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Chapter 22 : The Ties That Bind
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"It's been a while since I've seen you with your sketchbook."
Tanith almost fell off the fence she was perched on as her father's voice drifted across the field towards her. It was almost instinctive that she slammed the sketchbook shut, hiding away whatever scribblings were within, and with an all-too familiar tension in her shoulders that she turned to face Daedalus Cole.
"It's been a while since you've seen me for more than five minutes, Dad," she pointed out, not without a hint of resentment. She'd been back home for a grand total of one day now, and for the last twenty-four hours, her father had been... elsewhere. Busy at work, her mother had said. But even with the latest reveals about the true Cole family business, even with Altair having nodded firmly in agreement with her mother's words, it was hard to dislodge the old, familiar sense of abandonment.
"This is true. And I'm sorry for that. But you know now, at least, why it's unavoidable on occasion." Daedalus moved to join her on the fence, waving a hand at the winged horses that were, to the populace at large, the full weight of the Cole family's money, influence, and importance. "These might be magnificent beasts, but they're not the be all and end all."
"Why didn't you tell me in the summer?" The words escaped curtly, bitterly, and Tanith scowled across the field at the Abraxas, not wanting to meet his gaze. "When I threw it all in your face?"
"You were angry," her father replied calmly. "And, to be honest, so was I. I didn't want to tell you in such a heated moment. To have you understand the nature of what I do... it's a significant thing. So I waited until I knew for sure it was the right decision. Until I knew that you were ready."
"It's not like knowing automatically endangers me," Tanith pointed out.
Daedalus smiled a soft, sad smile, and it was enough for his daughter to peer at him curiously. He had always seemed to be a man so cut off from the world, the quintessential distant eccentric. In that moment he seemed to have all the burdens of the world weighing down on him, and he hardly looked like her father at all. "It does. Knowledge is power, and you are an intelligent girl."
He looked over at her as a confused expression crossed her face. "Now knowing the truth, and with all you've known already about my business, how much about my real work have you extrapolated?"
Tanith shifted a little uncomfortably. "I have... theories."
"Right or wrong, they'll have a basis in truth, too. So if you were to be captured by a Death Eater, they could find out rather quickly that you know my actual work, my actual role in this war. Your ignorance would no longer be a shield. Furthermore, if they were to interrogate you, the conclusions they would find might actually be... useful. Accurate." Daedalus somehow managed to keep his expression calm at the prospect of her interrogation.
The mask faltered upon her response, however. "Though if I was ignorant, they might just kill me as being useless."
Daedalus frowned, hopping to his feet. "They might. Which is why I hope that you will never be in that situation. Which is why I've had Altair training you. So you can defend yourself."
"I intend to do more with these lessons than just stay out of trouble, Dad," Tanith said, and again she saw his face crumple. "The skills he's teaching me... I mean to be an Auror. He can help me be an even better one."
"And when that happens, you will be surrounded by trained professionals, and be thus trained yourself." Daedalus said this as if he was trying to reassure himself rather than just remind her. "So you'll be at a bit more of an advantage than you are now. In the meantime, I want you to be... ready. Safe."
Tanith paused, nodding as her father's words sunk in. Then, "How much does Mum know?"
Daedalus grinned wryly. "Everything. You honestly think she'd tolerate me flitting around and about the country as much as I do in the name of horses?"
But it's alright for you two to never see each other so long as it's for the greater good? Tanith suppressed a shiver, concluding - not for the first time - that there were many things about her father's life she would possibly never understand.
"Anyway." Daedalus shook his head. "I intend for the lessons to continue over the holidays. You and Altair can get a lot of work done out of school. He's got something for you now, in fact - he's in the drawing room." Then he turned back towards the frolicking horses, expression going distant again, as if this was the end of the matter.
Tanith knew that it was better than to argue with her father when he had reached a conclusion so decisively and then acted as if the situation was not up for discussion. Silently, she slid off the fence, slightly frozen grass crunching beneath her feet as she padded back up towards the house. It was still mid-morning, and despite the cold, the sun was still bright and enough to chase away the worst of the chill of mid-December.
