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Shade to Shade by Slide
Chapter 8 : The Space Between
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 1

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Chapter 7: The Space Between


“So is this… supposed to be… a kill… or cure… kind of thing?” Ariane Drake puffed as she struggled to keep pace with Tanith on the jogging route they were taking along the path around the lake, the setting sun hanging low in the sky and casting long shadows through the trees. Some paces behind them, Melanie Larkin was doing distinctly worse, lagging behind, and overall the two were clearly demonstrating they had little to no experience or aptitude for exercise of this kind.


Not that Tanith changed her pace as she pounded on ahead, or even demonstrated that she was particularly tired from the exertion. She was already slowing down for the other Slytherin girls, already somewhat behind on schedule for the route because they’d insisted on coming along, and she’d be damned if she made any more allowances.


“Cole… come on… let’s have a break. Just five minutes,” Ariane gasped, and finally Tanith slowed to a halt with an irritated sigh.


“Okay, but seriously, if you two want to start getting exercise, then you’re going to have to take it seriously,” she said, breathing harder than she’d thought she needed to as her two dormmates flopped gratefully onto a fallen log, gasping for air. “You’re going to have to have a schedule, stick to it, work on it…”


She stopped as she saw Ariane and Melanie exchanging eye-rolls. “What? I’m not joking here. I need to do this if my application after the winter’s going to be accepted by the Aurors. I need to have a high level of physical fitness just to get through the first trials. If this is all a bit of fun for the two of you, then can you kindly do it…”


“Oh, unclench, Tanith. Merlin’s beard, you’d have thought you’d be glad for some company on this godawful daily routine,” Ariane retorted wearily, massaging aching legs. “You know, considering none of your troupe of boys are interested in joining in.”


Tanith was just trying to figure out if that was meant to be a gibe when Melanie lifted her head, expression all curiosity and with an innocence that she wasn’t for a second convinced by – and indeed, just made her more paranoid. “Speaking of your little cabal, what was with the explosion at lunch the other day?”


Now she knew what this was. This was all a carefully calculated effort by the other two Slytherin girls to get her to share the gossip. After all, Cal was still sulking, and Gabriel and Tobias were acting – with great conviction – as if absolutely nothing had happened. So, as ever, they turned to her. Despite sharing a dorm for six years, they’d never really known how to approach her.


There were several specific ways to handle this. One was to be evasive, which was never really very useful, as it just made them more persistent and, thus, more annoying. There had never been a pair of more effective, perpetual gossips within all of Slytherin House than Ariane and Melanie, who had honed their skills to razor-edge precision, and if she was vague, they’d just know she was hiding something and thus become more incensed. Telling them to sod off and mind their own business would yield much the same result, though would admittedly be faster and more satisfying in the short-term.


That left the only option as the most dangerous of territories, that being the truth. Of course, there were many kinds of truth, and most of them had nothing to do with honesty.


“Just boys being boys.” She gave a deep, calculated sigh, making sure to include a slight drop of her gaze, a slight tilt of the head, a slight wistful tone. “Brynmor’s got his knickers in a twist over something. Doyle’s been imagining things from this headache of his. Grey’s still got his head in the clouds over the Head Boy badge. Brynmor finally snapped and threw a hissyfit at them.”


Her dormmates exchanged glances, Ariane raising an eyebrow as Melanie rolled her eyes. For a second Tanith could have sworn she could see the invisible game of rock, paper, scissors going on between them, and she sighed inwardly as she realised that they weren’t buying it.


It had taken some time, but she had eventually learnt how to read the two of them – no mean feat when considering this was a pair of girls who lived together very closely, and yet were so very different. Where Ariane was tall and blonde, aristocratic and graceful, Melanie was shorter, stockier – once considered podgy, though a greater care for her appearance in her teenaged years now saw her curved rather than rotund – straightforward and ‘handsome’ than, perhaps, ‘pretty’. Ariane liked colours such as bright blues and shining emerald; Melanie liked black makeup and deep purples. And yet the two Slytherin girls of their year who inhabited the opposite extremes had joined forces, leaving Tanith alone except for boys.


