Chapter 27: The Sound of Silence
The funeral was a week later, on the last day before a return to school. A return to hypothetical normalcy.
It had been a week dominated by that one night. Where other youths had revelled in the remains of the festive period, had celebrated New Year's long and loud, had made the most of their freedom, Tobias' time had been spent in gloom.
And in something of a blur. He only vaguely recalled the immediate aftermath of being dragged through the Floo back to the Cole estate. The Aurors rushing in within minutes. Being carted off to Saint Mungo's - for Tanith's benefit as much as his own - and being asked questions even as healing charms were pumped into him for his broken hand and pain-wracked body. How had he known they were there? Why had he gone? What did they do? What did they look like?
It was a dark irony, of wishing desperately to forget an event burned into his mind when others required him to recall every single detail. But he had received answers, as well. Yes, all the MacKenzies were dead. Yes, they had been targeted specifically. No, everything else had just been standard Muggle-killing. No, they hadn't caught Brynmor or Robb.
Tanith had to have been asked the same, but he hadn't seen her since the Aurors arrived. Her injuries had probably been worse than him, slashing curses like to do more damage than a Cruciatus, and she'd taken two. It was just as well she'd worn the Shield Cloak, he'd overheard, or Robb's curse would have most likely sliced her spine in half.
And the Death Eater she'd incapacitated, Sneddon, had been captured. That was perhaps the only reason the two of them weren't being charged with the obstruction of justice - though the Aurors were very keen to talk to Altair Ritter about the now-confiscated Communication Orb. It was inarguable that Tanith had saved lives by being there so soon and acting when she did. Jacob Van Roden was, in fact, pushing for a reform of faster response times to crises, and plenty of people were now listening. How could the Aurors arrest the people who'd done their job quicker than them?
At least, the one person, Tobias reflected upon hearing that school of thought. He'd been told in no uncertain terms by the gruff Auror Cassius Vaughn that he'd been incredibly stupid for rushing off as he did. Tobias had just lain there and looked at the man until he'd left. They were, he knew deep down, right. But what else was he to have done?
He'd been in Saint Mungo's for a day more than he needed to, languid and unresponsive to what the Healers had to say and do until his mother had visited for the second time. The first had been in the immediate aftermath, and his memory was still fuzzy of that. Then work had called her away for a few days, until it seemed she'd had word that he was still hospitalised.
She'd come into his room without any of the cautious concern she'd held the first time, but with fire and determination to cover her fear. "Come on," she'd said without bothering with any other greeting. "Up you get."
He sat up, rubbing his eyes and blinking muggily about the hospital room. "What?"
Melissa Grey looked at him. "Is this the allegedly bright son of mine? I’m not sure that it is.” Her shoulders sagged as he continued to look at her in confusion. “You’ve been tended to enough that you don’t need to be here any more. There’s no reason for you to be taking up a bed. You're done here. Get up. We're going home."
"Three of my fingers were broken," he protested weakly.
"Were. They're fixed. And even then it wouldn't stop you being up and about." His mother folded her arms across her chest, watching him with that keen-eyed gaze he’d always assumed had come from his father’s side of the family. But, no. His father had been the Ravenclaw, the intellectual. The shot of steel in him, that was pure Slytherin, and pure Melissa Hart.
Not that he cared so much for that right then, clenching his no longer aching hand into a fist. "I suffered prolonged exposure to the Cruciatus curse!"
"I've known wizards to be on the receiving end of that, then get up and keep fighting. It takes hours for the Cruciatus to leave damage that a day or so of bed-rest can't fix." She took a step closer, tapping her temple. "The Healers say it's not your body that's the problem, it's up here. Your will. And no son of mine is going to languish in bed while there's still a life out there to lead."
"They killed her!" Tobias snapped, straightening up in bed. He had never been angry at his mother before. Hardly even in the manner of teenaged outrage; they had always been too distant for that. Loving, but detached. And though he'd resented Vaughn, though he was nursing a slow-burning hatred for Robb and Brynmor, he hadn't been angry with anyone about what had happened. Yet.
