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Shade to Shade by Slide
Chapter 12 : The Way We Were
 
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Chapter 11: The Way We Were



Life, Tobias reflected with a spring in his step, was pretty good. September had come and gone, and they were due a Hogsmeade trip this weekend. Classes were proceeding comfortably, he’d sent off a variety of job applications and had been collecting references from his teachers, and was anticipating some interviews with the Ministry some time around or after Christmas. Gabriel’s funny turn seemed to have been nothing, and he’d ceased even commenting about his headaches since – not to mention, had stopped even rubbing at his temples or giving other physical signs. Cal had also stopped acting so strangely, his mood significantly increased, though he still seemed to be keeping strange hours with odd personal correspondence, and occasionally stared off into the distance in the direction of the Ravenclaw table during mealtimes. And Tanith was…

 

Well, she was Tanith. Spending more time with Ariane and Melanie, perhaps, a little cooler towards him in public, but still very much Tanith. These days, much more interested in her studies than before, and he was relishing the fact that one of his good friends was now also someone he could engage in academic discussion, an avenue that had been previously rather cut off to him.

 

All in all, life was good. Which was why the last thing he’d expected, wandering down the corridor on a late Tuesday evening after a productive session of research in the library on his Arithmancy paper, was to run into Annie MacKenzie coming down towards him from the opposite end of the corridor.

 

Had he thought about it, rather than just frozen in abject terror, clutching at his books on protective wards, he would have realised it wasn’t that unlikely an occurrence. After all, the fact that they’d hardly come face to face with one another in several weeks was a more peculiar issue, and considering his route back to the common room was taking him along the direct path back to the Gryffindor Tower from the Great Hall, he probably should have expected it.

 

But he hadn’t, and by the time his gaze had darted down the corridor in search of a valid escape route – the window was the only tantalising option there – she had spotted him, and was bee-lining in his direction. At this point, it would probably be just rude to hurl himself out of the third floor.

 

“Annie!” he croaked in greeting, still clutching at his books a little, as if they might protect him.

 

“Toby.” She came to a halt a few feet away, waving and smiling a little sheepishly. He eyed the distance between them hawkishly, not sure if he would freeze entirely or run like the wind should she attempt to close it. Again.

 

“How… how are you? Haven’t seen you around much lately. Heh.” There it was, that nervous chuckle that was the bane of his existence whenever he tried to be casual. Or the blush that came at a moment’s notice if he was moderately uncomfortable, even – especially – when he was trying to hide it. Or, in fact, the many things which made him a moderately inept liar in the face of friends.

 

Or more.

 

“I’ve been, uh… alright. Yeah. You?” Annie tilted her head to one side slightly as she looked at him, playing with a stray lock of reddish-brown hair. She always used to do that when she was nervous, he noted with detached interest. Was it a habit that had changed to become a prelude to eating men alive?

 

“Yeah, yeah, I’ve been good. Just busy with work. Arithmancy project, and all that. Got a big paper this year, any subject we want. I’ve chosen to do it on protective wards, so I’m trying to get Professor Vector to give me any information she can on the wards around Hogwarts… though these days that’s considered sensitive information.” He frowned, as if important security in the face of war was entirely unreasonable compared to his academic interest.

 

She laughed, and though it was nervous it was also genuine. “Silly war getting in your way?”

 

“As always.” He grinned his own slightly silly grin, which died within a few seconds as silence fell upon them and he found himself neither wishing to flee nor poke the elephant in the corner. Unfortunately, his mind wasn’t summoning any other options right then.

 

“Anyway, um… I’m glad I ran into you, Toby,” Annie continued, seeming to steel herself for a few seconds before she spoke. “I, uh… guess we didn’t really talk much about last time we, um…”

 

“Didn’t really talk at all, I suppose,” Tobias corrected, his gaze fixed somewhere around her left ear. “Don’t worry yourself about it, we don’t need to, um, talk about it. These things just happen.” He wondered dimly if these things did ‘just happen’ – perhaps there was an epidemic of students falling onto each others’ lips that he’d been previously unaware of.

 

A brief, vicious part of his psyche threw the image of Tanith falling onto Bletchley to the forefront of his mind, and he dismissed it quickly with a scowl.

 

Annie, however, seemed to take this scowl as disapproval, and shrank back slightly. “Okay, well… um, I guess we can just leave it at that. I didn’t want to… hurt or upset you or anything, but if you want to forget it ever happened…”

 

Tobias paused, shaking his head a little. “What? Um, no… I mean… you seem like you’ve got something to say,” he said at last, the words finally coming to him. Also, pressing her to speak had to be less dangerous, right?

