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Chapter 15 : The Talented Mister Doyle
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Gabriel sauntered down the school corridor, whistling to himself cheerfully and tossing the small ball he’d been practicing inanimate to animate Transfiguration on from hand to hand. It was the week after the already infamous Hogsmeade trip, and by now Gabriel was wondering how long it would take for the sky to fall in on them all.
He’d gone to ground that day, quite intentionally sticking with Bletchley, Pucey, and Montague as they became more interested in joke shops and sweet shops than the drama around them. And, not very much to his surprise, he’d returned to find out that everything had gone most particularly wrong.
In all honesty, he hadn’t anticipated the exact flavour of wrongness. Cal had found him and mostly just blabbered at him about some girl – Crockett, or something – he’d been unable to talk to without allegedly shoving his foot in his own mouth. When Gabriel had pressed him on the subject of the Amazing Soap of Tobias and Tanith, Cal’s face had dropped, and he had explained all he could.
Tobias Grey and Annie MacKenzie were an item again. And Tanith was probably plotting to end the world.
In all honesty, Gabriel didn’t particularly care who Tobias went out with. It was aggravating that he’d be expected to spend time with a Gryffindor, but the fact that all other Gryffindors would be so incensed by the idea of one of theirs going out with a senior Slytherin that the ammunition for arguments was a sufficient compensation. And if Tanith wanted to go back to being territorial and pissy, and yet unable to actually do anything about it, then who was he to stop her?
Not that it was fun getting the secret, venomous monologue of how MacKenzie was an evil skank whenever they crossed paths, but Tanith at least usually bothered Cal with that more than she bothered him.
All in all, it could have been worse. Gabriel had been expecting their ‘date’ to result in an argument between his two friends which would have led to constant sniping and fighting. He knew Tanith would never show her hand quite so plainly when being scathing and territorial, so overall this was actually a much better result.
Which could leave him to focus on other, more important things. Like who this girl was that Cal had his knickers in a twist over. And what he could do to the Gryffindors…
But no soon as that thought was finished did fate seem to answer his wonderings, for around the corner in front of him ambled McLaggen and Wilson, joking and jostling one another and probably on their way in from the fields at this time in the lunch break.
Both parties paused as they saw one another, Gabriel keeping his face neutral and trying to fight off the creeping grin which threatened, Wilson and McLaggen sobering significantly and narrowing their eyes at the waiting Slytherin.
Then McLaggen’s features broke into a broad, predatory grin. Or perhaps what he thought was predatory; the thinner, more discreetly amused smile that tugged at Gabriel’s face might have rivalled it had it been more obvious.
“Doyle!” McLaggen sauntered over to Gabriel with a falsely casual air, Wilson falling into step next to him. “Nice day for it, huh?”
“That really does depend on what ‘it’ is, McLaggen. Nice day for being mentally stunted? Well, the sun’s bright, the sky’s blue, there’s not very much going on to confuse you, I suppose…” Gabriel scratched at his chin with a mock-thoughtful air, glancing out the window in a studious manner.
McLaggen’s expression flickered, but Wilson stepped in before he could get seemingly too angered. “You’re a funny, funny guy, Doyle. And not that smart yourself, pissing off two guys who are both bigger than you when you’re on your own.”
“You seemed to be looking for a fight. I’m a people pleaser.” Gabriel smiled toothily, glancing between the two of them but honestly wondering what his options were if this turned nasty. “What made you two wake up on the wrong side of bed this morning? Or did you swap whose side is whose for fun? I suppose, McLaggen, you always struck me as the sort to take the left side of the bed and not be very understanding of Wilson’s wants…”
The shove from McLaggen hit him in the shoulder with a strength he hadn’t quite anticipated, and sent him staggering back a few steps. He saw Wilson give McLaggen a slightly warning look, and realised that perhaps not both of them wanted to kick the tar out of him today. If he kept his mouth shut, perhaps they’d get bored, or realise he was more trouble than he was worth.
…like he’d ever been good at keeping quiet when speaking could piss someone off. And that headache was starting again.
