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Chapter 10 : The Shape of Things to Come
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The droning tones of Professor Binns washed over Tobias as he sat in the otherwise abandoned History of Magic classroom, leaning back in his chair and openly reading a book while his teacher allegedly taught. It was a Saturday morning, and elsewhere the Slytherin Quidditch team attempted their try-outs to fill the squad, but for Tobias, it was still school time.
He was an oddity amongst the seventh-year NEWT students for doing six subjects, he knew, but most certainly not unique. But what did make him unique amongst several generations of Hogwarts students was the fact that he was taking History of Magic at NEWT level. This was such a rarity that for many years, and certainly not this year, History of Magic had not even been calculated into the timetable for NEWT students. Which meant that when he had been the one and only outrageous nerd - as Cal had declared him - big enough to sign up for classes, there had been a small flurry of panic amongst the staff. Snape had glared at him as if he'd just committed a cardinal sin, and McGonagall, responsible for overall time-tabling of the subjects, had given him all of the extra-tough questions in Transfigurations for weeks, satisfied only when she'd finally escalated the difficulty to the point where he couldn’t answer them.
The end result was that Tobias had the exact same week as any five-NEWT student, with a period off most fortunately landing on Monday mornings, which he viewed as an acceptable pay-off, and History had been slotted into the only spare gap, that of a Saturday morning for three hours.
Most people thought he was mad, wanting to spend more subjects under Binns' boring droning, and he would have agreed with them if he had actually wanted to do that. But Binns, who believed history needed teaching by simply standing at the front of the classroom and regurgitating the most boring of facts in the most boring of voices, had precious little to do with Tobias' education in the subject. He had long begun to treat it as a personal study time, where he could gather the History books collected from the library, or the past examination papers he'd managed to wheedle out of an irritated Professor Snape, and study at his own pace and his own leisure.
From the marks of the end of year six examinations, it seemed as if this routine was actually working.
It was almost midday by now, and Tobias began to wind down the notes he was taking on the International Wizarding Conference when the Statute of Magical Secrecy had been agreed upon. The political history had long interested him more than the average goblin rebellions - which seemed to occur very often - or the social notions of how wizards had lived a thousand years ago - much in the same way, just somewhat dirtier. Binns, of course, didn't appear to have noticed the time, or that Tobias had been consulting a book more than his lecture, and long he had wondered if the professor would figure it out if he just conjured an illusion of himself to sit in the class and spent the time instead working in the library or the common room.
But he had been here before, and instead begun to pack up his books once the clock to his left clicked to midday, only getting Binns' attention once he slung his bag over his shoulder and stood up. "Thank you for the lesson, professor," he said mildly. "I shall see you next week."
"Euh..." Binns paused mid-flow, only barely used to this routine that he and Tobias had halfway settled into. But, as was usually the intended goal of being so brisk and polite, he hadn't gathered an objection by the time his student was up and out the door, and wandering down the corridor.
Aggravating as it was to have classes on a Saturday, there was something liberating about the opportunity to study at his own pace, be in control of his own education, and so it was with a spring in his step that he sauntered along the corridor in the direction of Slytherin dungeon, head filled with intellectually distracting thoughts of most any subject save Professor Binns' lecture.
As he sauntered around the next corner, on a short-cut he actually knew to work and be devoid of any threats, physical, personal, or romantic, he almost walked straight into Professor Slughorn, who looked as if he was on his way up to the Great Hall for lunch.
The Potions Master smiled broadly upon seeing him, pausing in his journey. "Tobias, m'boy! Fresh from those extra lessons of yours?"
Tobias supposed that the oddity that were his NEWT choices had at least been mentioned about the staff room, though the thought had never really occurred to him before - at the very least, Slughorn had to have found out from someone other than him. "History, yes sir. I was just going to drop my books off at my dorm before lunch."