Oh, yes, the boys. Those her companions were now set on interrogating her about, and they didn’t seem liable to take ‘no’ for an answer.


“Really?” Ariane didn’t sound in the slightest bit convinced. “Because rumour has it there was a little scene between Tobias and MacKenzie just seconds before.”


“And by scene,” Melanie interjected, “we mean that the two of them were in the same space at the same time and nothing happened.”


“No cold fish comments from Tobias.”


“No snide accusations from MacKenzie.”


“No glaring daggers from Riley.”


“No blatant insults from Gabriel.”


“Yes, yes, I get the picture. Can you stop that? It’s creepy.” Tanith pinched the bridge of her nose. Perhaps the next best application of the truth would be to throw them the bare essentials very quickly and hope they would be satisfied, then change the subject while they were still digesting superficialities. “So, yes. Doyle was convinced that MacKenzie – and even Riley – was flirting with Grey outside the Hall. Grey was being his usual oblivious self. Brynmor got pissy and shouted at them before storming off.” Again, no lies.


“And what were you doing?” Ariane asked casually.


“Sitting there like a delicate flower and not getting involved?” Melanie grinned, not even trying to pretend innocence in the interrogation at this point.


Tanith glared at them both again. “What makes you think I would have any kind of reason to get involved in such a ridiculous discussion?”


Ariane pretended to think about this for a moment. “Oh, I don’t know… perhaps the fact that when MacKenzie dumped Tobias you stood in the middle of our dormitory and danced?”


A slightly defeated silence met her words as Tanith slumped her shoulders. “That was six months ago,” was all she managed to say eventually, weakly.


“And in that time has Tobias really shown any interest in anyone else – or has anyone else shown interest in him?” Ariane spoke slowly, gently, making Tanith increasingly suspicious.


“No,” she said slowly, narrowing her eyes a little.


“Of course not.” Ariane gave a small smile that would have made the Mona Lisa proud were it not a painting and had any of the girls actually heard of it. “So it’s a bit of a shock to the system when randomly girls start flirting with him…”


“After all,” Melanie continued cheerfully, “it’s not like your feelings for Tobias are any sort of a secret –”


Tanith straightened up, hands on her hips. “I do not have any feelings for Grey. I rejected him, remember?” she snapped quickly, brusquely, by now glaring death at Melanie.


Melanie opened her mouth with a slight expression of irritation on her face that suggested she was about to challenge that claim, but remained silent as Ariane lifted a hand, expression calm, smile intact, and there was a pause.


“Of course you did,” Ariane said in the same irritatingly level tone. “We know that. Of course that’s not what Mel means. She just misspoke.” The two friends exchanged a glance, Melanie barely falling short of rolling her eyes, but seeming to restrain herself nevertheless.


“It’s not that you have any actual romantic interest in Tobias Grey,” Ariane went on, “it’s more that you have a certain sense – no, right – of… possessiveness towards him. He’s one of your boys, one of your property.”


There was a brief look on Melanie’s face as if a light bulb had just lit up before she nodded firmly. “It’d be the same with Cal or Gabriel, if it came out of left field.”


Tanith continued to look suspicious, but leaned against the tree opposite them, arms folded across her chest and listening intently. “I guess so. Yeah. And MacKenzie’s bad news – any Gryffindor is bad news.”


“Absolutely,” Ariane agreed soothingly. “You’re just trying to look out for him. And all the boys. But they don’t recognise that.”


“You’ve grown… soft, Tanith,” Melanie began carefully. At her housemate’s sharp look, she pressed on swiftly to cut off the anger. “With people. You’ve spent almost too much time with boys. Boys are simple, boys are straightforward. Not spending enough time with girls is going to dull your senses. You’re losing your edge.”