"They killed her right in front of me and they didn’t care. They laughed," he continued, now in a lower, more openly furious voice. "Then they tortured me for daring to try to stop their sport. And you're upset with me for taking a few days to recover?"
His mother rested her hands calmly on the foot of the bed. "Yes," she said levelly, but not with any lack of sympathy. "You're fit. You're healthy. You’re alive. You have every reason to be up and about as soon as possible."
He gave a short, hollow, mocking laugh. "Like what?"
She leaned forwards across the bed, fixing him with a piercing stare. Again, Tobias remembered that he had always been told he took after his father, but the squirming discomfort and shame he suddenly felt under her scrutiny was a lot like that he saw on the face of some pupil or prefect he was disciplining in school.
"They tell me yours is a one in a generation mind, Toby." Her voice stayed quiet, ringing of disappointment, and as expected, that was worse. "That you could do great things. We are in a war. What greater thing could you do than fight?”
Tobias resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Barely. “It’s been a matter of days, Mum,” he objected. “I’m… taking time to get better…”
“Will you be out tomorrow?” she interrupted, voice quick but not sharp.
He stopped. “I… don’t know,” he admitted with a somewhat baffled blink.
“Or the day after? Will you be out by the time Hogwarts starts?” Melissa continued, not missing a beat.
Tobias stared. “Of course!”
“Then you should be out today. Because otherwise you gain nothing lying in bed letting your mind be broken now your body’s fixed.” She straightened up, head tilting back a little. "You could do many things instead of lying there languishing," she continued. "You could be making sure this doesn't happen again. Or you could just be repaying the risk Tanith took to save your life by actually making her gamble worth it. Or you could do something about the men who killed Annie."
There his anger found something to latch onto, white hot and tenacious in its grip. "Like you did something about the man who killed Dad?"
His mother jerked back as if struck, then straightened up abruptly. "Tobias Ulysses Grey, don't you dare - don't you dare throw that accusation at me. Whoever it was, he's in Azkaban, or dead. The world needed to move on, instead of losing itself in appointing blame when guilt was already enough for ten lifetimes. Your father's death was a tragedy, but the kind almost every family felt."
"The kind every... listen to yourself!" Tobias threw his hands in the air in frustration. "It's not. Most kids didn't grow up without a father, whatever the war might have done. As for appointing blame - it's important now. The man who killed Dad? Thanatos Brynmor." He sat up straighter, jaw set. "He's running around free. He killed Annie, and he almost killed me. It matters."
Melissa fell silent, gaze briefly staggered - so, acting on an academic's instincts, driving his point home, he pushed on. "He's still out there. And you're damn right I'm going to do something about him. I'm going to find him, and I'm going to kill him. So don't lecture me about lying here languishing when you didn't even care enough to find your husband's murderer!"
This time there was no flinch, no sign of the verbal blow striking home. Save that his mother's face went queerly dead, and she stepped away from the bed. There was a long silence, and when she did speak it was in a quiet, detached manner, as if coming from a long way away. She did not quite make eye contact.
"I loved your father. Enough to turn my back on everything I had been taught, everything my family believed. Enough to turn my back on all of them. You've seen them now, they've all but disowned me." She gave a small sigh, which held enough of a waver to suggest she clung fiercely to control. "And our time together was fleeting. I gave up everything for him - and then I lost him. And my family wouldn't have me back, they could not forgive me for marrying a Muggle-born. So that left me with you."
His mother shook her head, then took a few steps towards the door. "But you're of an age now. And clearly have your own ideas about how to live your life, and your own judgements about how I've lived mine. So I won't presume to tell you what to do anymore."
Her hand grasped the door handle. "The office needs me in Paris. The upgrades to the vaults in the catacombs are extensive with the worry of Dark Wizard activity spreading. Come and see me before you go back to Hogwarts, we’ll buy you a new wand at Dupont’s now Ollivander’s gone. Otherwise, of course, the house is free for you."
Then she was gone, her footsteps echoing down the Saint Mungo's corridor, and leaving Tobias alone.
He left the hospital an hour later, once his tears of rage, loss, guilt, and self-loathing had dried up.