"Excellent, excellent. Mind if I walk with you?" Although it was phrased as a question, Slughorn immediately fell into step beside him, not leaving Tobias with much of a choice - but regardless, he liked the stout newest member of Hogwarts' staff. He was sensible without being prissy, confident without taking himself too seriously, and above all, competent.
"So, a self-taught NEWT, ey? That must be quite a challenge, on top of the other subjects and your Head Boy responsibilities. Got to be quite time consuming," Slughorn began, in that well-measured, meandering way some people had which made it perfectly clear they had a point, and quite an important one, but they were going to take their time getting to it.
Tobias shrugged, indulging the Professor for the moment. "I suppose so, sir, but if one enjoys something enough, one can find the time and the energy. And, despite Professor Binns' somewhat... dry portrayal of the subject matter, I have always had an interest in history."
"Of course, of course, and quite right too. We can't forget the mistakes and victories of the past, can we?" Slughorn nodded to himself, stroking his chin. "It's good to see you quite so devoted to the matter. I do appreciate seeing family traditions like that being upheld; your father before you was a great student of magical history."
Tobias almost stumbled, though inwardly cursed himself for being surprised even as he looked at Slughorn in astonishment. The professor had worked at Hogwarts long ago, he knew, and some whispered he had even taught Professor Snape Potions. If that was true, then it certainly put him at Hogwarts roughly the same time as Robert Grey.
"Yes, I know... it was through some of his old books I got interested in the subject," Tobias replied a little falteringly. "I didn't realise you taught my father, sir."
"Oh, yes. One of those truly talented students who could have gone far... very far. Alas, he was also one who knew what he wanted to do, and so didn't, perhaps, stretch himself as much as possible. Though nobody can deny his work was noble, of course," Slughorn added, almost hastily but with a slight glint in his eye as he stared off down the corridor that made him sound more genuine. "Not the finest potions brewer I've ever encountered, but very talented in his own way. Give him a hugely complicated recipe and he'd struggle as much as anyone - though I can't deny he'd get it done in the end, despite it all. But if I ever shortened the preparation time, placed a bit more pressure on the students, needed them to think twice as fast, well... it was like I hardly strained him at all. Under pressure he'd outstrip even some of the very greats."
"A talent I do not think I've inherited," Tobias sighed, more to himself than Slughorn, nudging his glasses up his nose.
"Nonsense, my boy!" Slughorn exclaimed, looking sharply at him. "You have his enthusiasm and brilliance, if not his outright diligence, if I may say so, based upon some of your essays. You lack some of the polish, but you've also gone and inherited your mother's flair, not to mention her stubbornness."
Conversations like this with Slughorn rather left Tobias with the impression he'd been put through a whirlwind; the Professor danced around his point, testing his approach from different directions, trying to find the most accessible point of entry. He generally found it to be best to just go with the flow and try to not drown in the discussion.
"Stubbornness?" he echoed, feeling quite dull.
"And determination. I suppose that's what keeps you going even when the studies don't entirely keep your interest. And you'll need it - after all, I hear you've been sending job applications to the Ministry?" Slughorn's voice turned curious, almost innocent - but not convincingly so. They were certainly approaching the point.
"Department of International Magical Cooperation, yes, sir," Tobias confirmed. "Just as an attaché at one of our embassies... no idea where, yet. I'd rather like to see some of the world, and make a difference while I'm about it. Not to mention how I feel that Britain could do with some friends right now."
"Too true," Slughorn replied, with a slight snort that suggested he was being genuine this time. "It's an admirable ideal, absolutely admirable. And with all you've achieved already I don't doubt they'll hire you. Likely to have six excellent NEWTs, and people are going to notice one of the first actual qualifications in History in years, let alone a good one. And Head Boy, not to mention the first Slytherin Head Boy in... ohh..."
"Nine years," Tobias replied without missing a beat. "Though I wasn't first choice."
