Chapter 21 : The End of the Line
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Gabriel liked the trip back to King’s Cross on the Hogwarts Express. The journey to school was always too charged, too hectic, as over-enthusiastic friends were rejoined and everyone generally got more excitable than they really should be about going to school. It wasn’t like that heading back, especially not when going back for Christmas. Everyone was calm, everyone was relaxed. There was anticipation of what was to come with the festivities, and enjoyment of the last few moments spent with friends.
This year was, he had to confess, different. There was a new charge to the air, a tension that he hadn’t felt before. But he, like everyone else, could feel the shadow of the war falling over them, and the fear it brought. Going home was one thing, but what would ‘home’ be like now, in this new season of terror? As families splintered and cracked through tension, through loyalties, and through death, the festive season threatened to not be quite so festive.
He pushed these thoughts out of his mind as he ambled down the train corridor, munching on a pumpkin pastry he’d gone on a brief, hungry mission to find, and stopped before the door to the compartment that he, Tanith, and Cal had commandeered. Tobias was elsewhere, seeming to be splitting his time between the prefect’s carriage and the Gryffindor compartments, a servant to responsibility, his girlfriend, and the tension and unease that had settled over the foursome.
Gabriel didn’t know exactly what had transpired to have Tobias and Tanith avoiding each other like the plague, but he had a pretty good idea. This was more than the Yule Ball – this was big, and it was messy, and he didn’t know how or if it was even going to resolve itself.
But at least he didn’t have to care about it over Christmas.
This carefree attitude collapsed almost immediately when he opened the door to the compartment and stepped in to find Tanith and Bletchley sprawled across the bench in a tangle of limbs and locked lips.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake!”
Even though they didn’t seem to have heard him coming in, it was impossible to ignore the frustrated exclamation, and the two surfaced – Tanith looking shamefaced, Bletchley somewhat aggravated.
“Doyle. Hi. Now sod off,” the other boy said, smirking a smug smirk which didn’t help Gabriel’s mood.
“My stuff’s in here. Yours isn’t. You sod off.” If he tries to claim Tanith as ‘his stuff’, I’m going to hex him out the window.
Bletchley stood up, taller and burlier than him and not looking happy at being told to go. But before the situation could worsen, Tanith had leapt up, hands raised.
“It’s alright, Miles. I’ll catch up with you later, okay?” She shot Gabriel a warning look, and he was more than happy to fall silent as Bletchley grunted his agreement, then slunk out the door.
There was a long silence as the two of them stood there, Gabriel rubbing his temples, before he sighed. “You know, I thought these visions were giving me a bad headache, but what you lot put me through is more likely to floor me.”
“Oh, shut up.” Tanith waved a hand irritably, sitting down. “Nobody asked you to get involved. You stuck your own nose in.”
“But, I mean, Bletchley? Seriously?” Gabriel plonked himself down opposite her, scowling grumpily.
“Not seriously, and that’s the point. I could do with something that isn’t doom and gloom, or death and destruction, or… large and mysterious.” On the last she gestured vaguely at him, suggesting his visions to fall under that category.
Gabriel blinked. “I thought you and Tobias…”
“Tobias and I nothing.” This was said about as firmly as was possible without words doing actual harm. “Miles is uncomplicated and, well, fun. There are no debacles. No ideals. No responsibilities. No problems.”
“He’s a bit of a berk, though, isn’t he.” He didn’t phrase this as a question.
Tanith straightened up, scowling. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realise that I was supposed to live the life of a fucking nun after Tobias shot me down. For Merlin’s sake, if I sat around moping and pining after him, you’d be slapping me upside the head and telling me to move on! I’m moving on! I’m getting over it! And just because you don’t happen to approve of how I’m doing it, well, I’m sorry, but I don’t give a flying fuck!”
She was standing by now, and that small thread of tension which he’d been able to see holding in her despair over the last week seemed to have snapped, or at least briefly gone on holiday.