 

Right?

 

“Yeah. That’s… kind of why I came looking for you,” Annie agreed, nodding slowly. “I wanted to say two things. First, to, uh, apologise for just, uh, snogging you and then running off.” This was said to his right shoe, which was fine because he was still staring intently at her earlobe. “That was, um, rude of me. I shouldn’t have just jumped at you like that, and I certainly shouldn’t have just run away afterwards.”

 

“Um. Don’t worry about it?” Tobias tried hesitantly.

 

“The second thing is a, ah, explanation. Which I guess you’ve been wondering about,” Annie continued hesitantly.

 

“Actually, my brain hasn’t quite recovered from the ‘huh’ state over the whole thing,” Tobias confessed with a candour that made him feel a little less uncomfortable.

 

“Really. That good, then?” Annie said, the forced levity audible in her voice, but it dropped the moment she noticed his ears turning slightly pink. She cleared her throat firmly. “Anyway. An explanation. Which you deserve. Yes.”

 

“Listening. Go on.” Tobias forced himself to smile at her ear.

 

“I’ve had a little bit of a problem lately. Sort of… over the summer. And made worse at the beginning of the year,” Annie told his shoe. “Which was that I, ah… kept second guessing myself. About breaking up with you, I mean. Kept wondering if it was the right thing to do, or if I’d just been an outrageous bitch to you over the whole thing, and if I’d actually, uh… wanted to.”

 

Tobias said nothing to this, though did manage to sneak a look at her face. She was frowning, obviously forcing herself through every word, and in each pause stopped to chew thoughtfully on her lower lip in a habit he’d always found endearing.

 

“So I talked to the girls,” Annie continued, barely audible over his racing heartbeat. “And they said it could have been just… a phase. I mean, you seem to have become ‘most eligible bachelor’ in Hogwarts since making Head Boy… I might have just been getting swept along. In fact, we figured I probably was.” She nodded to herself, then grimaced. “So me, ah, jumping you that day was meant to be… well, me getting you out of my system. One last hurrah so I could just… get over you.”

 

Tobias looked faintly confused. “I’m not sure how…”

 

“You’re a bloke, Toby, you’re going to just have to take my crazy female logic on faith here,” Annie told him unhappily. “I snog you. I realise you’re not all that. I get over you. Simple, no?”

 

“Uh, very simple, yeah. So I’m glad we’ve cleared that up…” This time, Tobias’ legs did cooperate with him, and he went to walk past her, the desire for freedom from this discomfort overcoming all ideals of good conduct. His mother would have been so disappointed.

 

…perhaps his mother wasn’t the best person to think about while he was stuck in an uncomfortable and intense conversation with a girl he’d…

 

“That’s not all,” Annie continued miserably, reaching out to grab him by the elbow. Her touch was electric, and he almost jumped out of his skin as he turned back around to face her, expression that of a deer in the headlights. “It didn’t really… work. The getting over you bit, I mean. The realising you’re not all that?”

 

The conversation was making his head spin. He wanted to interrogate her effectively to extract her exact purpose, her exact intent; to find out precisely what she was going on about so he could rationally judge what to do from then. Instead, he just about managed an eloquent “Wha?”

 

Annie sighed, scrubbing her face with her hands. “It didn’t, um, get you out of my system. If anything it got you, um, more in there. Made me realise that I was an idiot to break up with you over such a stupid, stupid, selfish thing.”

 

His gaze dropped immediately, as if hers was a Medusa stare that would imprison him. Not that the reluctance of his feet to move again meant that it would have made much difference if she were such a mythical beast. “It was a… stupid thing. But I, uh, understand why you did it? You can’t have been having a good time of things?”

 

Why was he making excuses for her? She’d dumped him because he was a Slytherin and she was a Gryffindor and she’d been getting grief over it from idiots. He’d never made such an important decision based upon what others thought; his refusal to join the Inquisitorial Squad had been testament to this.

 

“Still doesn’t excuse it.” Annie shook her head. “So I don’t really expect you to… forgive me. But I’d like you to. Because I am sorry. For what it’s worth.” She paused, taking a deep breath. “And what I’d really like… what I’d want, I mean… what would be nice…” Another halt, another deep breath with a slight catch in it, steeling herself visibly. “I’d like to give us another chance. If you want, I mean.”