Slughorn waved a hand dismissively. "But you were the choice, and that's all people will remember. Don't ever undermine your own achievements, my boy, other people will try to do that for you plenty. Listen..." He paused, turning to face Tobias and tilting his head at him a little questioningly. "You say you want to make a difference in the world, and that's all very well and good, but I fear nobody can do that on their own. I'm having a gathering next Saturday evening in my office of some like minded individuals who have benevolent ambitions, such as yourself. You'd be very welcome." He paused, then grinned broadly, toothily. "And I'd be quite happy afterwards to put you in contact with a few old students of mine who've gone on to work in the Department of International Magical Cooperation... I'm sure they could help you out here and there..."
Despite how innocent the words sounded, there was something about the tone of his voice and the posture that made Tobias narrow his eyes with a modicum of suspicion - yet, much as he thought about it over the few seconds of hesitation he permitted himself, neither could he find anything iniquitous about the offer.
However much Tobias did like Professor Slughorn, he couldn't really deny that, on certain occasions, the man oozed. This was one of them.
But Tobias grinned broadly, nodding. "I'd be quite happy to pop along, Professor. At the least, some tips from the inside are always useful."
"Of course they are, of course they are." Slughorn clapped him on the back soundly, and Tobias stumbled a little. "Well, excellent. Seven o' clock sharp, though there are always latecomers. I'll see you in lessons anyway before then... and I should be off to lunch! Good day, my boy!"
And then he was gone, bounding down the corridor with as much grace as a fairly rotund older man could manage, leaving a moderately stunned Tobias in his wake.
He'd heard rumours of this 'Slug Club', but considering how he knew two of its members to be Harry Potter and Cormac McLaggen, he hadn't been particularly enamoured with the notion of joining. But an express invitation was different - it did suggest that Slughorn's interests were beyond candidates more obvious than the so-called 'Chosen One' and the largest ego in Gryffindor, and thus the school.
Maybe it wasn't a waste of time. Maybe it could even help.
As he passed by the Great Hall, Slughorn detaching himself and making a bee-line towards lunch, Professor Snape emerged through the door, looking the pair up with a slightly dubious air. As he saw Slughorn leaving, the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher seemed to nod to himself, and strode purposefully over to Tobias, as with Slughorn falling into step beside him without asking.
"Grey," he greeted him coolly, though with probably as much warmth as he ever had. It wasn't as if Snape played particular favourites with individuals in his House - rather, focused his bias on protecting them as a whole from the onslaught of others - but he had never really had much time for Tobias. Snape had always demonstrated himself to be aware of politics, though not enthused by them, and so knew to not land on the wrong side of the Malfoys, or the Drakes, or even the Coles. A half-blood whose witch mother was already held at arm's length by her family, if not ostracised, did not need to be pandered to more than anyone else.
"Professor Snape," Tobias greeted him, perfectly civilly, though offered no more platitudes nor asked to what he owed the 'pleasure' of his teacher's company. Snape would get to the matter soon enough.
"You have been performing adequately in lessons," his teacher began, hands clasped behind his back. "I trust there shall be just as much enthusiasm and excellence in the practical challenges next week as there has been on the essays thus far?"
Again, Tobias was suspicious. "I shall certainly try, sir."
"And it seems Professor Slughorn has been trying to enlist your talents. I assume there was an invitation there to his little soiree next weekend?" There, a slight note of derision crept into his voice, though a lot less overt than he usually gave most matters he disapproved of.
"Ah, yes, sir. I thought it best to attend, perhaps see what the Professor has in mind," Tobias replied falteringly, not sure if Snape would approve, not sure if he should be seeking his approval.
"You seem to also be making connections between Houses with the prefects. People seem to be speaking quite highly of your performance as Head Boy. I know Professor Dumbledore is rather impressed," Snape continued. This time, Tobias got the impression he was approaching his point. With Slughorn, it had felt like dealing with a fencer - a fat fencer, but one nevertheless dancing about, testing your defences, seeing the best approach. With Snape, it was more like a shark circling you.
"He is?" Tobias asked, genuinely surprised. "I would have thought he'd have objected to somebody contributing to a positive reputation for Slytherin House."
