained impassive. ‘Your badge. I’m removing you as a prefect of Slytherin House.’
With numb fingers, he reached to unpin the shiny badge. The culmination of all his work in Hogwarts, all of his efforts to be recognised. He’d always taken good care of it. Polished it, made sure it was visible. It was a symbol demanding respect, and he respected it.
It came away from his robe so easily, and he hesitated, turning it over in his hands.
‘It is a shame,’ said Umbridge, jerking him from his reverie. ‘You would have made an excellent Head Boy.’
He scowled, no longer needing any masks, and tossed the badge down. It landed with a dull thump, no satisfying rattles, and he didn’t wait for a dismissal before he turned on his heel and stalked out of Umbridge’s office.
He’d run terrified through the Quidditch World Cup as Death Eaters caused havoc. He’d humiliated himself in front of his best friend when trying to win her affections. He’d been accused of betraying his father by smug Gryffindors. But this - today - had to be the worst day of his life.
The corridors were abuzz with lunchtime fuss, ignoring his troubles. He’d been hungry and hoped the meeting with Umbridge could go quickly when he’d been summoned, but his stomach had now folded into a tiny, tight ball. He didn’t know where he was going, just stormed down the corridors, and so almost jumped out of his skin when he heard a voice calling his name.
‘Toby! Hold up!’ Even the sight of Annie, detaching herself from a gaggle of Gryffindors to join him, couldn’t calm the thudding in his heart. ‘There you are! I’ve been looking for you all morning.’
‘I was… around,’ he said, shrugging. He tried to not glare over her shoulder at McLaggen and Wilson, their group of Gryffindors carrying on their way. But he saw her expression twitch, just a little, just enough to remind him she wasn’t hugely fond of his tendencies - drilled into him by years in Slytherin House - of evasion. ‘I had to talk to Professor Umbridge.’
She frowned. ‘About the Inquisitorial Squad?’ The words were like a curse.
‘Yeah. Look…’ Her presence was starting to slow down his racing brain and racing heart, and he let out a slow breath. She’d listen, wouldn’t she? Let him offload? Wasn’t that meant to be a part of a relationship?
‘Hang on. I need to talk to you.’ Her expression tightened, and she glanced around. ‘Can we go somewhere a bit more out of the way?’
He looked down the corridor. His mind, still working as a prefect, insisted that empty classrooms weren’t an option - but who was going to kick up a fuss today? ‘In here,’ he said, and moved for the nearest door. The Charms classroom was unlocked and empty this time of day, students at lunch, Flitwick in the staffroom.
He closed the door behind them, and folded his arms across his chest as he looked at her. ‘What is it?’ A cold feeling was settling in his gut, and he couldn’t tell if he was reading something on her, or just upset after Umbridge.
‘Well, this just got… blown up bigger.’ Annie rubbed her temples before perching on the edge of a desk. ‘Look, everything’s going crazy. Umbridge, the Slytherin Squad -’
‘Inquisitorial Squad, it’s not a Slytherin Squad,’ he said automatically. ‘Anyone with the “right views,” from any House, is eligible to join.’ He’d meant to be mocking, but he’d had too many pummelling blows to summon the right note of sarcasm - or any sarcasm at all.
She scowled. ‘Right views? Views of blood supremacy, absolute rule, disciplining anyone the members don’t like? I didn’t think you’d be in with any of that crap, Toby.’
He returned the glare. ‘What makes you think I am? You’re just assuming I’m a member.’
He should have shaken his head, taken her hand, and assured her he was the same old Tobias. But he could hear the shade of doubt in her voice, and it kicked the emptiness in his gut. ‘I didn’t say that. I’m just pointing out you’re jumping to conclusions.’
‘Conclusions? The entirety of Slytherin House has jumped up and started to stomp all over the bloody school!’
‘While Gryffindors are little angels and never do anything to anyone.’
‘I didn’t say that - and there’s no Gryffindor Squad, that’s really not the point!’
‘Oh?’ He arched an eyebrow. ‘Then what is the point? Slytherin’s finally stopped being the whipping boy and you don’t like it?’