 

He stared at her, almost literally stunned into silence. This was the last thing he’d expected – conflicted feelings, sure, some Machiavellian scheme to play with his emotions, quite likely. But actual… regret to the point of wanting him again? That hadn’t been on the cards. That was completely…

 

“Uh… Toby?” She waved a hand in front of his face slightly, and he flinched. “Sorry. You just… stared off into space for a while there. Did you, uh, hear me?”

 

“What? Yes, I heard…” Tobias paused, rubbing his eyes. “It’s been a long day. I, uh… I need to think about this? If you don’t mind? It’s sort of sudden, and I need to… think about this?” He found he was repeating himself, and promptly stopped talking to save his sanity.

 

Annie nodded slowly. “Of course. Take as long as you want. I don’t expect you to… say yes. Or even say anything right away. But… if you want to think about it I can give you the time to…?”

 

“Good. Yeah. It’s not a ‘no’. I just need to… think about this.” He nodded very firmly, then glanced down the corridor. His legs felt as if they might just cooperate again. “I should get going. Doesn’t do for a Head Boy to be wandering the corridors too late at night when I don’t have patrol duty.” He waggled a finger at her, feeling a little light-headed. “And you, Miss MacKenzie, should be back in the Gryffindor Tower by now.”

 

She grinned, and he felt the light-headedness increasing. “Of course, Mister Grey. How remiss of me. I shall head back right away,” she assured him, tone going to one of mock-formality, the smile turning down to only a hint around the edges of a falsely serious expression.

 

He nodded nervously. “Well. I’ll… see you soon. We’ll talk… soon,” he assured her, and thought she gave a reply he didn’t quite hear it over the roaring in his ears as he strode down the corridor towards home.

 

The entire trip was something of a blur, clutching his books to him and replaying the past few minutes in his head, the events and words becoming more and more jumbled every time they went around until he wasn’t sure up was down, let alone whether Annie had said what he thought she’d said.

 

He needed someone to talk to. Someone to work this all through with. Like Cal, if he wasn’t so crazy, or Gabe, if he wasn’t so crazy, or…

 

…Tanith. Tanith, who was sprawled on a sofa in the common room as he entered the dungeon, Tanith who had a large pile of Transfigurations reference scrolls littered around the table in front of her and the seat next to her, Tanith, who was… asleep. Sound asleep, halfway through homework.

 

The conversation he’d just had flew entirely out of his thoughts as he padded through the abandoned common room towards her, setting his books carefully down on the table and moving some scrolls from the seat beside her so he could sit down, doing his best to not make any noise.

 

She seemed oblivious to the world as he eased himself onto the sofa, so he snuck a glance at the paperwork she’d been going through. Principles of partial self-Transfiguration… complicated, advanced theory that even he had only vaguely begun to delve into, and yet again Tobias had to remind himself that Tanith was no fool; had never been a fool, just disinterested in academia. That was, until she’d decided she wanted to be an Auror. Then there had been nothing she would not work at to reach her goal.

 

He wasn’t sure exactly when down the line it had been that she’d decided she wanted to be an Auror. Obviously some time before they’d selected their NEWT subjects, unless she’d just been lucky on that count. Perhaps in the careers discussions? That would have been their fifth year, so it was possible… most of what she’d done that year after the Yule Ball was something of a mystery to him, so embarrassed he had been by the evening that he’d turned completely insular from her. A summer away had cleared heads, and then they’d come back to… stability.

 

Or, at least, acting as if nothing had happened. Was that the same thing?

 

She stirred a little, making a small growl of contentment in the back of his throat that made him suppress a chuckle as he set down the scrolls he’d been flicking through, and shifted to face her.

 

Her hair was long and dark, returned to that state only recently after a short-lived period of rebellion which had seen it short, blonde, and spiky – he had a feeling her parents had disapproved. So back it was to basics, back to how she had been when he’d first met her. Older, of course, her features rather more severe as she’d grown.

 

Though it had been some time since Tobias had allowed himself to reflect on Tanith’s looks, even at the height of his infatuation he would have never expressed her to be… pretty. Certainly not conventionally; if there was a beauty, it was a sharp beauty – the rest of the appeal lay in her manner, in her attitude. Her confidence and her determined demeanour, though both were obviously faded while she slept.

 

And yet there was still something there, something he could not put his finger on…

 

Again a stir, again that slight purring growl of satisfaction, and this time Tanith’s dark eyes flickered open to lock onto him. There was a moment as she glanced about, seemingly briefly startled, but she settled quickly and didn’t move. “Huh. Must have dropped off.”