The house had seen the tender attention of the elves in anticipation of Christmas, and so she had to duck under some tinsel threatening to garrotte her as she stepped in through the back door. Rubbing her hands together, she stomped mud and ice off her boots before kicking them off, and was immediately glad of the fact that the House Elves went to great lengths to make sure that the kitchen was cosy and warm all time of year. In summer, it was frustrating - right now, a God-send.
The drawing room was just next door, a cosy room for family members and staff to retreat to away from the world, rather than the more grand lounge suitable for receiving guests, or the extensive dining room big enough to feed the five thousand. It was also more comfortably decorated, with a soft carpet and over-stuffed armchairs which remained luxurious however much repair they were in need of. Where others walls in the house were adorned with portraits of Coles long dead, of awards won by Daedalus for his horse breeding, and other fine art collected by her mother, this was perhaps the only public room of the house where the walls featured genuine family photographs.
Such photos were the only sort of wizarding display that Tanith didn't outright object to. They were meant to capture a memory, an event. So the faces waving down at her weren't anywhere near as distressing as the painting of an Abraxas trotting in place she could see down the hall, an image which would have been yet more stunning when static. She preferred to be able to let the entire scene soak into her vision, to take in all of the nuances of the display. If it was moving, it was...
Tacky, really. Soulless. Just some gimmick.
But there was no time to really consider this as she stepped into the drawing room. Altair stood in a corner, in his long, dark, hard-wearing robes, able as ever to dominate his environment without the slightest gesture. But what made Tanith pause was what sat on the table in front of him, and looked for all the world like a crystal ball.
"I flunked Divination," she said guardedly, closing the door behind her.
"Just as well that this has nothing to do with seeing the future, then. Nor the past." Altair looked up at her, smiling. "I thought we'd have a little treat today, considering it's the festive season and everything."
"I hope this treat isn't going to involve you throwing crystal balls at me to dodge." Tanith stepped over, peering curiously at the device. For now, its surface was just a milky-white sheen, but it seemed to be much more opaque than any of the cloudy tools of Divination she'd seen.
"That's not the plan. No, this doesn't have much to do with the training we're doing, but it could be of use to you in the future. And doubtless of interest now." Altair gestured to one of the nearby seats, and she moved over to perch on the edge, expression by now beadily curious.
"Alright. What is it?"
"The Aurors are not psychic. Regrettably." Altair gave a small grimace and a nod. "However, they are an extensive organisation, with members often in the field across the entire country. Reports only go back in to the offices if a situation arises which requires an Auror's expertise."
"I know they have a communication system, yeah." Tanith frowned a little. "Is this it? An orb?"
"You know that the Aurors have existed since before they were a formal part of the Ministry. Their hunt for Dark Wizards has gone on for over six hundred years. And so there are many traditions which step outside of what might be procedure for the MLE." Altair patted the orb lightly. "This," he continued, "is a Seeing Stone. Each Auror office has one, to allow wizards to communicate with their home base via their wand. Good if the base needs to dispatch an Auror already in the field, or if said Auror needs to request backup. It's more reliable and secure than Floo. And the operator of the Seeing Stone can also communicate between branches, and back to head office, if something surpasses local capabilities."
"And you have one? How?" Tanith squinted at the Seeing Stone. "Isn't that illegal?"
"A little." Altair managed a small smile again. "However, it can be very useful to know where the Death Eaters are ahead of time, and nobody is better at keeping track of their activities than the Aurors. How do you think I knew about what happened in the Peak District over the summer so quickly?"
"I didn't think about it," she confessed. "So... we can listen in on the Auror communications?"
"Stone to stone only; we won't be able to hear the local operations or discourse between the Aurors. However... it can be remarkably insightful, not to mention useful. And even a squib like me can activate this with the right phrase - it was considered unwise for its usage to solely require a wand in case of emergencies." Altair stepped over to the orb, then gently rested both hands in it. "Aegis Animus."