‘You’re saying Slytherins have been an oppressed minority? Are you mad?’ Annie MacKenzie, Muggle-born, stood and threw her hands in the air. ‘You push back just as hard! You start it!’
‘Sink or swim.’ He shrugged. ‘You’re having problems with my House, my classmates. What’s your point? What’s this got to do with me?’
‘I can’t believe you’re not condemning this crap.’
‘Why bother?’ he scoffed. ‘You decided from the beginning I’m in cahoots with the rest of the House. I thought we’d established my views weren’t those of the rest of Slytherin, but is it too hard to remember that? Let me guess, you’re getting trouble for going out with me, and you don’t like it.’
She stopped, and he knew she was right. ‘With this Squad - I mean, I’ve had to put up with Cormac and Nick all along, but now it’s even Katie, even Jen…’
‘They’re telling you that the two of us is a bad idea, and now you’re having doubts. I’m glad you can make your own choices. Everyone around you has doubled in Slytherin-hate, and so you don’t want to take the flak for being the girlfriend of a snake,’ he snapped, chin tilted up angrily.
‘It’s not that.’ Her voice found strength at last. ‘I don’t want anything to do with this Inquisitorial Squad nonsense. And I won’t be with someone who thinks it has a point, who thinks it’s fair. You know Warrington already took points off some Ravenclaws this morning for being Muggle-born? Of course there were no teachers there, but he did it, and got away with it. I won’t tolerate this.’
‘So you won’t tolerate me.’ He sighed and straightened. ‘I’m not a member of the Inquisitorial Squad. I just spoke with Professor Umbridge, who wanted to know why I, a senior Slytherin, didn’t want to. I told her exactly what I thought of her rule and of this brute squad.’ He shrugged, his words sounding distant and detached to his ears. ‘So she took my prefect’s badge.’
It sounded so petty when he said it - a badge? What was a badge in the grand scheme of things? But saying it was another blow to the gut, and he knew it was about more than a pin.
Annie gaped at him. ‘I didn’t know - I’m sorry -’
‘It’s more than that, though, isn’t it.’ He glared at a point on the wall above her head. ‘Now, the Squad is mostly Slytherins, and I’m a Slytherin. I’m still associated with people who are doing what you don’t like. So you don’t want to be publicly connected with me. Only you, Annie, being a good and decent Gryffindor, aren’t going to say that.’
‘That’s not fair,’ she snapped, a little too forcefully.
‘But it’s true.’ He straightened. ‘And you assumed, without even asking me, that I’d signed up for the Squad. So I’m going to make this easy for you. You won’t dump me just because I’m a Slytherin? But I can dump you for thinking that little of me, for assuming my morals are that weak. Because if you could think that, you really don’t know me, and you really don’t respect me.’
He yanked the classroom door open. ‘And I’m not going to waste my time on someone who doesn’t respect me. I get enough of that from other Slytherins,’ he sneered, and for the second time in an hour stalked angrily from a room.
‘What are you doing?’
Tanith opened her eyes to see the upside-down face of Ariane Drake. She shrugged as best she could while standing on her head. ‘Breathing exercise.’
Ariane straightened, eyebrow raised at the acrobatics in the corner of their dormitory, and headed for her bed. ‘You’re getting weirder.’
‘I’ve been reading up. Auror stuff. Since career day.’ Talking at all negated the point of a breathing exercise, she thought. ‘Things they do. Techniques for focus. That stuff.’ She rolled back onto her feet, staggering as the blood rushed from her head.
Ariane gave a lopsided smile. ‘Did Van Roden tell you that?’
‘I think he might have been fucking with me.’
‘This could be a strange notion, dear, but you might prepare better for becoming an Auror with Potions revision.’
‘Maybe I could do both. Stand on my head and revise.’
The door opened for Melanie to step in, fresh from Arithmancy - and behind her, lurking at the threshold, was a tentative-looking Gabriel. ‘I come bearing Doyle,’ she declared, flopping onto her bed and looking ready to die for the weekend. ‘Said he had news.’
He beckoned Tanith. ‘This won’t take a minute.’