“Though it’ll take an apocalypse before they run rings around you, my dear,” Ariane giggled, and it was only the fact that Ariane called most people ‘my dear’ when in a good mood that Tanith didn’t feel outright patronised. The deep suspicion remained, however – albeit slightly quashed by the sense the two were talking.


“But the fact remains that you are rusty, and they are turning from boys… into men,” Melanie piped up.


“An altogether more sophisticated – though still comparatively basic – form of life. I would theorise that this is what’s beginning to happen with Cal. However, just as you are somewhat dulled by only spending your time with boys, they are somewhat dulled by not really testing themselves against women like yourself. And whilst they are sufficiently sharpened against you, there is the whole rest of the world out there.”


Tanith leaned forwards a little, one eyebrow slightly raised. “You’re telling me to… share, aren’t you,” she observed coolly.


“If I were in this for their good, I would be,” Ariane confirmed. “And I would be if I needed to split up your super-happy-fun-club for me to get my hands on one of your boys. But neither am I feeling benevolent towards them, nor do I need any help if I want to claim Gabriel.”


“‘Claim’?” Tanith chuckled dryly. “You’re so affectionate, Drake.”


Ariane tossed her hair uncaringly. “I’m not saying I want to or that I will. More that, if I wanted one of your little pack, it would be Doyle. He, at least, has some class beyond a nerd or a Quidditch player.”


“You went out with Miles for almost a year.”


“I was a girl then. Now I’m a woman.”


As we were saying,” Melanie said firmly, glaring a little at Ariane. “We’re not suggesting the four of you… see other people. More that you see other people. Like us. Like other women. Like boys who have already made the transition into men.”


Tanith snorted. “You mean find a boyfriend that isn’t Grey, Brynmor, or Doyle.”


“We mean break out of that little circle and see the wider world, my dear,” Ariane said simply, shrugging.


“Which, aside from you two, is frighteningly limited, as it leads me to the younger pupils who still think dungbombs are the height of comedy, idiots in other Houses, or The Amazing Moron Twins.” Tanith shook her head, by now beginning to idly pick at the bark on the tree which was providing her leaning post.


Ariane and Melanie exchanged looks. Tanith wondered if they had managed to perfect the magical art of actually combining their minds into one single Hive Brain. If, that was, there were in fact two brains between them, rather than just a time-share going on over the single mind, as she had long suspected. “There’s always… Miles,” Melanie said slowly.


Again, Tanith narrowed her eyes. “What about Miles,” she said, no inflection of curiosity making it to her voice through the sheer suspicion.


“He’s… nice,” Ariane tried.


“He’s a pillock.”


“No more than any other man out there. And he is a man.” There was a slight smile on Ariane’s face making it absolutely clear to Tanith that she did not want to know how her classmate had got her hands, so to speak, on this information.


Tanith straightened up. “Let me see if I’m getting this right,” she began slowly. “You insisted on joining me on one of my daily jogs not because you want to begin to try and get fit, but because you want me to start going out with Miles Bletchley as a learning experience.”


Ariane said “Of course not!” at about the same time Melanie shrugged and responded “More or less.” The two looked at each other again, but more sharply this time, with signs the Hive Brain was imploding.


“Look,” Melanie continued, for once winning the coin toss of who got to use the brain cells for this minute, “we know that you don’t fancy Tobias. It’s obvious to anyone who knows what they’re talking about.” She rubbed her hands together briskly as she spoke, shifting somewhat. “But the rest of the school don’t necessarily. Up to and including your coterie. And do you really want to start having wars of possession with MacKenzie and Riley and anyone else who recognises Tobias’ current social currency value?”


“Not to mention embarrassing conversations with Brynmor where he tries to ‘advise’ you on how to deal with your so-called ‘feelings’ for Tobias?” Ariane made little finger-quotes in the air as she spoke, only threatening to incense Tanith further. “Or the entirely likely possibility that your group implodes from internal jealousies? You are the most regular fixture on their feminine schedule, after all.”