 

“Transfiguration homework that boring?” Tobias asked wryly, not moving away and propping his head up with a hand, elbow resting on the back of the sofa.

 

“All about what to do if I want to turn my arms into bats’ wings… very exciting… where’d everyone go?” She was audibly groggy, and seemed still disinclined to budge.

 

“It is half eleven,” Tobias told her, after consulting his watch and conceding his return to the dungeon had probably not been as direct as he might have liked. “Most have gone to bed, I guess.”

 

“They didn’t wake me? Bastards,” Tanith observed, resting her head back on the couch. “What’s got you up at this time, anyway?”

 

He smiled slightly. “Library work,” he replied, the omission not even conscious, his thoughts a thousand miles away from Annie MacKenzie. “Arithmancy research.”

 

She made a face, then giggled. “The fun stuff.”

 

Tobias stared at her for a few seconds. Never before would he have thought that Tanith Cole would ever giggle. “No, boring stuff. So I came back here.”

 

“To wake me up, hmm.” One eyebrow flickered up, the hint of a smile playing about her lips.

 

“You woke yourself up. I was just…” Tobias paused as he realised that there was a high chance he’d just wandered into a trap.

 

“Watching me sleep, then. Perv.” A brief snort of amusement.

 

“Tidying up your mess, actually,” he replied with a mock-haughty expression, gesturing to the papers she’d strewn around. He hadn’t even realised that he’d tidied up after her when he’d sifted through her work; that was a worrying reflection on his habits.

 

“Mmm. Then let me sleep. Comfy here.” Tanith lay back on the couch again, nestling herself a little between cushions.

 

Tobias gave a short chuckle. “Oh, no. I’m not having you complaining to me tomorrow about how you messed up your back because you slept on the couch. Come on. Up, you.”

 

“Don’t wanna.” She wore half a smile as she waved an arm weakly at him. It contacted his shoulder and stayed there, her seeming to not have the energy to remove it.

 

“Come on.” He gave her a look.

 

“What are you going to do, carry me? That’d work so well…” The hand on his shoulder played along towards his neck, her fingers stroking at the strands of hair they could reach. “…and is it me, or has your hair got longer?”

 

“It’s hair. It grows,” Tobias replied, though not without amusement. “Did you have some of that bootleg firewhiskey Pucey was waving around, or something?”

 

“I mean, you usually keep it all short… kinda severe… it’s getting wavy these days. Sorta long. I like it.” She gave a short, quiet chuckle. “And no. Just sleepy. That against the rules? Mister Head Boy going to dock me points?”

 

“Mister Head Boy is going to encourage you to go to your own bed so Mister Head Boy doesn’t have to put up with one of his prefects being cranky as hell in the morning,” Tobias told her with a wry grin.

 

“Ugh, fine.” Her surrender was a little quicker than anticipated, though, and Tobias hardly moved or reacted at all as she sat up.

 

This move thus brought their heads very close together. So close, in fact, that they did bump noses, and though Tanith bounced back very briefly, it wasn’t for long, and as realisation kicked in for both of them, through the confusion and the fatigue, they became keenly aware that their faces – and lips, couldn’t forget lips – were mere centimetres apart.

 

There was a long silence for a few seconds, until Tobias drew a shaky breath. “…Tanith?”

 

“Shh. Don’t.” It was a slightly more curt instruction than might have been anticipated, for although Tanith didn’t move, she was wearing an expression of deep concentration and contemplation.

 

He froze, as ever unsure of what to do, and though again Annie MacKenzie was nowhere near his thoughts, she had still addled them sufficiently for one evening. “Don’t… what?”

 

Then there was the slight head tilt as they both leaned forwards, Tanith having just enough time to breathe “Think,” as an answer as their lips approached…

 

…then a sound crept just into the edge of Tobias’ hearing; a dull sobbing noise coming from the direction of the dormitory, and his head snapped in its direction so sharply that Tanith almost bashed into his ear.

 

“Did you hear that?” he asked sharply, a frown on his face as his eyes darted about the corner of the common room and towards the stairways to the dormitories.

 

“…yeah. Like that. That was the kind of thinking I meant,” Tanith muttered to herself, before pulling away and straightening up, her frown deep. “What, Grey? I didn’t hear anything.”

 

He didn’t notice the strong tone of irritation as he stood up. “I thought I heard someone crying. From over there. Can’t you hear it?” He waved a hand towards the stairway.