It had to be something if he wanted a word in private. She stepped out and closed the door behind her, and her brow furrowed as she took in Gabriel’s rather serious face. ‘What’s up?’
‘It’s Tobias. He talked to Umbridge.’
‘I knew he was going to - it didn’t go well?’
‘He got uppity. Refused to join the Squad. Got all… idealistic.’
‘All Grey-like.’ She winced. ‘What happened?’
‘She took his prefect badge?’
‘Shit. Is he okay? Where is he?’
‘Common room.’ But Gabriel grabbed her elbow when she moved. ‘That’s not all. He’s not in a good way. Seems he ran into MacKenzie after.’
‘I’m sure she was comforting.’ Tanith wasn’t sure if she was being sarcastic or not.
‘She dumped him. Or he pre-emptively dumped her, or - they broke up.’ His gaze was on her, eyes roaming her face for some sort of reaction.
She wasn’t going to give him the satisfaction a response. ‘How’s he taking it?’ she said, voice forcibly neutral.
‘He’s with Cal. Just Cal.’
‘I see.’ She paused, then patted him on the arm. ‘I’ll talk to him later. Thanks for the heads up, Doyle.’
Without waiting for a response, she returned to the dormitory and closed the door carefully behind her. When she turned, the inquisitive and not-so-subtle eyes of Melanie and Ariane were on her, and she lifted a hand. ‘Just give me a moment,’ she told them.
Then she did a small, ridiculous, and thoroughly undignified dance of glee.
Melanie exchanged glances with Ariane. ‘I guess this means that Grey’s kicked-puppy look in Arithmancy means MacKenzie dumped him.’
‘Oh,’ said Ariane, like this made perfect sense.
Tanith stopped dancing, the latent guilt rising to the forefront. ‘I’m a bad person. He’s really upset. That was bad of me. He’s not in a good way?’
Melanie rolled her eyes. ‘Dumped people generally aren’t happy. You two would be cute if you weren’t so nauseating.’
‘No, I’m just glad he’s better off without that Gryffindor cow. He’d be far, far happier with someone like -’
‘You?’ Ariane smirked.
‘I’d feel this way if it was Cal or Doyle!’ Tanith insisted. ‘MacKenzie was trouble, I was saying this all along!’
Melanie sighed at the ceiling. ‘You have issues.’
‘You danced, Tanith, that’s a rather telling reaction,’ added Ariane.
‘Look, the day’s gone horribly for a friend,’ said Tanith, scrabbling for justification. ‘I’m just basking in the knowledge that it can’t get worse.’
Melanie laughed. ‘I’m so glad you’re lying, or I’d think you were evil, not jealous.’
‘I am not jealous -’ There was a knock at the door, and, grateful for the interruption, Tanith turned. ‘Come in!’
Gabriel stuck his head in. ‘Oh, I forgot to say. Miles is the new Slytherin prefect.’
‘Miles?’ Tanith glared. ‘Would it kill you or Cal to do something good for once?’
He blinked. ‘Just passing on the message,’ he said, and retreated.
Ariane snickered as the door shut again. ‘Serves you right.’
‘Fine. Fine! I’m going to talk to Grey,’ snapped Tanith, and glared at their expressions. ‘Because he’s my friend and he’s upset, not because - I’m not even going to bother with you two,’ she declared, and stomped out of the room.
Melanie looked at Ariane when they were alone, and smirked. ‘So,’ she said. ‘Do you think she’s lying, or in denial?’
Ariane laughed. ‘Oh, it can be both, dear. It can be both.’
A/N: This chapter was changed very little! Tidied up, but it went down well.
It doesn’t especially feel like an end, but this was written as and when I had ideas for scenes and fancied writing them, hence the slew of OOTP-era stories at the end. That was where the character arcs started to lead. It feels a shame to lose a chapter, so I might add another GOF-era piece at some point, but that’s a “maybe”.
Either way, unless you’re reading this in the fuuuuuture and there’s a ‘Next Chapter’ button, this is where Latet 2.0 ends. Thanks for reading! If you’ve enjoyed the tales and want to see more of the gang, ‘Shade to Shade’ is a full, linear novel set in HPB. Go read it! It’s all complete! Enjoy!