It was rather telling that the first thought which struck Tanith on the notion of connecting her to romance and either Cal or Gabriel resulted in a very definite reaction that could be summed up with ‘eww’. She made a face. “I guess not,” she admitted grudgingly.


“We’re certainly not saying go throw yourself at Miles. And we’re only really saying Miles because he’s the most likely candidate. There may be a perfectly sensible Ravenclaw or two who could be worth chatting with. And even if you don’t actually wish to get involved with them, it could be worth it to keep up with appearances,” Melanie said, picking her words with the same caution and care that one embraced when stepping through a minefield.


“We’re just saying that it might help, publicly and personally, if you got friendly with… other boys. Men. Whatever.” Ariane shrugged.


“Doesn’t have to be a romance of the ages,” Melanie said with a slight smile. “Doesn’t even have to be romance. Just… interest.”


“So nobody thinks you’re still hung up – I mean, hung up at all over Tobias,” Ariane stammered briefly.


Amazingly, Tanith missed the stumble, lost in her genuine consideration of the suggestion. “No wars with Gryffindors where I didn’t pick the battlefield,” she said slowly.


“Or anyone else who shows an interest in Tobias,” Melanie pointed out. “You could get some rather unexpected enemies, and right now, you need to know exactly who’s on your side.”


There was a brief pause as the memory of her father ranting at her about how she couldn’t trust anyone in her house was suddenly brought flashing up to the forefront of her mind, and Tanith stopped to sweep more suspicious, beady glances over the other two. “…right,” she said simply.


“No conflicts from your little friends. You might even have some fun along the way. Meet… new people,” Ariane said, with perhaps too much of an emphasis on a cheerful tone of voice. “Reinforce contact with… ‘old’ people.”


Tanith nodded briskly – a little too briskly, if she was assessing her own performance, but the other two mostly looked so thrilled she’d actually listened to them that they didn’t seem to notice. “I think you’re… right,” she said quickly. “I have become a little stuck in my ways.”


“Never hurts to try new things,” Melanie said, waggling a finger and nodding.


“Of course not,” Tanith agreed, just stopping herself from mimicking Ariane as she spoke. Then she reached down to pull out her pocket watch and flip it open. “However… you know, this is fun, but we’ve been stopped more than five minutes here… and I’m going to be late for the prefect meeting if I don’t head back now. You two had better finish the run, you hear me?”


Not even bothering to try to look for a lie in the cheerful chirping of “We will!” in chorus she got in response, Tanith turned and began to jog very quickly back up the path the way she’d come. A new thought had occurred to her in the conversation, a new advantage of their suggestion that the two girls couldn’t possibly have considered.


However, she had to figure out if she herself was crazy for even thinking about it. For her father had told her not to trust anyone else in Hogwarts who had the slightest possible connection to Death Eaters, which essentially left her with Tobias to trust, considering how everyone else either had familial connections to You-Know-Who’s movement or were best bosom pals with someone who did. Which made Tobias moderately more suspect with his connections to Cal, though she’d seen for herself how little love he held for Death Eaters.


Her father had also pointed out that training to be an Auror was the equivalent of standing in the middle of a Keeper’s hoop for anyone who would wish the establishment ill. And Death Eaters certainly came under the ‘wishing ill’ category.


So perhaps it wouldn’t do to remain so… exclusive about her friendship with publicly-defending-Muggle-borns Tobias Grey, or denounced-his-Death-Eater-father Cal Brynmor, or… well, Doyle was fine, perhaps, because she was just as clueless as anyone else on where he stood about… anything, quite frankly. And being closer friends with Ariane Drake, whose father Bacchus had reputedly only gone free after the First War by pleading Imperius, or the old and suspicious Montagues might not hurt.


Tanith paused for breath as she reached the lawn leading up to the main entrance back into the castle, eyes instinctively flickering up to the darkening evening sky. It had been several days since she’d sent an owl to Altair, finally asking him for an explanation of what was going on with him and her father. Asking him why he’d attacked a Death Eater (not to mention come off rather well of the whole affair) and why said Death Eater had suggested her father had been a spy during the war. Her clash with Cal the other day had only made it clear that, try to pretend the entire incident as she might, it wasn’t going to go away.