The day of the funeral, he almost hadn't gone. It was only when a covered carriage about the size of those which would take him from the train to Hogwarts when school began, boldly emblazoned with the faded sigil of the Cole family, swept through the skies and landed in his back garden, that his mind was changed for him.
The carriage was drawn by a broad-chested, golden Abraxan winged horse, who had looked at Tobias as if indignant he would have come all of this way for nothing had he refused. To back him up, there was Tanith, still moving with difficulty, walking with the aid of a stick, and telling him in no uncertain terms that he was coming.
This was the first time he’d seen her since that day. Guilt, rather than a true will to go, saw him clamber into the back of the carriage. He almost left again when he saw Gabriel and Cal already inside, but held his tongue and let the journey pass in silence. He could feel Gabriel's gaze burning into him as he stared out the window, and Cal...
...well, he didn't know what to think of Cal right then.
Your best friend, and you didn't know he wasn't your man?
Had that just been a lie? But why would they lie? Why would they tell him that if they were only going to kill him? Brynmor had wanted him to suffer, yes, but would he go so far as to fabricate something that outrageous solely to torment him?
Even though the answer to that was probably 'yes', it didn't stop the pieces slowly slotting together. Cal's increased detachment. His sudden comprehension of Death Eater propaganda. And who had he been writing to all of this time...
Tobias felt sick, and turned his face away so the cool outside air trickling through the window could steady his stomach.
The journey passed in silence, before they swept - under the protection of various anti-Muggle charms - down to the graveyard near Annie's home. Her parents and brother had been buried the day before, in the presence of family and friends who believed it was a house fire that had claimed the MacKenzies. But Annie had been a witch. She deserved a witch's funeral.
It was an intentional two fingers up to the Death Eaters who had targeted her because they thought she was lesser, and Tobias approved.
Gabriel got out the carriage first, and blinked at the bright, cold sky, and the scene before him. "What," he muttered. "Here?"
"It's a graveyard, Doyle," Tobias said testily.
"Yeah, but..." He shook his head, and hopped to the ground, still peering at his surroundings. "Piss. Never mind."
Tobias didn't press - didn't care - but saw the frenetic look in Gabriel's eyes as he helped Tanith down, saw him nod firmly and mumble something that had her pat him on the arm.
Then they all trooped towards the gathering, towards the crowd. It was a small affair, of probably no more than twenty people. Half of their year, some Gryffindors, Professor McGonagall. Tobias balked as they reached the back, and wordlessly his three friends stopped beside him, not pressing for any of them to go to the front - as would realistically be his right - and legitimising his wish to hang back by sticking together. A group at the outskirts was less of an oddity than a loner at the back.
The ceremony itself passed in something of a blur. Afterwards, he could remember little. His eyes stinging as the casket was lowered into the cold, hard ground. Jennifer Riley crying salty tears onto Nick Wilson's shoulder, while the latter glared daggers at him across the grave. Tanith's hand slipping into his as they piled the earth on, and him clutching to it like the waves of grief pouring off all present might wash him away otherwise.
Then it was over, and still they stood there as the others departed. Riley had recovered from her tears enough to approach him at the end and give him a grief-stricken hug. He barely returned it. That display of hers saw some of the other Gryffindors, Anderson and Sawyer and Everard, passing by to at least shake his hand. But others, like Wilson and McLaggen, stayed away.
And soon everyone was gone, and it was just the four of them. Cal looked between his friends, looked at Tobias and Tanith, then his gaze settled on Gabriel. "I saw a pub around the corner," he began. Whether or not it was true was irrelevant; it was, at the least, likely to be the case. "Looked like they did Beacon on tap."
Gabriel blinked at him. The whole time he had been unable to look at just one thing; his gaze had been flickering to and fro across the graveyard, and Tobias had heard him swear when Riley had begun weeping. "I have no idea what that is," he said at last.
"Beer. We'll drink it, we'll like it. Or I'll like it, at least. C'mon." Cal grabbed him by the arm with a grip that would brook no argument, and yanked him towards the gateway.