The opaque sheen made way, very suddenly, for a variety of images. Tanith dimly recognised the main office in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement swimming under the Seeing Stone's surface - rapidly, some other office she didn't recognise surged into view, and the faces of a variety of witches and wizards, maybe half a dozen in total, drifted in and out of sight.
"North West reports further sightings of lycanthropic activities in the Lake District; Aurors dispatched to investigate signs of dark wizards."
"South East reports continued tensions within Dover on potential dark wizards attempting to flee the country; complete lack of cooperation from European offices. Recommends Central tells ambassadors to sod off in future discourses."
A wry chuckle. "Central will take that under advisement, South East..."
Altair smiled smugly. "Ah, good. Hourly report time. Sit down, listen, it'll be interesting."
Tanith leaned forwards, hands clasped together, and allowed the wave of voices to begin washing over her.
"South West reports absolutely nothing is going on and we're bored to death here, you lucky bastards..."
* * * * * * * * * * *
"More application forms?" Melissa Grey smiled brightly as she sat herself down at the breakfast table and peered across at her son, who was bent over a small pile of papers. "I thought you had everything arranged?"
"I have a plan, and I have potential, and I have contacts. I even have interview dates." Tobias lifted his had, waggling a quill at his mother. "What I lack are actual job contracts. And so until I have such a thing, I will continue to search far and wide to ensure I have somewhere to go once I'm done at school."
"You're not sure the international affairs route is the one?" She tilted her head at him curiously, beginning to butter some toast.
"Oh, I know it's what I want to do. But there are different ways of approaching it if I don't succeed. And, if necessary, jobs I could do just have an income come August. No offence, Mum, but I don't fancy coming to live here after leaving school if I can help it." Tobias chuckled, shovelling in a mouthful of cereal before going back to his writing.
Melissa snorted softly. "If I'll even be here. Gringotts are desperate for me to take the work in Paris."
Tobias glanced up again. "Oh? That's good, isn't it?" His voice was a little guarded and a little curious.
"Well, I'd hope I'd have the chance to see you more often when you leave school." Melissa looked about the breakfast table, then sighed when she realised the jam was on the far side of the kitchen, heading to retrieve it. "But I imagine you're not necessarily going to want to hang around with your ageing mother more than you have to."
"Hardly ageing, Mum." Tobias looked over at her fondly, then paused as a thought occurred to her. "That does remind me, though... at Professor Slughorn's Christmas Party, he introduced me to a lady named Aurora Marlowe."
There was a pause as Melissa very slowly and deliberately spread the jam over her toast. "Aurora Marlowe. Really."
"She said she'd known Dad." Tobias didn't take his eyes off his mother, watching her every move as he spoke with hawk-like intensity. "And asked me to pass on her best wishes to you." He paused, chewing on a lower lip before continuing. "She's a Consul to Moscow, and has said she can help me with my application to DIMC..." He said the name as she had, pronouncing it as a word rather than a collection of letters.
"Ah. 'Dimc'." Finally, Melissa turned around. "That's very nice of her," she said neutrally.
Tobias frowned, leaning back in his chair. "Who is she?"
Melissa sighed, returning to her seat and beginning to finally tuck in to her breakfast. "She was a friend of your father's at school, and after. They were very close, both prefects together, something of a terrible twosome." She brushed a stray lock of hair back with the practiced appearance of one very good at pretending to be at ease. "I suppose she was to your father what Tanith Cole is to you, by all accounts."
Though it had probably just been intended as an expression to describe a close friendship, Tobias couldn't help but twitch a little at the comparison, playing with his quill. "I see," he replied neutrally.
Strangely, his mother seemed to react better to Tobias' suddenly reticent demeanour. "No, we didn't get on particularly well, I'll confess. Just as I had friends and family to tell me marrying a Muggle-born wizard was a bad idea, Robert had Marlowe to tell him that marrying a Pureblood from an old family was equally bad."
"But he ignored her." This was a rather self-evident statement, and Tobias, living proof of this development, shook his head. "I'm just surprised I never met her before. Most of Dad's friends stayed in touch all along."