 

Tanith gave a deep sigh. It was almost audible that she was hanging onto a final shred of self-control. “No. No, I can’t. And if you’re right, then it’s coming from the boys’ dorm.” She stood up, gathering her books and scrolls. “I’m going to bed.”

 

Tobias continued to squint towards the stairway until Tanith passed him, sweeping towards her own dormitory. “No, damn, wait… Tanith, hang on…!” He turned towards her desperately, realisation only just sinking in of what had happened and what he’d done.

 

“Good night, Grey,” Tanith said firmly, before disappearing into the gloom.

 

He regarded the empty room for a long moment, thoughts scrambling together from all corners of his awareness, and the situation he had landed himself in – not to mention the situation he had just blown – crept into his mind.

 

“Bugger,” he declared, and deemed it to be an acceptably accurate judgement of his circumstances.

 

Then he heard that sobbing noise again, and his attention was distracted once more with the inkling that there might be someone who had more genuine troubles than his women woes. He took a few seconds to clear his head of the thoughts bouncing around inside, echoing and distracting as they were, before he padded over towards the stairway to the boys’ dormitories, and the sound of the sobbing.

 

In the gloom only one floor up, he found the source sitting on the stairs – a first year, wrapped in an over-sized dressing gown that his mother probably assumed he would ‘grow into’, sniffling away in obvious distress. But Tobias’ approach was heard as he headed up the stairs, and the small boy sat upright with a small start.

 

“Uh… uh… sorry, sir. I didn’t mean to bother you, sir… I’ll just be heading to bed.”

 

The first year made to stand up, but Tobias bounded up the steps, taking them two at a time, to draw level with the boy and putting a hand on his shoulder, gently urging him to sit down. “No, no bother,” he insisted as he, too, perched himself on one of the seats. “It’s Jeremy, isn’t it?”

 

The first year gave a small, tearful nod. “Y-Yes, sir. Jeremy Allan.”

 

Tobias smiled slightly, softly. “You don’t need to call me ‘sir’. I’m not a Professor.”

 

“B-but you’re the Head Boy.” Jeremy looked distinctly confused by this decree. “You’re… important.”

 

“So they keep telling me,” Tobias murmured to himself, then shook his head a little. “And I’m… not a sir. Just Tobias. Or Toby.”

 

“Alright, uh… Toby.” Jeremy nodded briefly with a slight frown, then sniffed quietly.

 

“As for important, right now you seem a lot more important than me.” He patted the young boy on the shoulder. “What’s up?”

 

“…nothing. I’m fine.” It was an automatic reaction, so in-built and harsh that Tobias wondered if this had been born already from Hogwarts or if this spoke of more problems in the lad’s past. But it also crumbled as quickly as it had appeared, and Jeremy lowered his head, suppressing another sniff. “You, uh… do you like it here, Toby?”

 

The inkling of a clue began to enter Tobias’ head. “Where here? Hogwarts? …Slytherin House?”

 

“…Slytherin,” the boy confessed, cringing a little. “I mean… I know it’s got great history! And some of the greatest wizards have come from Slytherin House! It’s just… my mum was a Gryffindor. My dad was a Hufflepuff. I thought I’d be in one of those! And when I sent them the letter telling them I was in Slytherin, they…”

 

Tobias didn’t say anything as Jeremy’s voice trailed off, though he nodded to himself briefly as his guess was turning out to be right. Then Jeremy continued, falteringly. “…they said they were proud. Happy for me. All that. But my big sister’s a Hufflepuff, and I remember when they got the news in the post a few years back… my dad was so proud. Kept saying she was just like him. I wanted to make them happy like that.”

 

“Oh, Jeremy…” Tobias shook his head, smiling very softly and making sure the boy couldn’t see it. “That’s just parents stuff. They’ll love you no matter what, and it doesn’t really matter to them what house you’re in. Just you see. And when you’re miles ahead of your big sister because we taught you how to get by in the world, they’ll be sitting around boasting of how their son’s a Slytherin.”

 

He wished he could believe it. Perhaps if the boy had been a Ravenclaw, sure, but…

 

“It’s… it’s not just that,” Jeremy continued falteringly, and Tobias’ stomach tightened as he realised where this was going. “I don’t have any friends here… I met a few guys on the train I thought were pretty cool, but all three of them became Gryffindors. Now they won’t even talk to me. Not in classes, not in the corridors, not at lunch… like I don’t even exist.”