“Sorry, my bad. I forgot, Gryffindors are sharing beds with Slytherins these days, aren’t they.” Gabriel gave them both an amused look, straightening up from the impact of the push. “Maybe I should go see Riley, see if she wants to follow the fashion MacKenzie’s been setting… I could find a spot in my schedule for –”
As Wilson’s self-restraint died and he stepped forward, Gabriel cursed his own brain for having picked Jennifer Riley as a target, when probably any other Gryffindor would have kept the slightly more sensible of his two antagonists more controlled instead of suddenly incensed.
This time, a hand wrapped around the front of his robes and almost lifted him right off the ground as he was slammed against the wall. His head bashed hard enough against the stone to hurt, and for –
- stood in the light drizzle on this bright winter’s day, his arm around her as she sobbed into his shoulder. The coffin was lowered into the ground and he looked away, not wanting to see the end, his vision instead filled with the grief of his friends and, off in the distance, him, watching from afar -
The pain that exploded behind Gabriel’s eyes had precious little to do with him bashing his head, and his arms flailed wildly for a few seconds against Wilson’s grip to try and get him to let go.
“You lunatic! Get off me!” he snapped, a little more frantically than he would have liked. “Are you out of your mind?”
Wilson did let go of him, however reluctantly, and it took most of Gabriel’s strength to stop himself from sliding to the floor. “Push my buttons, Doyle, and I’ll push yours. I’m just more physical about it,” the Gryffindor spat. “Annie’s nice. Annie’s smart. She needs better than a snake.”
“Then take that up with her. Or even Grey. What do you think I am, Slytherin’s puppetmaster?” Gabriel retorted sharply, his bravado fading as he felt his eyeballs throbbing in his skull.
“Take it up with Grey? Oh, yeah. King of snakes himself, been running around enforcing law and order with an iron fist these last few days. Took Ackerley’s bloody prefect badge!” McLaggen scoffed.
“You do know that Ackerley was accepting bribes to let people off when he caught them, right?” Gabriel pointed out, remembering Tobias having complained about the Gryffindor fifth-year prefect for weeks, and being jubilant when he’d declared he had the authority to strip him of his badge.
“Bollocks. He’s just trying to strike against Gryffindor,” McLaggen said.
“By going out with one. I’m not sure you’re using this Earth-logic, mates,” Gabriel muttered, straightening his robes. “I’m also not sure what this has to do with me.”
“Well, he’s your friend. And since he somehow managed to charm the teachers into giving him almighty bloody power – seriously, a Slytherin waving that around? They’re barmy,” Wilson cursed, “it’s not like we can go near him.”
“So you’re taking out all of your anger on me. Or sending him a message… via me. How incredibly courageous of you. Honestly, it’s like the spirit of Godric Gryffindor himself has imbued you with all of the bravery you’re exuding right this moment,” Gabriel spat.
“Oh, you don’t get to lecture us on any of this. You, the most conniving Slytherin out there,” Wilson said, shaking his head and rolling his eyes.
“By ‘conniving’, you mean I’m smarter than Bletchley, not as wet as Tobias, and not as emotional as Tanith. None of these are very hard, you know…” Gabriel leaned a hand against the wall as he felt his vision begin to blur once again, but he’d be damned if he was going to keel over in front of these two clowns. “Now, are you two asses going to put your money where your mouth is, and courageously use me to send a message to Tobias?”
In all honesty, as Wilson and McLaggen exchanged glances, he thought he had them. Thought he might just have managed to shame them into not bothering with him, not attacking him two on one. For although his wand was up his sleeve, the blistering pain behind his eyes was enough to dismiss any spell vocals that came to mind. The only battle he was going to win today was going to be a battle of wits.
“Or should I accept it that you two ladies ran off like girls and now I should go call up Riley in case she fancies a real man?” As the final comment escaped his lips and McLaggen’s brow knitted in anger, Gabriel realised that he might – perhaps – have just pushed too far.