"Marlowe was always strange. And I don't think she particularly wanted to be around me." Melissa shrugged. "But she's brilliant at what she does, no doubt about it. If she can help you get a job at Dimc, by all means, enlist her aid. I cannot fault her professionalism."
"Just her personal behaviour." Tobias frowned. "I'm not sure I'd be happy about taking help from someone you dislike, Mum. I mean, it kind of suggests there's something off about her..."
"Your father held her in the highest esteem." Melissa said this quietly, firmly. "Despite their disagreements, I never heard him speaking ill of her. She was a good friend to him. Take that into account before you make a decision based solely on my judgement."
There was a long pause as Tobias twirled his quill, looking rather determinedly distracted, and Melissa finished her breakfast. But when they were both done and Tobias still sat staring into space, she leaned towards him a little, expression quizzical. "Something troubling you still?"
"Hm?" Tobias glanced up, then shook his head and waved a hand dismissively. "Oh, nothing. Just... wondering if history repeats itself." He shook his head again, then leaned forwards to look back at the papers before him. "It's nothing, I'm sure."
* * * * * * * * * * *
"Catch." The bottle came whizzing through the air and it was only with a desperate flailing that Cal managed to grab it before it hit him in the chest. "You look like you need it."
"I need a shaken-up bottle of beer?" Cal rolled his eyes, chuckling as he tapped the remote control and changed the channel, swapping one mindless Christmas TV escapade for another. Lounging back on the sofa with a satisfied sigh, he eyed the bottle dubiously, assessing whether it would be safe to open.
"You should have caught it better." Will Rayner ambled out of the kitchen, bearing his own, opened bottle of beer with a smug expression as he took a swig. "So how's the year been so far, kiddo?" he asked, surveying the cosy living room of his home before settling down on the sofa next to Cal, snatching the remote off him in a patriarchal manner.
Cal paused, pulling his wand out and, closing one eye, magically popping the cap off the beer with a simple mutter. Fortunately, foam did not go everywhere, and the drink seemed settled. "Same as ever, mostly. Classes are going fine."
"How's being back on the Quidditch team?" Rayner smiled a broad smile of recollection. "Ah, I remember the year we lifted the Cup... good times."
"For a filthy 'claw, yeah." Cal chuckled. "It's good. We've got a good Captain this time, the fellow really knows his stuff. And he's putting together a good team." He took a swig of beer. "After losing to Gryffindor I don't know if we'll win, but right now I'd just be happy to start laying the groundwork so that next year have a good team to build upon. I've been in a Cup-winning side already. Let the next kids have the glory."
"Good lad. Though if you're in for a chance, let me know when the last match is. I'll get time off and come up to watch you. It'll be against Hufflepuff, won't it?" Rayner paused, seeming to count in his head. It was a mercy that, throughout the centuries, it was an exception if the Quidditch schedule would change.
"We're guaranteed to win that match, at least. Hufflepuff are a mess." Cal glanced sideways, sobering a little. Maybe it was the beer sending his thoughts dark. Maybe it was the glittery carol singers dancing on the screen. "Do you... d'you know what happened to the O'Neal family back in September?"
Rayner made a face. "Do we have to talk work?"
"It's current affairs these days, Will. It's everyday gossip. It's front-page news." Cal also grimaced, hiding it behind another gulp of beer. "It's not cloak and dagger in the background any more. But if you don't want to talk about it..."
"No, you're right. I'd just rather not have to." Will Rayner sighed, leaning back on the sofa and having another gulp of beer. "Duncan O'Neal was one of the best arithmancers in the country. The Death Eaters wanted him for... something. No idea what. He refused. So they killed his family, and then they killed him. Young Connor O'Neal included."
Cal winced. "Connor had a sister, didn't he."
Rayner looked straight ahead, expression one of perfect control. "She was nine."
There was a long silence, the beer not doing enough work in unwinding the twist in Cal's gut. The tension in the air, hanging over them and almost as powerful as a Dementor in sucking any cheer from the festive season, was broken only when Cal leaned over and retrieved the remote control from his foster-father's grip. "So.Muppet's Christmas Carol for the umpeenth time?"
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