Chapter 26 : The Dying of the Light
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Tobias had never taken much to physical exercise. He had little interest in or talent for Quidditch, and the wizarding world had none of the interest of the Muggle world in being fit. Magic bypassed all sorts of physical boundaries, and magical medicine overcame the significant problems of an unhealthy lifestyle. It might have led to a culture of indulgence and magical reliance, but Tobias usually cared little for such a fact.
Until tonight. Tonight, where the cold winter air froze his lungs as he drew gasping breath after gasping breath, and his feet pounded on the road as he hurtled down the abandoned street in this sleepy south-eastern suburb. Not fast enough. Not by far. But he couldn't trust that the Aurors had not already lowered a Displacement Field on the area, if they knew of the attack in progress.
So he'd apparated a safe distance and was going in on foot, hurtling towards Annie's house... and moving, still, far too slowly. Though he had quickly studied a map in the past to plan previous apparitions, he didn't need to know the local area to find his destination. Not with the grim, ominous glow of the Dark Mark in the sky, perhaps two streets over.
He knew what it meant. Had seen it at the World Cup, in the recording of his father's death, had read about it in books. But never before had it instilled in him such a sense of dread which meant, for just a moment, he had to fight with his legs to stop them from carrying him in the opposite direction.
You're not a Gryffindor, but you're not a coward. She needs you.
He cast from his mind what he might find when he got to Annie's house, even as he turned a corner and on to the right street. So far there had been silence in the village, the area asleep or ignorant as to the significance. But here... here, he could hear the screams.
Light in the street came from more than lampposts and the glow of the skull in the sky. If the disturbance had originally been limited to just one house, it was not the case any more. One car had been flipped and now blazed merrily on fire; two men were ushering people away from it. One house looked as if it had been at the receiving end of a particularly vicious blasting curse - rubble littered the street, and he had to leap over a few fallen forms of Muggles. They were all dressed as if they had been warm indoors in a winter night, and had either been blasted out with the house or driven to the street and struck by debris.
Carnage reigned supreme, Muggles running away, or bundling into cars, or seeing to the injured. Most notable was how the scene did not appear to have spilled beyond the local area, and how there were no Muggle authorities present.
And the tall, masked, dark-cloaked figure hovering some ten feet in the air, occasionally, languidly, waving a wand at the scurrying shapes beneath him.
Death Eater's mask. Tobias paused a moment, half-lifting his wand, and then hesitated. He could try to engage a fully-trained Death Eater, or he could wait until the Aurors and Hit Wizards took him down, leave it to the professionals. And there was still no sign of Annie. Surely she wouldn't have just stood by and hidden, or ignored such a man?
His gut twisted as his eyes scanned the fallen Muggles, whatever part of his mind still working thankful he could be lost in a sea of panic and ignored by the Death Eater. But he saw no sign of Annie, either in the injured or those trying to help. His gaze flickered to her house. Her family. Something must have happened.
He bolted for the house, now ignorant of the fact that the Dark Mark hung directly above it. Dodging past a family huddling along the pavement away from the Death Eater, he vaulted the garden gate with an agility surprising even himself, and stormed to the front door.
Had he been paying more attention to the details, he'd have seen the door was ajar, and not put his shoulder to it while running full tilt. The door flew open on his impact and sent him sprawling in the hallway, skidding along the carpet, but even as he hit the floor his wand was in his hand. "Annie!"
All was silent in response to his desperate bellow for a long moment, his eyes slowly adjusting to the dark and his shoulder aching from the impact against door and floor. Then he became dimly aware of two figures standing in the living room, just about visible through the archway joining it to the hall.
It was definitely Annie's voice, and the inflection impossible to ignore. But before he could twist upright and choose between fight or flight, one of the two silhouettes in the room waved a hand, a wand visible.
This voice was unfamiliar, but the sensation of every limb locking up, his whole body tingling in an almost painful manner, was far better known to him. From a distant woodland in Derbyshire, and shortly enough there was the familiar coppery taste in his mouth as he bit his tongue in sheer frustration and anger.