On the whole, though, he was glad that it was McLaggen who stepped forward. McLaggen, with his burly frame and impetuous nature, who would always charge straight at a problem in the most obvious manner. He had to have angered Wilson to the extent that the other boy was concentrating on not killing him too much to take action – and that was just as well, for he had crossed Wilson before. The Gryffindor could be inventive, vicious.
But as it was, it was just Cormac McLaggen he had to deal with. Just Cormac McLaggen who swung a fist to connect with his gut and have him doubling over in pain, feeling for long seconds as if there was not a single part of his body that wasn’t rebelling in agony. And as he allowed himself to slump off the floor, it was both of them that walked away, no longer joking and light-hearted, not seeming to have taken much glee from the deed.
Well. They might have just kicked a little bit of tar out of him, but at least he had successfully robbed them of all enjoyment it could have brought.
This was scant consolation as he tried to straighten up and ignore to pain in his gut, even as the ache behind his eyes continued to throb, but it would do as a victory. Everything they had done, he had controlled, or triggered, or manipulated.
Which really meant that the state he was in was entirely his own fault.
It was with something of a limp that he made his way along the corridor back towards the Great Hall, where everyone else would be finishing off lunch and getting ready for afternoon lessons. Where they would all be caught up in their own little distractions, their own fixations, the dramas, probably too much to notice the state that he was in.
That suited Gabriel just fine, to be honest. It minimised questions, minimised the mess. He’d be damned if he was going to deliver any message of any kind to Grey beyond ‘All Gryffindors are bastards’, and so it was with a patent disregard of the aforementioned Tobias, lurking outside and talking with MacKenzie in an intimate manner that Gabriel did his level best to outright ignore that he entered the Great Hall.
He saw Tanith and Cal over at the Slytherin table, neither of them seeming to be having much conversation going on, and he headed over towards them. Cal’s gaze seemed to be fixed more on the Ravenclaw table than anywhere else, and Tanith’s eyes kept flickering over to the main doorway, which did mean she noticed him first.
There seemed to be a few seconds where she appeared to be pondering whether or not to react to his presence, then she reached out with a foot to nudge the bench opposite her out a little so she could sit down. For reasons of their separate obsessions, both she and Cal were seated on the same side of the table, which only added to how crazy and distracted they looked.
“Hey, Doyle,” Tanith greeted him weakly, eyes flickering again back to the door. “Did you see…”
“They’re outside, tongue-wrestling,” Gabriel lied. If she was going to be crazy and obsessive, then she deserved whatever she get. Plus, his head still hurt. “It was like the giant squid out there.”
There was an obvious scowl, and Gabriel rolled his eyes. He’d already had his lunch, rushing straight away to go and eat so he could then get some Transfiguration practice in for the afternoon, but he reached eagerly for some cool water to try and calm the various aches in his body.
“Gryffindor skank,” Tanith muttered venomously.
“The term I coined was ‘Gryffind-whore’. It rolls off the tongue better,” Gabriel offered generously. “Plus, if you say it fast enough, they don’t realise they’re being insulted.”
“Oh, if I’m insulting her, she’ll know about it.” Tanith stabbed her desert with righteous fury and its defences collapsed, surrendering to her a mouthful of pumpkin pie.
“Yeah. Because you’re normally so subtle,” Cal said. His throat sounded dry, as if he hadn’t actually spoken for some time. He was only pretending to eat, looking up furtively from his cake every few seconds across the room.
“Oh, yeah? How’s that staring at Lockett going? Has she noticed you’re a deranged stalker yet?” Tanith retorted sharply, and for the first time Gabriel noticed the bags under her eyes that, when he thought about it, had taken up permanent residence in the four nights since the Hogsmeade visit.
“I’m not… staring,” Cal protested weakly, tearing his attention back to them. “Why would I be staring?”
