Chapter 38 : The New World Order
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Once Tobias was gone, time seemed to fly. Or so it felt to Tanith, lost mostly in her own world of work in the run-up to NEWT exams which she so desperately needed good grades for, and a whirling maelstrom of distracting emotions she'd rather not be feeling. There were only a few months left until the end of the year, until the end of her schooling, until the end of Hogwarts, and she preferred the idea of surviving it alone.
That was easy enough. Within days of Tobias' departure, Cal was seen hanging around with Nat Lockett again, the two closer and evidently reconciled. And Cal was overall in a better mood; more relaxed, more joking, no longer with the clouds of concern that had hung over him. Tanith might have asked him what had been wrong, but he had not opened up to her at the time, and she doubted he would now; also, she much preferred this cheerful version of her friend.
He returned to being a distraction, a figure of fun in the common room and at lunch, and though his cheer was occasionally forced, and though he scanned the Daily Prophet articles with more determination than most, he seemed to be past the worst. And all, especially Cal, would be distracted within days of Tobias’ departure by the run-up to the Gryffindor-Hufflepuff Quidditch match.
Slytherin House would usually only show such a game passing interest, but Urquhart had successfully whipped the snakes up into a frenzy of Quidditch enthusiasm, and with Ron Weasley famously and – to Slytherins – fortunately in the Medical Wing, there were high hopes for a Hufflepuff victory. Such an event would essentially level the playing field for all four Houses, giving them each a win in the bag, and denying the favourites Gryffindor an easy amble to the Cup.
So there was no question that the entire House would be going to watch the match. Cal himself rose early that day and set out for the stands to go and find good seats, which Tanith thought to be rather ridiculous considering one could never tell in Quidditch where the action would be. Gabriel had slumped off a short time after, nose uncharacteristically in a Divination book, and Tanith had only had a chance to blink at the breakfast table before she realised she was alone.
Ariane and Melanie sat with Bletchley, Pucey, and Montague, so she avoided them, instead scoffing down some toast and setting out of the Hall, gut twisting unpleasantly as she did so alone. Tobias wouldn’t have headed off for Quidditch so early.
This thought was enough to distract her all the walk out of the Great Hall, and so it was only when the echoing of voices from the breakfast tables left her ears as she emerged in the cool grounds that she realised someone was calling her name.
She stopped and turned as Nat Lockett slowed to a walk, having jogged to catch up, and theatrically wiped her brow. “Bloody hell, Cole, you were motoring your way out of there.”
Tanith blinked at the Ravenclaw girl, then shrugged and carried on, not entirely unwelcoming of the distraction from her worries. “Oh... sorry, Lockett, I didn’t hear you.”
“S’fine.” Lockett waved a hand with her usual laid-back lack of caring. “Have you seen Cal?”
“He went down early, said something about getting good seats,” Tanith said mildly. “He seemed rather excited about this game.”
“Oh good.” Lockett visibly relaxed, and Tanith felt a brief rush of sympathy for the girl who had to cope with Cal’s by-now legendary mood swings. “It should be a bloody good game. I mean, I did see him briefly, though, this morning, and he said something about a letter... any idea what he was talking about?”
Tanith shook her head vaguely. “I was barely awake by the time he left the common room this morning.”
Lockett frowned slightly. “Well, I’m sure we’ll find out. I know he’s been expecting responses to his job applications, maybe it’s that.” A brief silence fell upon them as they trooped towards the Quidditch pitch, amongst the earliest of the spectators making their way down. “Anyway. Cole. How are you?”
There was pointed concern in the sentence which Tanith wasn’t at all accustomed to. “Me?” Again, she blinked. “I’m... why wouldn’t I be fine?”
“Since Toby left?” Lockett pointed out, gaze by now locked on her with a shrewdness Tanith’s inherent secretiveness didn’t entirely appreciate.
“Oh.” She glared briefly at the ground, damning her tone of voice in even that one word for how it betrayed her. “It’s... I mean, it’s weird.”
“Have you heard from him? I doubt he gets much time to write, I mean, but...”
“Oh, yeah. Only one letter so far; training’s hard, they’re working them hard from the get-go to get them in the field as soon as possible. He reckons he’ll be on a beat come April. I might go see him in the holidays.” Even as Tanith said that, she hesitated faintly. What would she say when she saw him again? The letters had been easy, their usual, breezy communication, completely avoiding to discuss… certain things… but how would it be in person, when the last time she’d seen him they’d...
“Cool. Good. That’s a way away, though, and you’re otherwise surrounded with Cal, who, bless him, not the most emotionally intelligent of people, and Doyle. Need I say more?” Lockett looked like she was going to say something else, then her expression gave the impression she was veering in a completely different direction. “We should hit the books together, I mean. Potions, perhaps, I saw you had a bit of a bugger with that Purging Elixir, that’s bound to come up in the exam, we could try to crack it together...”
It was a transparent ploy, and for a brief second Tanith didn’t know if she should feel patronised, her sense of academic pride mildly wounded at the implication she needed help. But the offer of social contact – female social contact which wasn’t Ariane or Melanie to boot – wasn’t one she was sure she could dismiss, if only for her own sanity. Besides, Lockett seemed to have her head screwed on straight.
So she gave a small, but not insincere smile, and nodded sharply. “Alright. Potions practice it is. I’m sure Professor Slughorn will let us have a bash at the dungeons during revision period.”
“Oh, he’s easily malleable on that sort of thing; much more than Snape ever was, he’d have been peering over our shoulders the whole bloody time.” Lockett scratched her nose, gaze flickering about the thin crowds ambling towards the Quidditch pitch with a not-discreet check to see if the bat-like former Potions Master was lurking within hearing range.