The Death Eater who had frozen him waved a hand languidly, and he was jerked upright by an invisible force, then pulled towards the figures he could make out a little better now.
There were more than two people in the room. Just only two were standing. On the sofa slumped two motionless forms he recognised as Annie's parents, expressions shocked, eyes wide and absolutely sightless. Had he been more ignorant, he might have thought them alive, but Avada Kedavra was notable for its complete lack of distinctive signs in death. Then by the fireplace was a prone and twisted shape of a teenaged boy, this one obviously much more broken by the end, who had to be Annie's brother. He’d only met him once.
Over the boy himself crouched Annie, tears streaming down her face, but her expression absolutely devoid of emotion as she stared between Tobias and the two Death Eaters.
They did not wear masks. And though Tobias had not recognised the voice or manner of the one who bound him, he did recognise the face as he drew nearer. Idaeus Robb.
Indeed. Standing over Annie and the broken body of her brother, tall and burly and wearing a lopsided smile that might have been charming in other circumstances, stood the man whose face was seared into his dreams: Thanatos Brynmor.
"You," Tobias spat. Or tried to. With his jaw clenched down on his tongue, almost impossible to open, it came out as more of a gurgled growl, but it got the man's attention.
Brynmor turned at the noise, then actually laughed out loud at the sight. Behind him, Annie flinched, though her expression immediately deadened afterwards. Tobias could not see a hint of fear or pain, or even hope or courage in her face or in her eyes.
"And it's the golden boy himself!" Brynmor exclaimed, hands clapping together but grip on his wand not loosening at all. "My, this is a surprise."
Robb looked between them, one eyebrow arching. "You did say this would be teaching a lesson."
"But I didn't for a moment think he'd show up in person." Brynmor glanced over at Annie, giving another low chuckle. "You called for help while we weren't looking! You sly creature. Pity you just summoned a boy."
Annie's voice was absolutely steady as she very slowly stood up, not making any sudden movements. "I didn't call him. Let him go. Please." There was the slightest suggestion of a possible shake on the 'please'.
"Oh, the self-sacrifice routine. Classic. Robb, let the boy talk, we'll see what he thinks?" Brynmor looked at his fellow.
Robb rolled his eyes. "Are these theatrics really - oh, fine." He reached over to pluck Tobias' wand out of his hand, then waved his own and sent the boy sprawling to the floor, landing heavily.
Tobias sucked in a deep, shaky breath as he had control over his aching limbs again, rising onto his forearms. "You bastards," he hissed. "If you hurt her..."
"You'll do absolutely nothing, just as you did absolutely nothing as we killed her family and waged devastation in the streets of the unclean." Robb's response was cold and taut and entirely unamused, and he glanced at Brynmor. "Aurors will be here soon enough. We do not have time to idle."
Brynmor folded his arms across his chest. "We agreed I could see to my business during this, Robb."
"Your business did not include interruptions. Just kill them both and be done with it. Or I will."
The burlier Death Eater took a step forward as Robb's wand drifted towards Tobias again. "Not him first. Him I want to punish. Him I want to teach a lesson."
"Lessons don't prevail after death, Thanatos." But Robb rolled his eyes and stepped back regardless with a deep sigh.
"Then I'll just be certain that I teach him one which he'll remember for the rest of his life." Brynmor gave a broad, toothy smile which, in the dim lighting, Tobias couldn't help but see as a dark, twisted version of his own son's pleased grin.
"A lesson." Tobias spat a mouthful of blood as he drew a deep breath and struggled to a kneeling position. "What, for daring to stand up to you, you psychopath?"
"For that. But I would also send a message. A message to those who would put a half-breed in power, and celebrate such a mingling of purity and corruption that is you - and by consequence, your rutting with a filthy Muggle." Brynmor waved a hand irritably at Annie, and though his lips didn't move there had to have been some spell, for she fell to her knees with a pained gasp.
Robb made another small, aggravated noise. "Brynmor, we don't have time for pontificating."