“Perhaps because you were incapable of talking to her in the Three Broomsticks without getting past the conversation topic of broom speeds? That sounds like an infinitely flirtatious and tempestuous chat, Brynmor. I don’t know how the girls can resist you,” Tanith replied with a haughty air.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Cal said, not sounding sorry at all, and finally looking a lot more awake as he glared at Tanith. “I was entirely distracted by Mac coming in and going to talk to Tobias. I couldn’t help but think about how absolutely ineffective, passive-aggressive, stupidly-jealous and territorial you would get about the entire escapade, and then such stupidity and romantic ineptitude were such prevalent ideas that they seemed to take me over.”
“Have you both been taking crazy potions lately?” Gabriel snapped at last, glaring between the two. “Merlin’s bollocks! Some girl gives Cal a wink and Tobias gets back with MacKenzie, which was all knew was going to happen at some point, and all of a sudden we’re bickering like Gryffindors over who has the biggest ego! Only for us, it’s who’s the biggest crackpot!”
“You seem to be sane,” Cal pointed out.
“Like you’ve been paying enough attention to notice one way or another. Seriously! I feel like I’m the only one here not about to go off the deep end!” Gabriel threw his hands up in the air irritably.
A slight shadow fell over him, and Gabriel looked up as Jack Urquhart stopped next to the bench, looking down at him with an expression of some genuine concern. “You okay, Doyle? You look like you’ve done ten rounds with a manticore.”
“No, I’m not!” Gabriel snapped, the irritation exploding at about the one person he’d encountered that hour who didn’t deserve it. “I had a run-in with McLaggen and Wilson earlier, they decided to take it out on me that there’s cross-house dating again and…” He stopped himself just short of commenting that his head hurt as Cal looked up sharply at this, seeming now to actually be paying attention. The last thing he wanted was to be at the centre of the next drama.
Urquhart frowned, then glanced up across the room at the Gryffindor table, where McLaggen and Wilson were nowhere to be seen. “McLaggen, huh? Something’ll have to be done about that. Hey, did you hear he failed again to get into the Quidditch team? Beaten by, of all people, Weasley?”
That news did cheer Gabriel up a chunk, for he had been forced for several years to have to listen to McLaggen boast in Charms classes about what an utter Quidditch prodigy he was, despite the fact that he couldn’t get onto the great Oliver Wood’s team. He had laughed himself stupid when he’d heard what McLaggen had done the previous year to incapacitate himself before Quidditch try-outs, and the fact that, now, the supposedly amazing player would go all of his time at Hogwarts without playing a single match warmed Gabriel’s heart.
“I did not know that.” Gabriel managed a small smirk of satisfaction, though winced slightly as straightening up made his stomach muscles ache in protest. But he’d be damned if he was going to subject himself to the tender mercies of Madam Pomfrey again; she’d probably go back to poking him to find out what had caused his little ‘episode’ in Defence Against the Dark Arts classes, which was more humiliation than he was up for. “Thanks, Jack.”
“No problem.” Urquhart, seeing he had done a degree of good, clapped Gabriel on the back –
“- why should I be fighting for people that hate me? And hate all of my friends?” he demanded angrily, flying high above the ground on his broom in the dark and glaring at her with an honest ferocity.
“It’s the right thing to do, Jack, and you know it! You’re just looking for excuses to sit and hide!” came her reply as she twirled around him, red hair waving about in the whipping wind. “You could make a difference, but instead you’re too interested in the damn cup to do anything that –”
This time, there had been no blow to the head; just the slight rocking that came from the impact of even a comforting pat from Urquhart as Gabriel’s vision exploded in front of him.
And this time, not even Tanith or Cal, at the height of their self-interest, could fail to notice as he let out an audible groan and leaned forwards, cradling his head in his hands.
“Gabe?” Cal reached out a hand towards him and Gabriel straightened up suddenly, feeling his head spinning as he did so but shying rapidly away from the touch.
“Nothing. I’m fine,” he replied quickly, mechanically. “Just a brief dizzy spell. McLaggen decided to sucker-punch me rather than fight like the girl he is.” He rubbed his brow in an effort to soothe the pain, quickly downing a mouthful of chilled water to see if fighting dehydration would make any difference.
