Chapter 11 : The Fall
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“Your training,” Snape began, standing at the very front of the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom, “is supposed to be very near completion. And yet, your education in the art of magical combat and defence has been… sporadic, at best. Erratic and often incompetent teachers have left you under-qualified for witches and wizards of your level. Now, books away. Wands out. And stand up.”
Snape gave a casual flick of the wand as the seventh-year NEWT students got to their feet, and the desks they had been sitting at whipped away from them to line up along the far wall, leaving a large space in the centre where the pupils were gathered.
"Last lesson we went over the theory that you have covered, and though your attainment level is, for the most part, insufficient for seventh-years, there is a solid groundwork I can build upon. Today we are going to address your practical education and training. I need to see how much you know, how able you are, so I can address your inadequacies."
Everyone noted, silently, that Snape made no allowances for the possibility that there were no such inadequacies. But the Slytherins assembled were not foolish enough to say anything of the sort out loud, not when Snape was, by now, pacing in front of them with his hands clasped behind his back.
"The best way to judge is to view you under tension. Thus I shall test you each against one another, and we shall... assess where to go from here." Snape stopped, turning crisply to face them, standing straight. "The best of you first, then. Cole, Grey, up front."
Tanith and Tobias exchanged glances, the later with raised eyebrows, before they obligingly stepped over towards Professor Snape. "Sir?"
"Grey, your technical grasp of defensive and offensive magic alike is probably unparalleled amongst the students in Hogwarts, but Cole has you beaten on flexibility, instinct, reflexes, and raw power. A duel, standard wizarding regulations, and I wish to see a variety of spells used. Stretch your abilities to the limit so I may see what you are capable of."
Another exchange of glances, and a brief moment of hesitation before Tobias straightened up. "Right, then. We have the space? Ten paces?"
The two looked around, moving to the centre of the open space, briefly judging that they had enough distance, then turned to face each other. Tobias' salute was firm and crisp, but Tanith's was sharp, it being obvious she had little patience for the niceties of the test.
The ten paces were barely up - and some of the sharper-eyed students watching judged that they weren't at all - before Tanith whipped around, the waving of her wand curt and with the minimal motion necessary. "Expelliarmus!"
Tobias only just turned around in time to react to this, wand coming up in a slightly more frantic and desperate gesture to block the incoming hex. "Protego!" Though his wave had been fairly sloppy, Tanith's own spell had been born more of speed than strength, and so was deflected harmlessly by the magical barrier. But almost as soon as he finished the protection spell his wand came down again, his voice clear and crisp. "Torpeo!"
Tanith didn't bother with a protection spell, simply threw herself to one side, hitting the floor of the classroom and rolling with the impact to come up on one knee, wand still at the ready. "Stupefy!"
This attack was deflected by Tobias much more casually than her first had been, and the other students drew back as they realised the chance of collateral damage, with Tanith's dodging rather than protection, had just gone up. Nobody wanted to be a casualty on the sidelines.
Tobias didn't move at this point, wand raised defensively, eyes fixed on her as she rose slowly to her feet. There were several long seconds of silence, neither of them moving, before Tanith's wand moved almost imperceptibly. "Petrificus Totallus!"
Again, Tobias' wand came up with a protection spell to deflect it, and then seconds after Tanith threw another hex at him, this one equally artfully knocked aside. This continued for a few more spells, Tanith running through a variety of hexes in an effort to break through his shield, from the precise, piercing ones to the heavy-hitters, and each one was blocked with graceful ease.
There was another "Stupefy!" then Tanith's eyes settled on the chair slightly behind Tobias, upside-down on one of the tables pushed to one side. As the spell was deflected, she shifted her aim slightly, before narrowing her eyes and snapping "Proeliatis!"
The flicker of Tobias' expression made it clear he knew exactly what she'd done without needing to turn around as the chair behind him unfolded, arms and legs becoming literal arms and legs, the furniture turning humanoid at her transfiguration. Then it crouched down, ready to leap at the back of Tobias' head in a vicious tackle.
Although he had to know this, he didn't, as expected, react to it. Instead, his wand came back up, in an offensive stance this time, before it flicked forwards at Tanith. "Locomotor Mortis!"
The leg-locker curse hit her at pretty much the same time the chair gave out an inhuman squawk and lunged at him. Both of them went down, Tanith with a stiff thump to the floor, Tobias besieged by angry furniture.
Their reactions were also simultaneous, both struggling with unresponsive limbs or ones flailing in the face for a moment, before an "Enervate!" and an "Aboleo!" freed the two of them, the first lifting the hex on Tanith's legs, the second splintering the chair into dozens of pieces, moving no more.