Brynmor ignored him, advancing on Tobias. "War is won in hearts and in minds, and so we make that our battleground. We fight for the future. I would not have our future, our youth, corrupted in thought by following you. So we shall set an example. An example of the right way!"
"Brynmor!" Robb sounded definitely annoyed by now. "This is getting quite tiresome!"
The burlier Death Eater looked sharply at him this time. "All will cower, Robb. None shall dare spread their filth, lest the Dark Lord's wrath fall down upon them. And I am that wrath. Let them know this."
"Rather difficult when all witnesses are dead. Not that I endorse their staying alive." Robb fell silent for a long moment, and the two Death Eaters glared at each other, their joint aggravation cutting through the gloom like a knife. For a long moment, all that could be heard was Annie's sobbing for breath.
"I tire of this," Robb said at last, glancing over at Tobias' writhing form, and at the weakened shape of Annie. "Enough is enough."
He must have said the words, uttered the incantation as he waved his wand. But Tobias didn't hear it. Just a dim ringing in his ears, and it was as if he'd been punched in the gut by Cal himself as a green light flashed in the air, and Annie fell to the floor like a lifeless doll, flopping over the corpse of her brother.
Tobias fell forwards onto his knees again, gaze now locked on her glassy eyes which stared right through him. The ringing in his ears slowly subsided, allowing him to become dimly aware of someone screaming. It took a few seconds, and the hoarseness in his throat, before he realised it was him.
Brynmor backhanded him across the face, cutting him off and sending him sprawling onto his back, writhing weakly. Then the Death Eater turned on his companion. "I wasn't done yet!"
"We don't have time. Finish the whelp and let's go." Robb seemed utterly unconcerned by the brutal, thoughtless murder he had just committed.
"I wanted to make it last!" Brynmor protested. "I wanted to make him watch."
"You killed her brother slowly. I thought that would appease your deranged tendencies for one evening." Robb rolled his eyes, arms folded across his chest. "Just kill the boy, and we shall depart." His gaze flickered towards the broken window. Most of the carnage outside was hidden from view by a high hedge, but fires still flickered beyond, and the wailing of Muggles could be heard. "...though it looks like we'll have to find Sneddon if he's gone Muggle-hunting."
Tobias crawled to his knees, only faintly aware of the hot, angry tears streaming down his cheeks, and the blood trickling out of the corner of his mouth. "You sons of bitches," he mumbled. "Why her? Why her?"
Robb and Brynmor exchanged glances, then Brynmor did that horrible, perverse twist of a smile again. "We had word. Of a half-breed Head Boy, of his Mudblood mate. Of how damn... popular you are. Lauded. And we knew we couldn't stand for it."
Tobias fought to draw a deep, gasping breath. "...'word'? Who cared about... we never went near you and your deranged crusade..."
Brynmor laughed, and a shiver ran up Tobias' spine in what felt like the first sensation that wasn't pain in a long time. "I'll give you this one for free. Look to your own home. Your own... house. My son knows where his true loyalties are."
Tobias looked up sharply, his vision exploding before his eyes from a mixture of the blow to his head and pure shock. "...Cal?" He spat out another mouthful of blood, voice hoarse.
"He knows the truth of the world. The truth of the Dark Lord. Right and wrong. And so he... told us all." Brynmor laughed again as Tobias' expression crumpled, and stepped forward to grab him by the lapels of his coat. "And you didn't know?" His rhetorical question came in a shout, amused and deliriously happy at the obvious shock this revelation brought with it. "Your best friend, and you didn't know he wasn't your man?"
He threw Tobias back down on the floor, stepping back and still chuckling to himself as he turned to peer out the window. "There. For that look on his face. That's worth it. Now we can kill him, Idaeus."
Robb rolled his eyes. "So courteous of you. Next time, I'm picking the target," he drawled, turning to Tobias with his wand outstretched.