A silence fell upon Tobias and Tanith as their footsteps echoed off. Eventually, tremulously, Tobias ventured, "I like beer." In a strange way, he felt excluded from their trip, as if his grief was isolating.
"Not right now you don't," Tanith chided gently. "When did you last eat?" When he didn't answer, they fell back into an uneasy silence. It was a full ten seconds before she spoke again. "Do you... d'you want me to go so you can say..."
"I have nothing to say," Tobias said quickly, cutting her off. The idea of talking to cold stone, overturned earth and, somewhere beneath, just flesh and bones was more chill than his already frozen form could cope with.
"Then help me back to the carriage? We can wait there."
He glanced down at the word 'help', and realised with a start that this was the first time he'd properly looked at her since that day. She wasn't as pale as he knew himself to be from glimpses in the mirror, but she had definitely suffered the brunt of the long-term physical ailments from their ordeal. She leaned heavily on the cane as she walked, her back clearly not up to supporting her full weight with ease, and she even moved her arms with difficulty, to avoid stretching the torn skin on her front.
But she was here. Alive. Next to him. And the warmth of her hand still gripping his was a welcome lifeline.
He let her rest her weight on him as they hobbled back to the carriage. It felt good to feel the burden, to feel relied on in such an obvious, physical, tangible manner. But they were still halfway there before he found the courage to seek his tongue.
Tanith faltered a little at this, gaze flickering. "You don't have to thank me." Her voice sounded a bit pained.
"I do. I really do." His own was cracked and broken from a dry mouth and too much grief. "I was abysmal to you, and you still came. You risked your life for us. And I was abysmal to you after. So I'm sorry, as well as grateful."
"I'll take the apology, and you're already forgiven," she said quietly. "But I don't want the thanks. Especially not..." There was another pause as Tanith drew a deep breath, fighting to lean on him a little less. "I didn't risk my life for her."
Tobias nodded, slowing down a little as her movement grew a little more laboured. "Then thank you for just me."
"I didn't... do it for thanks. I did it because I didn't know how to just sit there and let you run off to die." She paused for half a beat. "You'd do the same for me."
It was almost a question, and one which made him stop and turn to face her. "I would," he pressed, strength returning to his voice a little. "You know I would."
Their eyes met, then Tanith smiled a small, sad smile and turned back to the carriage. "I just hope it's never needed, then."
"I doubt I'd be as good as you at the rescue thing, mind," Tobias mumbled. "You didn't just save my neck, you captured a Death Eater. Not bad for an evening's work."
"It was a delay."
"You did the right thing. He'd have killed more people."
"Not the people I cared about." Her grip on his forearm tightened a little.
An uneasy silence fell on them for a few more slow, laborious steps. "I just ran past him," Tobias confessed at last. "He was hurting and killing people, and I just ran past him. I wanted to save Annie, but... he was killing families. Parents. Children. Loved ones." His gaze drops. "I didn't save Annie, but not stopping him is something I regret more."
Tanith paused as they reached the carriage at last. "He was a tough nut to crack. I'm not sure you could have dropped him."
"Are you saying you're better than me?" He injected a note of amused wryness, genuinely intending for this to be a joke.
She shrugged. "In this? Yes. You play by the rules. I cheated."
"And won, yes." She nodded in concession.
Tobias extended his arm so she could brace against it, and she climbed into the carriage in small, laborious steps. "Then whatever it takes. It doesn't matter... I need to not be beaten by this." His mother's words rang guiltily in his ears. "And I can't undo it... and I can't take on Brynmor and Robb... so I just have to make sure this doesn't happen again."
She peered at him as she sat down in the carriage, and he hopped in after her despite the stiffness in his muscles, a calling card of the Cruciatus curse. "How?"
"I'm not sure yet," Tobias admitted, sitting down. "But I think I'm going to have to look somewhere other than International Magic Cooperation for a purpose."
Tanith regarded him for a long moment, her gaze holding a mixture of assessment and uncertainty. Then she gave a tired smile, and a small nod. "Well. If anyone can save the world, Grey, it's you."