Tanith was the first to her feet, bedraggled and looking angry by now, but Tobias stayed on the ground and reacted quicker than she did, redirecting his wand at her as soon as he was done with the chair and bellowing "Silencio!"
This time he had been fast enough, the magical energy punching through the half-hearted shield spell she'd barely managed to cast, and Tanith staggered back as it zeroed in on her throat.
There was a pause as the observing Slytherins unknowingly held their collective breath, even Tobias pausing to see if his spell had provided the intended effect. Then Tanith pointed her wand at her throat, opened her mouth, and absolutely no sound came out at all.
The sigh of released tension was huge, and Tobias looked exhausted as he turned back to Professor Snape. "Silenced and unable to remove it. That would be a win for me," he said, his voice tired but with a broad, victorious grin on his face.
Snape nodded slowly, and was about to speak when Tanith acted. For several long seconds she had been standing with her eyes half-closed, lips moving wordlessly, and then all of a sudden she stepped forward, wand outstretched, and a burst of energy silently erupted from the end of her wand.
This spell did hit Tobias, knocking him from his feet and to the floor, where he didn't move. The silence continued for a few long seconds as Tanith, obviously still unable to speak, pointed her wand back at her throat, face screwed up with concentration, before eventually a small flash of light burst out the end.
Then she turned to Tobias and gave a short, but very audible and victorious laugh. "How's that for a win, Grey? Stunned and..." She ambled over, footing light, voice whimsical, to pluck his wand from his hand. "Disarmed."
Snape, whose expression was unreadable, waved his wand lazily at Tobias. "Ennervate," he murmured, and with a slight jerk, Tobias seemed to come back to life, sitting up quickly.
"You cheated!" he pointed out with irritation. "You were Silenced and unable to remove it, nor did you take action in the duel for at least six seconds under such impediment - that designated you a non-combatant and thus made me the victor." His normally perfect hair was rumpled as he staggered to his feet, ungraciously snatching back his wand as Tanith offered it back to him.
"So my first attempt at casting without vocals failed. The second one succeeded, and incapacitated you. And I had my voice back before the Stunning spell wore off. I could have cast Incarerous on you easily!"
"I could have done it to you while you were Silenced! I just didn't want to outright humiliate you when you were at my mercy!" Tobias rolled his eyes. "Chivalry towards you. There's a mistake I should have remembered not to make again..."
"Oh, enough!" Snape sounded more irritated than angered as he threw his hands into the air. "You are both hitting very much on the crux of the matter: At what point is a fight over? I did instruct you to abide by the rules of a duel, and so from that perspective, strictly speaking, Grey was the victor." But he continued before Tobias' arrogant smirk quite manifested. "However, I am not teaching you how to fight a duel. I am preparing you for a possible war, I am preparing you for a dangerous world. And in those circumstances, enemies will not 'play by the rules', something you should all bear in mind.
"Regardless," he carried on, folding his arms across his chest, "this was the sort of display I wanted. Five points to Slytherin, Mister Grey, for a duel well won." Tanith rolled her eyes, though stopped abruptly when Snape's gaze turned to her, as implacable and unreadable as ever. "And... yes. Five points also for Miss Cole, for the first non-verbal casting under stress I have seen from a student since taking this post. Continue to practice, and I am sure you may be able to do so swifter."
Then his expression did harden, and Tanith abandoned any resemblance of looking pleased with herself as he glared at her. "Your determination will serve you well in the field, perhaps indeed as an Auror, Cole, but do not disregard the rules and limitations I place upon the practicing of magic in this classroom. I do not make such decisions without reason, and I will not have my authority disregarded."
This time, Tanith looked sufficiently cowed, bowing her head a little and nodding. "Yes, sir. Sorry, sir," she mumbled, as she and Tobias shuffled back towards the crowd.
"More, then. Bletchley, Drake, to the front. Standard duelling rules, I want a clean display. Knowing how to win when limitations have been placed upon you can be as important as victory in an unregulated environment," Snape commanded, and the two Slytherins began.
Only the students at the back could hear, over the noise of shouted incantations and whizzing magical energy, a small hiss and whisper of an ongoing argument. Sure enough, right at the back of the crowd, Tobias and Tanith stood with Gabriel in between them, bickering quietly but furiously while Doyle rubbed his temples.
"...can't believe you actually cheated..."
"...still beat you, didn't I?"
"That's not the point! It's a class exercise, everyone saw you, what did you gain?"
"The satisfaction of Stunning you when your back was turned?"