It was possible her father hadn’t been completely crazy in his paranoia. It was possible he knew a lot. It was possible that the squib who had allegedly been hired by her family to give the two daughters a classical education had, perhaps, a slightly broader job description. She’d never before wondered why Altair Ritter had remained in her father’s employ once both she and her sister were at Hogwarts.


For someone fancying herself to be a potential Auror, Tanith had, she reflected, been incredibly obtuse and closed-minded.


But there was nothing more to be done on the matter until she had answers from Altair – whatever his response was would dictate her next move. If he was open, she would know more; if he became evasive, she would know more, and she didn’t want to begin digging unless she knew what flavour of dangerous secrets she was beginning to pester. And now the evening sky was empty, no late birds arriving bearing letters of enlightenment, and with a sigh Tanith pressed on, heading into the castle.


The prefects’ meeting room was a fairly large chamber in the east tower, designed when these select pupils were meant to be paragons of justice in a lawless Hogwarts, or something along those lines. The walls bore portraits of every Head Boy and Head Girl Hogwarts had ever had, by now crammed in at every square inch. Even when one thought there was no more space for another picture, lo and behold, the following year there it would be, locked in a gap one had never before noticed. Even as Tanith padded into the mostly-empty room she could see Tobias’ picture now on the far wall, in place of pride as befitting an incumbent, nervously nudging his glasses up his nose.


The real Tobias was down at the end of the room, where the prefects usually were. The main bulk of the chamber was filled with a long table with more than the necessary twenty-four chairs, but it had never been used in any of her time as a prefect. Instead, everyone tended to just lounge on the comfortable chairs at one end, relaxed and cheerful instead of stiff and formal.


She took a step in his direction unthinkingly, right before the conversation of several minutes earlier rose, unbidden, to the front of her mind. Here, in the place it was quickest to send rumours and opinions across all years and houses save perhaps the Great Hall itself, was the best place to start to hint that maybe, just maybe, she wasn't joined at the hip with the open-minded, Muggle-born embracing Head Boy.


She'd win no friends in Gryffindor, Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw for it, most likely, but she neither cared much for their opinions, nor feared them stabbing her in her sleep, metaphorically or otherwise.


But the hesitation helped, at least, for it made her take a few more seconds to squint at Tobias and realise he was, in fact, already talking to someone, and she gave a small inward sigh as she saw who it was. Tobias was well known for being happy to talk the ears off some people on certain subjects. Outside of their immediate circle, it tended to be on academia, one passion which was barely shared by her, Cal, or Gabriel. So whenever he found a like minded academic - or swot, depending on who you were talking to - he tended to cling to them and talk until the cows came home. Often, they would talk back.


None quite matched him blow-for-blow with outright enthusiasm and downright obsession so much as Hermione Granger of Gryffindor.


They had little to do with each other outside of prefect duties, being of different houses and different years, but if stuck in the same place at the same time with no outside distractions, magical theory would fly thick and thin and anyone and everyone else would struggle to stay awake.


It was rather ironic, really, that Tobias’ opinion of her best friend the famed Potter was that he was ‘a little suck-up who got lucky and never had to work for his achievements’. Tanith rather assumed they just didn't talk about it when they were geeking out at each other.


She headed straight past them, close enough to hear the snippets of an argument – or what they might label as an ‘academic debate’ about something-or-other in Arithmancy – and made a bee-line for the table by the wall bearing empty mugs, pots of tea, and enough biscuits to feed the school, let alone the two-dozen prefects. A couple of Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs were lingering around, including, on his own and looking deeply bored, Ron Weasley, occasionally casting an irritated-looking glance back at his partner-in-prefecting and Tobias.


Tanith nodded curtly to him – hardly rudely, but not forcing false enthusiasm. “Weasley.” She reached for the teapot and poured herself a steaming mug.