Gabriel paused, feeling the unfamiliar sensation of guilt washing over him – not to mention a distinct desire to get the hell out of this conversation. “Sorry,” he said, and almost meant it. She scowled again, but did sit back down, and he leaned forwards a little. “What did happen with Tobias?”
“Nothing much. Just, you know, I’m not capable of love, I’m too selfish to love, and he won’t be sucked into my little circle of self-obsession.” The sarcasm alone would have been enough to pummel him about the head, if her particular words weren’t already doing the job.
He looked up, frowning a little. “He said that?”
“Yeah.” Tanith sagged back in the chair, glaring out the window. The anger seemed to have faded, and she’d returned to that calmer, simmering brooding that had been her mood for the entire previous week. “I think I added the self-obsession bit, but that was pretty much it word for word.”
Gabriel leaned forwards again, this time to rest his head in his hands. “I think I’m going to be sick.”
She arched an eyebrow at him. “I’m not exactly thrilled myself, Doyle, but not even I’m distraught enough to react quite that extremely.” There was a pause, and she tilted her head curiously. “You alright?” The concern was a little grudging, but nevertheless genuine.
“Yeah.” He straightened up as he lied, blinking to dismiss the vision he’d had when he’d touched her from in front of his eyes. You don’t love, you can’t love…
It had come true. What he’d seen had come to pass.
Which meant… so might the others. Which meant… so might the death.
He looked her in the eye, and opened his mouth to say all of this, get this burden off his chest, before another vision flashed before his eyes. This wasn’t anything magical, however, but an entirely mundane prediction of how the conversation would go just from knowing Tanith very well. She would rant and rave at him for not telling her, and he wouldn’t be able to give a good reason – or, at least, one she’d accept – as to why this was.
Fortunately, Tanith had drifted back off into her own world, satisfied with a bad lie, and was back to staring out the window. By now, the hills of Yorkshire were rolling past the train, vast and desolate.
“Are you okay?” It was a stupid question, but one he had to ask anyway.
“I’ll live.” She waved a hand dismissively. “More fish in the sea. That sort of thing.”
“Muggle saying. Cal’s been saying it all week.” Tanith shrugged. “I think Grey’s the fish. There are other fish to catch. You know.”
Gabriel frowned. “Muggles are weird.”
“So You-Know-Who tells us.” She managed a dark smirk at this humourless joke.
Gabriel leaned back on his bench, lounging now with his hands behind his head. “So what do you have lined up for this Christmas?”
“Oh, I thought I’d get some NEWT studying done, enjoy a joyless celebration with a distracted family, and maybe drink myself into a stupor a couple of times to get over the problems. That kind of thing.” Tanith nodded amiably, eyes drifting out to the passing scenery once more. “You?”
“Sounds about the same. Dad’s been going mad with everything. The Ministry keep watching him like hawks, and…” Gabriel stopped himself, then inwardly cursed as he realised he had, for the first time in a long while, allowed something to escape unintentionally. He hoped that Tanith would be so distracted with her own pains that she wouldn’t notice.
Unfortunately, his friend was not studying to be an Auror for nothing, and dark eyes narrowed in his direction. “Why’s your Dad under scrutiny?”
Gabriel looked away, fixing his own gaze on Yorkshire’s rolling hills. “Just… you know. War stuff.”
“War stuff. Uh-huh.”
He glared briefly at her. “I’m not sure why it’s your business.”
Tanith straightened up, looking slightly taken aback. “It’s not. You just… mentioned it.”
“And I shouldn’t have.”
A dark silence fell across them, the two drifting away into their own macabre thoughts, a state which was becoming disturbingly the norm. It took some time before Tanith looked at him and spoke again, her voice softer this time. “Are you going to tell your folks?”
“About what?” Gabriel said crabbily.
“Your… visions.” She shrugged vaguely.
“Not much to tell. I see shit. I might be crazy.” Even as he spoke the words, even though he knew he might well be crazy, he could feel the invisible weight bearing down on his shoulders that reminded him how, regardless of anything else, these visions were right.