The bitterness escaped his lips before he could stop it, and he swore internally as he realised he'd just voiced the criticism in front of a teacher. But, though there was a brief flash in Snape's dark eyes, he still smiled a thin, taut, but genuine smile. "One might have thought, yes," he confirmed. "But I think he rather views you... as I do... as holding in your hands the possible shape of things to come."
Tobias paused, tilting his head curiously at Snape. "Sir?"
The professor was by now seeming visibly uncomfortable. "You are improving Slytherin House's public image without making us... weaker, or conformist. That is to be commended. But you must be careful, Grey. The future is an unforgiving beast, and a day may come sooner than we think where it will not bode well to have stood in Professor Dumbledore's camp."
He did notice the past tense in the words, but refused to reflect too much on them. If there were anyone's mysteries he did not wish to delve into, they were Severus Snape's.
"I'm in Slytherin House's camp, sir," Tobias replied, unhesitant once he had decided to not involve himself in the unknown factors in play.
"Really." Snape looked appraisingly at him, and he could feel the dark eyes almost boring into his skull. "Even when Slytherin contains those you patently dislike or even loathe? It is no secret that you treat Mister Malfoy, Miss Parkinson, and Mister Talley just as harshly as Jennifer Riley treats them. Prefects of your own House."
"I treat them as they deserve to be treated," Tobias said briskly, frowning a little. "I have no wish to be the Slytherin Head Boy who came into the job and began dispersing favouritism. Actions like that are why people hate us."
Snape paused, stroking his chin. "Do you believe I am biased towards Slytherin House, Grey?"
"I think that if you are, it's to counter-balance everyone else's bias against the House, sir," Tobias replied smoothly.
"And you remember the conversation we had when I took you to Professor Dumbledore's office at the beginning of the year? I will not always be around to defend Slytherins, I do not even have the time this year to do so."
Snape paused, stopping in the corridor and turning to face Tobias, who halted also. "I am well aware of the flaws of some of our members. As are, of course, the rest of the school. You are perhaps the only member of the House with anything resembling a positive public image. The only one seen as a... 'good' Slytherin."
Tobias blinked at him. "Uh... yes, sir," he said, by now completely lost.
"It is so very easy for those who stand against us to identify you as an... exception. A fluke. 'Not a real Slytherin'. And so, when you make a move against those they consider 'real' Slytherins, and hate, they learn... absolutely nothing. They assume you hate your House." Snape shrugged slightly, and resumed their walk. "And learn nothing."
"So what would you have me do, sir?" Tobias asked, frowning and even more confused. "Defend them? Protect them? Then I'll be seen as nothing more than another Slytherin blind to our own flaws. With respect, sir, you protect us, but that doesn't change the view others have of us."
"No, it does not. This is partly why I am expecting so much of you - you can do what I cannot. But right now, you are simply wasting your potential for change, just as much as you would be wasting it if you acted like me." Snape gave a small, aggravated sigh. "What would I have you do? I would have you leave no doubt in anybody's mind that you are a Slytherin. Cloak yourself in what it means to be a Slytherin just as much as Mister Malfoy does, and so challenge the misconceptions of others by doing so. Do what you are doing now, by all means. Make them respect you, make them even like you. But make them know that you are not a fluke, an exception."
Tobias stared at the head of his house for several long moments, visibly gaping. "How, exactly, am I supposed to do that, sir?"
Snape straightened up, looking down at him with something of a sneer on his face, the expression he usually reserved for individuals who said something stupid in class. By now they were outside of the door to the Slytherin dungeon, and had come to a hesitant halt. "Why, Grey," he said wryly, "I thought you were supposed to be intelligent?"
And with that he turned on his heel and swept off, leaving Tobias standing there blankly in the corridor.