"Will you both shut up?" Doyle hissed as an interruption, still rubbing his brow. "All I can hear is this high-pitched 'eeeee' noise whenever Tanith's talking, and with Tobias it's just this dull buzzing and I've got one bitch of a headache!"
The two exchanged glances, before Tanith tossed her head, grabbed Gabriel by the shoulders, and forcibly swapped places with him. "And you think you're so high-and-mighty, not finishing me off when I'm down?" she continued, hardly missing a beat.
"I did say it was meant to be a touch of courtesy, courtesy I suppose you don't really deserve - and have shown to not appreciate before," Tobias hissed back, not without a good degree of venom.
"And what's that supposed to mean?"
"...I've really got a headache."
"It means that every time I'm nice to you, I get my head bitten off!"
"Oh, about two years ago, that little thing called a Yule -"
"I think I'm going to be sick," Gabriel interrupted. He wasn't - but he had been swaying slightly, and the moment the announcement was made, he dropped like a stone. His shoulder bounced off Tanith's knee and his head landed Tobias' foot before he hit the ground, where he lay very, very still.
Everyone’s immediate reaction was to do nothing but turn and stare at the fallen student, confused into inactivity. Except for Snape, who swept down through the ranks of the students and, with a whip of his wand, levitated Gabriel’s prone body off the floor.
“Everyone back!” he snapped, jerking the masses into activity as they finally drew away and stared in horror at their fallen classmate. “Does anyone know what’s wrong with him?”
“He, uh… he…” Tobias just stammered as his gaze remained fixed on Gabriel, unable to get a sentence out until Tanith stepped in.
“He was complaining of a headache. But he’s been complaining of one for weeks now, sir…”
“Weeks.” Snape looked unimpressed. “And he hasn’t been to Madam Pomfrey’s?”
“He said he’d be fine, sir…” Tanith explained weakly.
“Yes, he certainly looks it,” the head of their House replied cuttingly. “I can see your care for your classmate is excellent. Will somebody get him to the Hospital Wing? I still have a lesson to run.”
Nobody was really surprised when Cal stepped forwards, expression grim. “I’ll take him, sir,” he offered, waving a wand at Gabriel and muttering “Mobilicorpus” under his breath, establishing his own magical hold on the other without even waiting for Snape’s permission.
“Uh… I should go with…”
Snape cut Tobias off even before he’d properly found his voice again. “I am sure Mister Brynmor is quite capable of transporting a student a few floors up, Mister Grey, and I would be loath for even more students to miss this lesson. Just make sure you come back promptly, Mister Brynmor.”
“Right you are, sir,” Cal replied, backing off towards the door, tugging the still-twitching shape of Gabriel behind him, and not sounding as if he had the slightest inclination to do as he’d just agreed.
* * * * * * * *
Darkness. Pain. Nothingness.
Echoing in the back of his mind they charged forth, numerous and indistinguishable. Though they seemed to chant the same thing, they were not in time, and so the words ran over each other, repeating and melding together to the point where he could barely make out what was said, let alone what was meant…
...falls the shadow. All will play their part. All will fight. Live. Die. All will choose. The end is promised. The beginning is not. All will choose. A thousand choices of a thousand people. Guide the few.
...the Scion shall lose their warmth, lose their faith, and fall embroiled in the battle of nature against nurture...
...the Champion shall lose their way, lose their heart, and only through vigilance keep their conscience...
...the Disciple shall lose their mind, lose their hope, and be tempted by dark with the promise of its demise...
...choices entwined, destinies interwoven to decide not the fate of all but the hope of the future; that the promised end to darkness will bring with it a light bright enough to outshine the shadow of the past and end the cycle...
...end the cycle...
...end the cycle...
Then there was light, and Gabriel sat bolt upright to find himself in a bed in the well-illuminated Hospital Wing, a cold sweat across his forehead that did not seem at all matched with the warmth of the room, and Cal Brynmor seated at the foot of the bed looking rather wide-eyed.
“Gabe! How’re you… feeling?” His burly classmate looked actually rather nervous, wringing his hands together as he watched him like a hawk ready to take flight at the slightest provocation.
“…like I really need a drink. What happened?” Gabriel wiped his brow and blinked mugginess from his head as Cal stood to pour him a glass of water from the jug. “All I remember is Tobias and Tanith bitching at each other, then it all going black.”
“They have that affect sometimes,” Cal said with forced cheer, handing him the glass and returning to his seat. “And… yeah. You just keeled over in class. Brought you up here. You’ve been out about an hour… started muttering for last fifteen minutes.”
Gabriel frowned, the memory of the echoing voices rising to the front of his mind, initially suppressed by the surprise of his awakening. “Muttering, huh? Anything interesting?” He hid his expression behind a large gulp of the drink as Cal shook his head.