“Hmm.” Cal again looked away, but this time it was towards the Gryffindor table with a dark, searching glare. “That’s something we’ll have to put on the to-do list, then. Fuck up Gryffindors’ shit.”
“I’m all up for that,” Tanith said, perking up suddenly. “Wilson still quakes when I wave my wand anywhere near him. Even if that was four years ago.”
“Time to make some plans, then.” Cal gave a small, slightly vicious smile. “What do you think about…”
“I think it’s almost time for Transfiguration classes,” Gabriel said firmly, forcing himself to stand. “Much as I’m happy to consider vengeance, right now, I’d just rather…”
Go die in a corner? he wondered, for it was a very tempting prospect at that moment. His heart was indeed warmed at the fact that his friends appeared to be rallying in the face of harm to him – though he was slightly dubious of Tanith’s motivations – but right then, plotting and planning was just going to make his head finally fall from his shoulders.
“Oh, yeah… we should go,” Tanith said, standing and grabbing her bag. “Or McGonagall’s going to throw a fit about us all being late… again…”
“I think last time she was throwing a fit because you were trying to turn those twelve matchsticks into one massive pin with limbs that would attack MacKenzie. Somehow, I think mass Transfiguration doesn’t include weapons of war,” Cal pointed out, joining his friends in heading for the door.
“It was a valiant effort, they just fell apart halfway there. It’s not like McGonagall or MacKenzie knew I was targeting anyone. And, hey, all twelve matchsticks became pins at once. She can’t say I failed,” Tanith protested.
Cal rolled his eyes. “She can say you’re psychotic.”
“Didn’t we already know that?” As they stepped out through the doors, Tobias wandered over to them, Annie in tow, wearing a toothy and rather ridiculous grin.
It looked as if it took a great deal of self-control for Tanith to not spew acid over them both as she glanced between the two. “You’re always the charmer, Grey. How do you get women?” she asked instead.
Though there had been an audible bite to her tone, Tobias didn’t seem to notice it as he gave Annie a slightly sloppy look and Gabriel rolled his eyes. “I’m not really sure. Extreme luck, I think,” he said with a small grin.
Annie also rolled her eyes as Gabriel remembered why he could stand being in her presence, whacking Tobias on the upper arm. “Perhaps. Or I just went completely mad, who can really tell?” Then she gave Tobias an affectionate grin. “I’m going to go find Jen. See you in class.”
There was almost a dull growl from Tanith as Annie leaned up to give Tobias a peck on the lips before turning to leave, just as half of the Great Hall spontaneously decided to also depart for classes, seeing the small group surrounded by a bustling crowd.
Gabriel could already feel his headache beginning to flare up at the slight, sudden claustrophobia creeping in the back of his mind from the crowd, before he felt someone brush against him –
- a dark room, looking once cosy and homely but now lit up by the green mark in the skies outside, the furniture trashed and the windows smashed. He lay on the floor, sobbing for breath, aware of another broken shape nearby, but most of his attention was fixed on the dark, robed figure who stood before him.
“I tire of this,” came a thick, grating voice from the gloomy shape of a man, and a small flash of light glinted to reflect off the polished wood of a wand pointed in his direction. “Enough is enough. Avada Kedavra!”
This one was enough to make Gabriel stagger, his legs buckling, and he would have fallen had it not been for the strong hands of Cal holding him upright, his friend’s face creased with concern. “Gabe?”
Gabriel stared at him, eyes wide, then looked down at the hands in his shoulders. “Did you grab me just now, Caldwyn? Just this second?”
Cal blinked. “What?”
“Or were you hanging onto me already…”
“Gabe, you looked like you were about to pass out again. Sorry, should I not try to stop you from being trampled by the crowd?” Cal let go of him, looking a little hurt as Gabriel looked around wildly. The four of them were all pushed up close together by the rest of the students, and already he could feel more people shoving past him to try and get off to their classes.
Try as he might, through memory or sight, he could not for the life of him see just who it was he’d knocked into before that final, bizarre flash of vision.
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