“I suppose.” Tanith nodded slowly. “You didn’t mention it to any of the others?”
“No.” Gabriel shook his head briskly, now beginning to regret having mentioned it to Tanith at all. If one wanted logic and reason, they went to Tobias for help – but Tanith possessed a hugely rational and pragmatic streak that was altogether too rooted in reality for him to be entirely comfortable with.
Another silence drifted down, lasting a few minutes before Gabriel made a face and stood up. “I’m going to go see where Cal’s gone.”
“In search of Lockett, I think,” Tanith said vaguely, not looking up until Gabriel reached the door, when she turned abruptly to face him. “Doyle…”
He hesitated, door half-open, looking like he might bolt if she dropped anything too heavy on him. “Hm?”
“I didn’t mean to pry or push or anything. I’m sorry.” To hear an apology escaping Tanith Cole’s lips was almost enough to bowl him over, and so he was too stunned to cut her off when she continued. “I value you… listening to me, advising me. It might not have all worked out, but I appreciate the help. I’m not trying to be nosy, I’m just trying to return the favour.”
Gabriel shifted his feet, uncertain of how to respond to this uncharacteristic warmth. “I’ll be sure to call on you if I need help,” he lied, and fled before he could be further pressed, further interrogated.
He need not have bothered, and wouldn’t had he been aware of Tanith’s recent training, and the fact that she could seen the true message behind the lie as clearly as if he’d outright rejected her offer. Probably fortunately for them both, he thought his deception safe as he stepped into the corridor, and took a moment to enjoy the brief peace.
Wandering in between compartments was not so common that he could not savour a few moments of isolation before he pressed on and, believing himself safe from prying eyes, Gabriel slumped against the wall. The throbbing in his temples had stopped reaching such mind-piercing apexes, but had instead subsided to a constant, dull ache which was enough to muddy his senses if he didn’t concentrate. And concentrating through a constant headache seemed to only make it worse.
He straightened up briskly as one of the nearby compartment doors opened and out stepped Jack Urquhart, who wore a slightly aggravated expression. There was a split-second’s pause as the two boys eyed each other, obviously not having expected company in the corridor, before the burly Quidditch captain gave him a wry grin. “Fresh air?”
Ignoring the obvious fact that the air in the corridor was no less stuffy than in a compartment, and probably worse for lack of windows, Gabriel gave a vague shrug and nod. “Just taking a break.”
“Don’t blame you. You seem to be surrounded by bickering schoolkids these days.” Urquhart made a face and, to Gabriel’s displeasure, ambled closer to lean against the opposite wall. “With the drama and everything.”
“They like to think it’s not public knowledge,” Gabriel conceded, rubbing his temples. “As if we’re all blind.” He did not need to ask which drama, or which bickering schoolchildren it was that Urquhart referred to. The older students of Slytherin House, the ones who knew where the power lay or were just plain nosy gossips enough to be interested, had all been more than aware of the clashes between Tanith and Tobias. They might reach the wrong conclusions, or sex it up to be far more exciting than it was – in Gabriel’s opinion, at least. But nevertheless, they paid attention.
“It’s not like they’re King and Queen of Slytherin House,” Urquhart said, rubbing his eyes. “I mean, not with people like Malfoy prancing around. But they, well, should be. Monarchy of the Sane, maybe.”
“We call them The Non-Bastard Slytherin,” Gabriel supplied helpfully, though by the judgement of most outside of his House, he did not fit in such a category for his quick tongue and acerbic wit.
Urquhart snorted. “Easy and to the point. I like it.” He nodded. “Just doesn’t do for them to be fighting. We’re good with Grey around. He’s actually bringing us into the centre of the school. You know, directing things like we should be instead of lurking in the back and heckling. If he had half a brain for Quidditch he’d have been a good Captain.”
Gabriel didn’t say anything to this at first, just stood and silently listened. For Jack Urquhart, such a compliment was probably meant to be considered the highest praise.