“Couldn’t hear you. Sounded like one hell of a bad dream.” He tilted his head at his friend slightly, brow still furrowed. “Apart from thirsty, uh… how are you feeling? Physically, I mean? Still got that headache?”
There was a pause as Gabriel blinked and realised, with a small start, that there was no headache that had been plaguing him for weeks. It was as if the collapse, or the voices, had realised a large dose of pent-up pressure behind his eyes, and with the water down him he was beginning to feel as if there had been nothing wrong in the first place. “Actually okay,” he admitted. “A little groggy. What did Madam Pomfrey say was wrong with me?”
Cal gave a slight shrug. “I don’t think even she knew. She said something about a build up of magical energies surrounding you. Apparently it comes as a result of too much magic pouring through you, like if you’ve been actually casting a bit too much for too long a period. She did say you needed to stop practicing charms after class, though, and work a bit more on theory instead if you were so desperate in your homework.”
“Heh, yeah, that must be it.” Gabriel forced a chuckle, again wiping his sweaty forehead. “I don’t have to stay here, do I? Not long, anyway? It’s Transfigurations this afternoon…”
“And you’re oh-so-eager for that. She wants you to stick around until the end of the day, maybe overnight. It’ll be fine, I’ll tell McGonagall. The others should be up to see you at lunchtime, anyway,” Cal said firmly.
“Lunchtime? So aren’t you supposed to be back in Defence?” Gabriel pointed out accusingly, raising an eyebrow at his friend.
“What, and leave you to mumble like a madman on your own? I can handle Snape. He’s been happier with Tobias as his chew-toy lately anyway.” He patted Gabriel on the shin firmly, smirking a too-broad smirk. “Besides, you know me. Any chance to get out of lessons. You keeling over and frothing and all was just a handy excuse for me to wriggle out of the boredom. That said, I’m not sure I blame you for passing out, what with those two in either ear…”
Gabriel snorted with amusement and agreement. “You’d think they’d be over it all by now, or have sorted it out one way or another instead of still bitching at each other. How come you didn’t kill yourself being stuck with them on holiday?”
“It wasn’t so bad. Tobias was more distracted by griping over O’Neal getting the Head Boy job, and Tanith had just had a row with her Dad so was preoccupied with that, and besides, the trip got cut short anyway…” Cal’s voice trailed off, and he just shook his head and shrugged.
“Oh, yes, the infamous camping trip where nobody tells me jack about what happened,” Gabriel replied bitterly. “You know I’d have come along if I’d not had the family holiday. Seems like I missed out on some sort of excitement.”
Cal looked at the floor, frowning. “It wasn’t very much at all,” he said, giving another shrug.
“It coincided with that damn incident of Death Eaters running around Derbyshire and the werewolves in the Peak District going absolutely mad. If it had all ‘passed you by’ I’d have never heard the end of it about just how lucky you three were,” Gabriel pointed out. “Do we just not communicate about things any more?”
“Apparently not,” Cal conceded, glancing back up. “We got split up, there was a Displacement Field and I tried to Apparate out before I realised it was up. Tobias and Tanith… well… they ran right into one of the Death Eaters who was behind the whole ritual that got the werewolves angry in the first place. Only got away with sheer luck and some Auror or someone coming to the rescue.”
Gabriel raised an eyebrow. “Wow. I feel considerably out of the loop. Do you know who the Death Eater was?”
Cal grimaced, not meeting his friend’s eye. “Yeah. Not that they told me. Turned out that they ran into one Thanatos Brynmor.”
There was a stiff pause at this, before Gabriel let out a low whistle. “Huh. That… that sucks. Not to mention being one hell of a coincidence.” He tilted his head at his friend slightly. “So what happened to you, then?”
“Me? Oh, I… I got Displaced fairly near the edge of the field, and almost on top of the Auror camp that was set up there. Told them where we’d been camping so they could send someone in to find them.” Cal gave a very firm shrug. “That’s all.”
Gabriel narrowed his eyes at him. “You’re an awful liar, Caldwyn,” he pointed out, unconvinced.
“Am I? Then it’s just as well Madam Pomfrey’s heading this way with a Sleeping Draught that’s got your name of it, isn’t it, and that I should head back to Defence classes…”
Unfortunately for both of them, though, they were both right, and as Gabriel drifted off to sleep after not protesting against the draught and Cal headed back off to class, he let his thoughts wander. To the whispers of before, trying to capture their words again in his head and in his memories, and to the wilds of Derbyshire, and somehow it felt that pieces to both puzzles lay in the same place.
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