He gave her a briefly curious and assessing look, and she realised she probably looked something of a state still in her jogging gear. Not that she cared much. Then Weasley shrugged, and gave a small sigh. “Just over five minutes now,” he said vaguely.


She knew he was referring to how long Granger and Tobias had been talking; it was about the only point of contact she had with Weasley, this long-suffering tolerance of how their respective friends got on. Not to mention the fact that, without them, the two would probably be at each other's throats on sheer principle.


Which was probably healthier and more helpful than the sole other, and first point of contact the two had shared; that being Tanith sitting behind him in prefect meetings the previous year and singing ‘Weasley is our King’ quiet enough that only he could hear it, seeing how long it would take before he snapped. He hadn't, and had been rather good at outright ignoring her – so through respect for his resilience and, more importantly, a loss of interest, she had stopped by halfway through second term.


“Five minutes and they haven't even solved world hunger yet?” Tanith raised an eyebrow, sipping her tea. “They must be slacking.”


“She’ll fix it before he does,” Weasley replied, with a tone that sounded both mournful and, under the surface, fiercely proud. It was a tone Tanith knew well, that which said she was perfectly allowed to mock Tobias, but nobody else was.


What is this, she wondered. My geek's better than your geek? I must be going mad.


Fortunately, she was saved from the perils of the internal strife by the door swinging open again, and Malfoy walking in with Parkinson. Yates was already here; when Talley arrived, then Slytherin would be at full house, so to speak.


Malfoy looked tired and worn, and had generally appeared rather sickly for most of the time he'd been back at school. But in public there was a certain face he wore compared to quiet moments in the common room, and he bore that face.


And Tanith knew there was nobody better than him to be friendly with if she wanted to suggest she was ‘on side’. She'd done it most of her life, especially her school life, and even though everyone, including probably Malfoy, knew she couldn't stand the little twerp they nevertheless respected the appearance. And it was one worth maintaining.


Didn't mean she would like it, though, and she drained her hot tea quickly. “Ugh. Slime alert,” she muttered under her breath as Malfoy sauntered towards the gathered prefects, before setting her mug down and heading in his direction. Weasley gave a short snort of amusement as she swept past, and Tanith fought back the scowl that threatened. She hadn't meant to be heard. That was something to keep track of.


“Draco!” she greeted Malfoy with an air of courtesy that seemed almost genuine, and there was no flicker from him or Parkinson to suggest she'd laid it on too thick. Plenty of flinching from everyone else in the room, mind, but that was normal when Slytherins gathered.


“Cole.” He nodded briefly at her – then took a second look and arched an eyebrow. “You look terrible.”


Tanith paused, genuinely stunned that he had the gall to say this in public, especially as it was rather obvious that she'd just been exercising rather than being messy in the common room or any such behaviour. Still, she forced a smile – tight, and vicious. “I didn't really think the company here was going to be worth making an effort over,” she stated, allowing her voice to carry and waving a hand disparagingly at the rest of the room.


Parkinson swept forwards to take her by the arm, one of those girlish gestures that had always set Tanith's teeth on edge. “But, sweetie, it doesn't do to drop to the level of plebeians, even if they're not worth the effort. You’re worth the effort.”


Tanith didn't think anyone had ever called her ‘sweetie’, and it wasn't a trend she particularly wanted to see continue. “I suppose you're right, Pansy”" she said, imagining throttling the girl with her own plait. Self-empowerment lessons from Pansy Parkinson. Could she sink any lower? “I should make the time.”


“We have to keep up appearances,” Malfoy said graciously, sauntering past her and into the centre of the room, where he claimed one of the bigger armchairs to lounge on lazily.


More than you know, you little twerp.


“Well?” Malfoy called out, glaring at Tobias and completely ignoring Granger or the fact he was interrupting a conversation. “Are we going to start?”