So it was with something less of a spring in his step that he made his way, finally, down to the Slytherin dungeons. The windows on the ceiling were enchanted to withstand the pressure of the lake above them and make the water appear clear, and the bright sunlight outside meant that the common room was bathed in shimmering green ethereal light of the sun's rays refracted by the water. The dungeon, not known for its aesthetic pleasures and appreciated more for being cosy and out of the way, was at its prettiest right then, and so it was with his mood improving that Tobias claimed a sofa to lounge on, dumped his books on the table in front of him, and picked up the day's copy of the Daily Prophet to peruse.
It was impressive, he had to concede, how quickly a paper could change its tune, and all the while pretend as if there was no rampant hypocrisy. One moment You-Know-Who being back was a myth perpetrated only by madmen and traitors, and the next, anyone not working towards the 'war effort' was a rampant coward.
So it didn't take long, as per usual, for Tobias to throw the paper back down alongside his books with a modicum of disgust, just in time to see Tanith sauntering into the common room. She spotted him quickly and headed over in his direction with a note of visible determination.
"'Lo, Grey," she greeted him, hurriedly swallowing remnants of lunch and brushing crumbs off her front before she plonked herself down next to him. "How was Boring 101?"
"I don't know, I was doing my own studying," Tobias replied, raising an eyebrow. "So you're allowed to talk to me today?"
Tanith blinked at him owlishly, not seeming to comprehend. "What?"
He paused for a moment, watching her expression, but saw no hint of deceit, and shook his head. "Nothing. Sorry. You've just seemed to be erratic in whether or not you want to talk to me on any given day."
"Oh..." Tanith's gaze dropped, and she casually brushed some more crumbs away. "Sorry if I've been doing that," she continued, reaffirming eye contact. "I've just been... you know, stressed out. Got a load more stuff from the Auror Department. More entry requirements, more training preparation, and I still don't even have an acceptance to my application."
Tobias waved a hand dismissively. "Oh, come on, if they weren't going to accept you they'd have told you so by now."
"Apparently not," Tanith sighed, leaning back. "Van Roden's told me horror stories of people who did all the prep and then didn't even make it as far as interview."
"Well, you've got that far at least," Tobias pointed out. "When is it, again?"
"Just after Christmas. I'm going to need to get permission to leave the school on a weekend to go down to London for it." Tanith sighed, shaking her head. "Weeks’ worth of school holidays, but can they schedule it then? No, that'd be too easy."
Tobias chuckled and nodded. "It's always the way. Anyway, just glad I haven't hacked you off or anything. When I've annoyed Tanith Cole to the extent she isn't even shouting at me, something's wrong."
There was a pause at that, a slight flicker, though she had never been comfortable at having it pointed out to her, by friends, just how difficult she could get when she lost her infamous temper. "Yeah. No, it's just... the work and all. You know how it is." She waved a hand dismissively, then glanced over at him again. "Though speaking of people behaving oddly..."
He sighed, knowing where this one was going. "Cal?"
"Still been all weird. Writing a lot. I think they're letters, Gawain's been back and forth like nobody's business."
"That could just be to Will," Tobias pointed out.
"But he never writes to Will that much."
"And now there's a war."
Tanith sighed. "That doesn't mean he hasn't been weird. Foul-moods, generally stroppy. Working more in lessons like defence, but rumour has it he's been all over the place in Muggle Studies. I'd think he's having a crisis of faith or something, but..." Her gaze dropped.
Tobias tilted his head. "But what?"
"He knows we met his father." Tanith was grimacing as she looked back up. "He knows it happened, and he knows we didn't tell him."
A slight cold twist began to settle in Tobias' stomach. "How does he know? Who told him?"
"I don't know. He had made it to outside of the Displacement Area, and might have been at the Auror camps for a while after we left. He could have just overheard someone." Tanith didn't really sound like she believed that any more than Tobias did.
They were interrupted by the loud and cheerful arrival of the Quidditch team, and immediately quietened down for risk of Cal appearing and overhearing them. But in trooped Urquhart, making a bee-line for his dorm. Behind him were Pucey and Malfoy, bringing with them the half-dozen younger Slytherins who were the new appointees to the team, or at least substitutes, and the cheer was audible. And last in, as no Cal joined them, was Bletchley, visibly wincing and rubbing his shoulder, closing the doorway behind him with noticeable difficulty.