Then he tilted his head and his gaze turned evaluating. “He is making us dance to Dumbledore’s tune, though.”
“Well, he is the headmaster, isn’t he. We got to dance to somebody’s tune, and the old codger’s at least still got most of his marbles.” Urquhart shrugged, his voice neither affectionate nor cutting on the subject of Dumbledore – merely a calm statement of fact.
“Someone else could be brought in. Someone not quite so, ah…” Gabriel paused theatrically, gesturing vaguely as he gave the appearance of trying to think of a certain word. “Compromising.”
“Everyone who tried to uproot Dumbledore failed. The governors in my first year, Umbridge last year. He’s not going anywhere.” Another shrug from the Quidditch captain. “So the way I see it we should go along with what he wants, instead of throwing little paddies because things aren’t going our way.”
“These ‘paddies’ could be considered instruments of change.” Gabriel kept his voice level, then met Urquhart’s gaze. “And I find it rather curious that you, of all people, are standing so supportively of Dumbledore’s administration. I didn’t think that would be approved of back home.”
Now Urquhart did stop, and where there had been the calm and jovial Quidditch captain moments before, now there was a boy two years his junior but his equal in height and superior in musculature standing upright and giving him a distinctly guarded look. “What do you think you know, Doyle?”
“Just that your family have long stood for the… old ways.” Gabriel allowed the smallest hint of a smile to tug at his lips. “I mean, your father in particular…”
“My father was under the Imperius curse when he did You-Know-Who’s bidding, and all charges against him were dropped.” Urquhart’s gaze narrowed as he took a step forwards. “I can’t say the same for your father.”
Gabriel did start a little as Urquhart played a card he didn’t know the other boy had in his hand, but managed to not show too much surprise on his face. “My father passed on information from inside the Department of Mysteries. Imperius or not, your father has blood on his hands. It’s a little different.”
“One’s a willing criminal. One’s not.” Urquhart smiled humourlessly. “Different indeed.”
“Somewhat.” Gabriel scratched the back of his neck with an air of indifference. “You know, Malfoy Senior and Nott Senior both claimed to be under the Imperius in the last war. And yet, there they are in Azkaban. Funny old world, no?”
“What’s your point, Doyle?”
There was an additional bite in Urquhart’s voice this time that did make Gabriel pause, and become keenly aware that now he wasn’t digging for information or getting a measure of the man in front of him, but rather antagonising someone who could definitely beat him up. It had always been a flaw of his to enjoy the baiting of an opponent so much that he might sometimes be blinded to their breaking point – which could turn into a breaking point for him.
So he gave an exaggerated shrug, and leaned back, allowing his body language to deflate in an apparent gesture of submission. “Nothing, Urquhart, nothing. Just finding it interesting that you’ve got more in your head than Quaffles and Bludgers.” I wonder where the Snitch is.
Urquhart looked at him for a moment, then made a distinct noise of aggravation and turned his back. “I have teammates to talk to.”
And back to the Quidditch, like it’s the only thing in the world. But it’s not, is it, and you know this, Jack…
Gabriel smiled a hidden smile, then straightened up as Urquhart began to march away. “Oh, Jack? I was just wondering about something…” It clearly took a degree of effort for the Quidditch captain to stop, though he didn’t look back. “I’ve seen you talking to some pretty redhead girl… anyone we should worry about?”
He kept his voice light, curious, chatty, though allowed that slight edge to hang in. He didn’t know if this shot in the dark would actually go anywhere, but whatever the response, he was confident he would learn more – at the very least, Urquhart had to be too straightforward a man to hide his feelings successfully from him.
There was a pause, but not much of one, and Urquhart’s shoulders visibly tensed further as he spoke. “Fuck off, Doyle.”
Then he was gone, and although his response didn’t reveal all, it left him wiser than he’d been before. There was a girl. Interesting.