Tobias looked up, seemingly jerked out of an academic reverie and rather oblivious to his surroundings. The expression darkened rapidly when he realised who he was talking to, however. “We don't work to your schedule alone, Malfoy,” he pointed out. “And Riley's not even here yet.”


“So we're waiting on a late Gryffindor?”


“You can take that up,” an imperious and irritable voice sounded from the doorway as the aforementioned Jennifer Riley, with impeccable timing, stalked in, “with your own beloved Professor Snape. Who decided to keep us in detention because we didn't perfect a physical protection spell to his liking.” Behind her walked Everard, looking rather bedraggled, tired, and even bruised.


Tanith winced a little. There were two kinds of protection spells, and it was almost impossible to keep them both up at the same time. The standard ‘Protego’ was what one called upon if an enemy was trying to stun you with a spell. The ‘Contego spell, on the other hand, was best employed if someone was using a spell to hurl that rock over there at you. Or if they were using their fists to hurl that rock at you. Or hurling their fists at you. It was very trial and error, for where magic was a simple contest of willpower, of being stronger than the opponent, the physical protection was very technical, almost scientific to get right. Snape had been throwing it at all NEWT classes, and from the marks on Everard, it seemed he'd been a guinea pig.


“If you're too rubbish to be let out of class on time, then I don't see why we should have to wait around for you,” Tanith found herself saying, assuming the most imperious and smug smirk she could summon – which was not unimpressive.


Riley only just seemed to have noticed her presence as she made her way to the front, next to Tobias, and seemed rather bored by the comment. “Oh, hello, Cole. So you’re set to ‘bitch’ today, are you? Let me know when you go back to being a semi-normal human being.”


Despite the fact that she knew Riley had the right of the matter, irritation still stirred within Tanith, and she straightened up. “I will be, just as soon as you're worth giving the time of day…”




Silence fell on the group, words tumbling away from Tanith before she could speak them. The peripheral bickers, the whisperings probably taking bets on a cat-fight between Slytherin and Gryffindor prefects, all voices faded away as Tobias raised his hands and his voice.


She’d never seen him have that effect on a room before. Stun it into silence, certainly; reason a crowd into the ground, yes. Simply command the attention of two dozen rowdy students with one word and a gesture? That was… new.


“We are supposed to be the heart of Hogwarts. Let us begin acting like it,” Tobias said, now more mildly as the other prefects began to move out so as to encircle him, letting him take the centre of the gathering and the attention. Even Riley almost moved out to join the crowd before she remembered her Head Girl badge and shifted over to stand next to, but a little behind her counterpart. “Jennifer, thank you for joining us. If you could perhaps ask for a message to be sent up warning us of lateness if such an occasion arises again, we would all be grateful.”


“You think Snape would let me –”


“I shall ask Professor Snape if he might inform us when he is keeping a prefect behind before a meeting,” Tobias swept over Riley's excuse smoothly. “I am sure he will be reasonable.” Somewhere in the room, someone snorted, but it was suppressed quickly and Tobias completely ignored them. “And Tanith, Malfoy, if we could have less unconstructive commentary, that would be appreciated.”


The anger cooled in Tanith just as quickly as it had been boiling, for Tobias’ tone spoke of understanding even as it held criticism. But a sideways glance from Malfoy, the boy universally accepted as the crown prince of young Death Eaters and who undeniably held connections to He Who Must Not Be Named's movement, did not look so calmed. In fact, he was glaring at Tobias with a dark, angry look in his eyes, showing every ounce how little he appreciated being talked down to – not by a fellow Slytherin, not by someone he considered beneath him.


It looked as if Slytherin House was splintering, as she had long foreseen, into those who wished to join the rest of Hogwarts and those who wished to be above it. Malfoy led the latter, and Tobias now seemed to be a figurehead for the former.


She had long assumed she could walk between the two, not mix with those of closed minds on both sides, stay away from the school politics and worry about the real threats. But the line between them was starting to become hazy, the outside world defining Hogwarts more than ever before.


It seemed that, soon enough, neutrality would be impossible.

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