As Tobias and Tanith were seated rather in the centre of the common room they were immediately joined by the team, the exuberant Pucey dragging the younger students over, and the seats rapidly filled up. By the time Bletchley had approached them, easing gingerly into an abandoned armchair with a wince, Urquhart had emerged from his room, brandishing a pack of butterbeer.
"Snuck this in with my trunk," he explained, setting it on the table. "I think the newly formed Cup-winning Slytherin Quidditch team needs to be toasted well, after all!"
He handed out the bottles, even offering ones to Tanith and Tobias with a cheerful nod. When Bletchley was handed his, he automatically reached out with his bad right arm, and this time let out an audible hiss of pain.
Urquhart looked quizzically at his Keeper, but it was Tanith who leaned towards him, frowning. "What'd you do to that arm, Miles?" she asked, the slight edge to her voice suggesting the answer needed to be truthful.
Bletchley shook his head. "Nothing," he said briskly, then realised this wasn't the right answer. "Just over-stretched for a save back there, that's all."
"You should get yourself down to Pomfrey's," Urquhart told him firmly.
"Nah, no need, it's not that bad. It's just a muscle being pissy, it'll settle down," Bletchley insisted, shaking his head again and cracking open the bottle of butterbeer.
"Oh, stop being a silly macho git and let me take a look at it. If you get to these things early it'll stop it from getting worse," Tanith said in a no-nonsense tone, setting down her bottle and padding over to perch behind him on the armchair.
Bletchley opened his mouth to complain, but Urquhart waggled a finger at him. "No, no," the younger boy told him. "You listen to the nice lady, Miles, and do as your told."
"Yes, Mum," the Keeper retorted, rolling his eyes, but leaned back and didn't offer further resistance as Tanith began to knead the muscles around his neck and shoulder.
"You didn't warm up before the try-outs, did you?" Tanith asked rhetorically, shaking her head. "You're going to have worse strains if you don't. You need to get the muscles loose before you start stretching and yanking them, you silly bugger."
"Mmm," was Miles' first, elegant reply, as Tobias rolled his eyes and took a large gulp of his butterbeer, trying to focus more on the enthusing of the Quidditch players about themselves, each other, tactics, and most importantly, how they were going to beat Gryffindor.
Quidditch bored the hell out of him.
"Besides, looks like I don't need to warm-up," Bletchley continued. "Not if I've got you to give me a massage after every practice. Ow," he finished, punctuating the swat around the head he got from Tanith for his efforts.
"You do this again, and I'll leave you under the tender cares of Jack," she retorted, gesturing to a grinning Urquhart.
"So." Tobias leaned forwards, looking intently at the Quidditch team and clearing his throat a little pointedly. "We're feeling... good about the match?"
“‘I’ll go home to my parents, confess what I’ve done…’”
The door swung open to let in Cal, who was singing almost at the top of his voice and swaggering with much of his old confidence and cheer. He sauntered over to the table, wearing a broad grin. “‘And I’ll ask them to pardon their prodigal son…’ Oooh, butterbeer. You're a star, Jack."
"Hey, Cal!" Tobias greeted his friend with more enthusiasm than usual, and a good deal of it genuine as Tanith also looked up, ceasing her work on Bletchley.
"Hey, mate. I'm just going to get out of this kit, I'm dying in here." He gave Tobias a hefty clap on the back, then sauntered off towards the dormitory. “‘And if they caress me as ofttimes before, Sure I never will play the wild rover no more…”
There was a moment, as the Quidditch team continued their revelry, and Tobias and Tanith exchanged glances, the latter looking dubious. "Well," she said, shrugging. "He looks a lot better. Maybe we don't need to stage an intervention?"
Tobias nodded firmly, grimacing a little. "That," he agreed, "would make life considerably easier."
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