They must have thought him beaten. And with Brynmor peering out the window and Robb obviously not expecting a threat, it was the best time to act. The tension in his limbs that had paralysed him coiled into strength, and, willing it into action, Tobias threw himself forwards at Robb, grasping at his wand.
Wands are tools. Wands are weapons. Wands are a wizard's life.
Wands are also notoriously fragile when snatched at. Which was what Tobias had counted on.
He might have won with his opponent’s wand broken, as he drove his shoulder into Robb's mid-riff with little ceremony or skill but the blunt force of sheer bloody-mindedness and desperation. As Robb staggered back, he might have had a chance to run, might have had a chance to get away, the Death Eater unarmed and powerless to stop him.
If it had just been the two of them. If Thanatos Brynmor hadn't stepped forwards and dropped him with just one, powerful blow to the temple.
Tobias went flying, smashing his chin on the floor as he landed in front of the fireplace and almost biting his tongue in half. The world spun before him, bringing nausea out through the numbness in his guts, and the strength he had borrowed ebbed away.
Robb staggered forwards, angrily throwing aside the two snapped parts of his wand. "You little bastard!" he barked. "I was going to kill you quickly, keep you from Brynmor's tender mercies..."
Brynmor gave a low chuckle, still seeming amused. "So can I enjoy myself now?"
His counterpart shook his head, hair now wild, and he reached for where he had pocketed Tobias' own wand. "The wand of another wizard," he said slowly, very suddenly seeming to turn just as calm as he'd been furious, "is less effective than one's own. Except for a theory I have read of... saying that a spell cast from a wand turned upon the wand's owner is even more potent." Robb tilted his head almost curiously at Tobias. "Shall we find out?"
The Cruciatus curse has often been considered the least of the Unforgivables. Death is to be feared, wizards believe - and they would mostly prefer to have their bodies harmed than their minds overruled by Imperius. But whilst these perspectives may be quite accurate and thoughtful, they sell short the curse designed and developed for one simple purpose: to cause perfect agony.
The yell Tobias had let out upon Annie's death was nothing compared to the echoing scream of pain torn out of his lungs as every single inch of him was racked with an exquisite agony. So intense was it that the numbness of fear, of loss, of despair - the emotional shutdown, a defence manoeuvre from the pain, was overruled, bringing all of it to the forefront. A mental agony to join with the physical.
His hand smashed against the mantelpiece as he writhed in agony, and had he been more aware he might have realised the impact was so hard he broke fingers - but even that seemed irrelevant, and even minor compared to the Cruciatus spell Robb had turned upon him.
He did not realise when it stopped. Every inch of him ached, a deep, throbbing pain which thumped through him with each heartbeat, every muscle spasm. And as he blinked muggily to peer at the two shapes over him, Brynmor's hand on Robb's forearm, he slowly - ever so slowly - realised this was an interruption, not a merciful respite.
His hearing slowly swam back to his ears for Brynmor's low, urgent tones to reach him. "...can't see Sneddon. They've got to be close. We should go."
Robb lifted his hand abruptly, wand snapping up. His expression had been twisted with furious satisfaction, but immediately his composure returned. No more was he the vicious man who acted while Brynmor laughed, but instead the calmer one holding Brynmor's leash. "Very well. Let us finish this." He nodded stiffly at Tobias. "Stand up."
Tobias opened his mouth to spit something vicious, but instead just a dull groan escaped.
"Stand." There was no pity in Robb's voice, but there was a definite edge beyond either hatred or cold disinterest that Tobias could not quite place. "I would have you die on your feet."
Reluctantly, and with every joint screaming in protest, Tobias struggled upright. "You won't win, you know," he mumbled, voice thick and words almost indecipherable. "Your Dark Lord will fall."
Robb exchanged a rather knowing glance with Brynmor, then regarded Tobias for a long moment. "They always say that." If anything, his tone now held a hint of pity, and he spoke more gently than Tobias had yet heard.
Then he lifted his wand, opening his mouth to speak - and all Tobias knew next was a high-pitched ringing noise, a solid impact on his chest, a flash of green light...
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