So it was with a small chuckle that Gabriel continued his way down the corridor, his pace jaunty, hands shoved in his pockets. Maybe his housemates weren't a total waste after all. Maybe he should stop judging them on the surface and perhaps, perhaps, dig a little deeper.
Of course, digging deeper just then had demonstrated further that there might be some truth to the visions and the headaches. With Urquhart it could just be a coincidence, but hot on the heels of his prediction for Tanith and Tobias - and as he looked back, now, remembering that vision, his mind could very easily fill in the gaps for it to have been Tobias doing the shouting - it was a little more concerning.
This sobering thought continued to fester as he ambled towards where he thought he might find Ravenclaw seventh-years, so much so that there was no spring in his step nor smile on his face when he finally came to a halt, and began to glance discreetly through compartment windows, hunting for his target but not wanting to either intrude or open hostilities with apparent nosiness. At least, he reassured himself, he was in Ravenclaw territory, rather than having gone looking for Tobias and so finding himself surrounded by Gryffindors.
He stopped as he found the compartment he'd been looking for, which was empty save for Cal Brynmor and Nat Lockett. Therein lay the second reason for checking at the doorway before going in; he had no desire for a repeat of his interruption of Tanith and Bletchley. But he need not have worried this time - the two were seated opposite each other, lounging on the benches and seeming to be chatting amiably.
Gabriel reached for the handle - and then hesitated as his eyes lingered for a few seconds longer on the scene. He didn't know Lockett very well, but could at least confirm her to be tolerable. Good humoured and quick-witted, she provided all he expected from a Ravenclaw, with the added bonus of not being insufferably arrogant. Suspicious of inter-House romance with the chaos that Tobias and MacKenzie had wreaked from their pairing, Lockett put most of his fears to rest. And Cal seemed to like her.
He looked now at his friend, probably the person he was closest to in all the world - though that wasn't saying very much. He had been different these last few months. Stuffed up and tense, like there had been something inside of him trying to burst out, but he dared not release it. He'd walked about like a towering pile of muscle that would punch someone if they put one foot wrong, and yet it had never seemed to be anger that wound him up so tightly. Fear? Resentment? Or something else?
It had only been their various distractions which had stopped them from staging some sort of intervention, like Tanith and Cal had done against him with his headaches. But by the time they had grown truly concerned at his behaviour, truly worried, Tanith had been lost in her swirling jealousy and all efforts to balance that against her Auror studies, and Gabriel had been distracted with... whatever was happening to him.
So it was probably for the best Nat Lockett had come along and decided to stay, and that they hadn't driven her off with Slytherin territorialism. Because when he was around her, or thinking about her, Cal was no longer that internal struggle of tension. Gabriel didn't know how far their relationship went - Cal had mentioned it to be more like a friendship with the door wide open to more as and when they wanted it - but it was, he considered, a poor reflection upon the loyalty of those who had known him longest the Cal Brynmor's mind seemed to have been saved not by them, but by this outsider.
She did not, Gabriel reflected, necessarily deserve his friendship for this. But she certainly deserved his respect, and though he had long been happy to play the quintessential loner, he had never been remiss in giving respect where it was earned.
He finally turned the handle, popping his head around the edge of the door as if he hadn't been standing and watching them for the last minute - though they had failed to notice him at all, so caught up did they seem in whatever joke had captured them for the moment. Surprisingly, it was Nat who noticed him first, looking over and catching him with a beaming smile whose charm he could understand had entrapped Cal.
“Gabe! Come on in. Hide away from the drama of the world.” She patted the seat next to her familiarly, as Cal grinned a broad, toothy grin, leaning back in his chair.
This was strange. No open desire for him to leave, like with Tanith and Bletchley. No forced politeness and stilted atmosphere, like the few occasions he’d been around Tobias and MacKenzie together. Perhaps, just perhaps, this would be a good place to hide until this journey of disaster was over.
Maybe they’d let him stay here even when the train pulled in. But if not, there could probably be some Exploding Snap in the meantime to make up for it.
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