 

Tobias chewed on his lower lip. “You’re much better off making friends in your own House, Jeremy, it’s just easier…”

 

“That’s what some of the boys in my year said. And some of the older ones. Only not like that… they just said people in other Houses weren’t worth talking to.” Jeremy looked up tearfully. “But… they were fun. And everyone else in my year keeps on going on about ‘right friends’ and stuff and… I don’t really know what they’re going on about.”

 

‘Right friends’? They’re eleven. Jesus Christ… Tobias glanced up, sighing quietly to himself as he looked over at the fireplace just visible through the doorway to the common room. They keep starting this crap earlier and earlier. At least the kid’s a half-blood or more, or they’d have eaten him alive by now.

 

“And some of the bigger kids in the other houses, especially Gryffindor, call me names… say that I’m a little Death Eater, that they’re going to hex all the bad out of me…” Jeremy’s voice shook slightly, and it was only because he dropped his gaze again that he didn’t see the tightening of Tobias’ jaw, the clenching of his fist.

 

“Which bigger kids?” Tobias asked tersely, his voice tight.

 

“I… I don’t know.” Jeremy shrugged. “Just bigger kids. Fifth years? Sixth?” Tobias remembered his first year, when pretty much anyone over the age of fourteen was monstrously huge, especially in the first month. “I… I don’t want them to hurt me…”

 

“Listen, Jeremy.” Tobias shifted around, moving down a few steps so he was in front of Jeremy and turning to face him. “They’re not going to hurt you. They’re bullies who are just all talk, no trousers. They’re not going to do anything to you, so you can just ignore them and keep walking.” His voice was firm, perhaps too firm, and if he hadn’t been clouded by his own anger he might have noticed that his own determination was starting to make the boy even more uneasy. “As for your friends, you’ll find some. Just talk to the others in your year – yes, even the girls – and… be yourself. Tell them who you are. Talk to them about things you enjoy. About Quidditch, and Gobstones, and… and when they start talking about what their daddy does or what connections they have, ask them for a game of Exploding Snap!”

 

Why the hell do they grow up so quickly? Why is everyone so eager for this war that they’re picking side already?

 

Why are we training our kids to fight our wars?

 

Jeremy looked a little lost and confused. “Can’t I… I was wondering… can’t you talk to Professor Dumbledore and get me… re-Sorted? I could be a Hufflepuff, I work hard, and I’m good to my friends, and…”

 

“So am I, Jeremy.” Tobias hunched down to meet the boy’s gaze. “I’m the top pupil in my year – probably top pupil in the school. But I’m not a Ravenclaw. I’ll do anything for my friends. But I’m not a Hufflepuff. And I’ve stood up to all kinds of nasty types for what I believe in – hell, I’ve faced off against a Death Eater. But I’m not a Gryffindor.

 

“I want to get far in life, and I know I’m good enough to. I want the world to be a better place, and I want to be the one who makes it so. I want the very best for everyone I care about, and I will do whatever it takes so they have it. That’s what makes me a Slytherin.

 

“And you’ve got that too, Jeremy, or you wouldn’t be here. That drive to succeed. That resourcefulness. That makes you stand apart from all of them – just as they stand apart from each other because of their House traits. They’ll say that being a Slytherin makes you petty and cruel, but you and I know better. Tell yourself that every time they try to hurt you with what you are. And when your fellow Slytherins are just being weird, or petty… be better than them. Show everyone, including them, that being a Slytherin isn’t about being a bad person, and it isn’t about being a better person. It’s about, um… you being… you, and I’ve just rambled excessively at you, haven’t I?” Tobias tilted his head at Jeremy, putting his hands on his hips and wondering where down the line he’d stopped helping the boy and had gone on his own self-righteous rant.

 

Jeremy giggled slightly. “A little. But I… I think I got it.” There was a pause as he thought, and his expression brightened. “Billy’s been collecting Chocolate Frog Cards and I’ve got a load. I’ve probably got a bunch I could swap with him.”

 

And that was all the boy needed, really, Tobias reflected. Friends. Principles could come later. Or, if he was lucky, not at all. They tended to just cause trouble.

 

Like making you go and help a crying boy when there’d been a girl about to kiss you…

 

“There you go, then.” Tobias smiled wryly. “And I’ll tell you what… I have an old Gobstones set I don’t use any more. You can have it, if you want. On loan, for the year. So you and your friends don’t get bored.”

 

“Really, sir? I mean, uh, Toby?”

 

“Only if you get yourself to bed right now. You’re going to be tired as anything in the morning, and if you tell Professor Snape or Professor McGonagall that you were up late at night talking to me, then they’ll have my guts for garters…”


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