“Don’t worry, he was still up at the Great Hall,” Tanith reassured her, then craned her neck as they reached the stands. “I don’t see Cal... coming to sit in the Snake Den?”
“For this match? You bet. I intend to watch Gryffindor like a bloody hawk, their final match tends to be make or break time with either a miracle recovery or a plummet to oblivion,” Lockett said melodramatically a they ascended the stairway.
There were very few people there by now; only the intensely keen or the intensely bored, and they passed Urquhart and his friends, seated at the very front, the Quidditch captain poring over charts and maps and player statistics as Talley, Vaisey and Harper looked on with dim amusement.
“Where is he?” Tanith muttered, looking around, before Lockett tugged on her sleeve and pointed upwards.
At the back, at the highest point of the Slytherin stand and claiming several rows of seats, was Cal. And not just Cal, but Cal with a massively oversized picnic hamper, a large blanket propped up across several pews and suspended in the middle, and what looked like a whole case of Butterbeer. He was waving madly at them with curiously oversized hands.
“He’s insane,” Tanith muttered.
Lockett grinned a grin of determined fondness. “Yeah,” she said. “He is.”
As they made their way up to the vantage point, which they had to concede could let them see across the entire pitch with great height and depth, Tanith could better identify the cause of Cal’s apparently swollen hands: a pair of ridiculously oversized gloves in the style of badger paws and claws.
Tanith choked on a laugh which soured in recollection of the totemic wolf paws Thanatos Brynmor had worn in Derbyshire, before forcing herself to chuckle and raised an eyebrow. “What,” she said, “are those.”
Cal looked up chirpily, setting down the open bottle of Butterbeer he somehow managed to hold in his mutant grip. “Hufflepuff pride runs high today. Rar.” He slashed at the air with an intentional air of ridiculousness.
Tanith looked over at Lockett, who looked like she didn’t know whether to hug Cal or laugh at him. “‘Rar’. Is that the noise badgers make?”
“I don’t know,” said Lockett, blinking. “I don’t think they roar, it’s more of a... kind of a guttural moan sort of thing.”
The three of them exchanged glances, before Tanith fixed her gaze determinedly on the impromptu picnic, and sat down. “Butterbeer. Cold meats. Fresh bread...”
“...cakes. Everything to see Gryffindor get pounded in style,” Lockett declared happily, throwing herself down on the blanket and beginning to nibble on the corner of one of the afore-mentioned fairy cakes.
Tanith paused, then sat herself down as well, cautiously reaching for a bottle of Butterbeer. It was true that Cal’s mood had improved tremendously since whatever discourse that had occurred with Tobias had taken place, but this level of jollity was a novelty even for him. “What did you do, raid the kitchens? And stop making that noise, Cal, you sound like a demented rabbit.”
Cal shamefacedly brought his efforts to make an impression of whatever noise he thought a badger would make to a halt, head bowing sheepishly. “Uh. Sorry. And, yes. Elves are awfully happy to help if you ask them the right way.”
Lockett’s nose wrinkled. “I still don’t get how you can just boss the little buggers around like that so easily... I mean, it’s a bit... rude, isn’t it?”
Cal cleared his throat a little pointedly. Tanith wondered if such oddities of Muggle life versus wizarding life had cropped up in conversation before. “So, Tanith,” he said hurriedly. “Where are you living come July?”
“Hm?” She took a swig of Butterbeer. “Oh. I’ve got a flat in Diagon Alley. It’s above Mulready & Warwick, the law firm, but it’s right across the street from the Weasley shop, so the noise means rent’s quite low. Not so low I won’t have to be living off beans for a while, mind,” she added a little ruefully. Auror wages were enough to mean she could live away from her parents, as she desperately wanted to do – but she also wanted to be close to wizarding society, and neither conditions brought cheapness with them.
“Really.” Cal seemed to actually brighten up at this. “See, I was looking for a place myself, somewhere near the Ministry, and you’re right, it is awfully expensive. So I don’t suppose you’ve got a second room and a desire to halve the rent?”
Tanith blinked, then hid her surprise behind another swig of Butterbeer. The dull roar of an excited crowd of students was beginning to fill the stadium, though they were still a period off the whistle blow. “Live together,” she said thoughtfully, then grinned. “I’ll keep inhospitable hours, bitch and moan about them and the workload whenever I can, and possibly be away for days at a time,” she warned him cheerfully, tilting the bottle in his direction.
Cal gave a lopsided smile. “And I’ll play loud music, not clean up after myself, and probably forget to turn the Floo off,” he countered.
“Offer accepted, I’ll owl the landlord.” They clinked bottles against each other in confirmation of this deal. “So what are you doing next year? I hadn’t realised you’d had any interviews.”
“I didn’t,” Cal admitted. “I haven’t really figured out what I want to do yet.” Next to Tanith, Lockett rolled her eyes, and it became apparent this was a subject upon which they had argued on a number of occasions. “So I was fortunate enough to get some admin monkey job at the Department of Magical Transportation. Nothing important, but it’ll pay and give me time to figure what training course I want.”
Tanith raised an eyebrow. “Without an interview? How’d you secure that?”
“At your service.” A shadow fell over them, and they looked up to see Gabriel standing on one of the pews before he gave them a theatrical bow. “I wrote to my father,” he added in apparent explanation to Tanith’s query, and perched on the edge of the pew next to the blanket. “Is that shortbread? Oooh.”
“So what are you doing after NEWTs?” Tanith asked, with a hint of cautious reserve. She didn’t want to blow Gabriel’s secret, but people were going to ask.
He gave an exaggerated shrug. “Thought I might travel,” he said briskly, in a tone suggesting he would say no more on the subject, then turned to Cal. “Good news, by the way. Weasley’s still in hospital.” He looked at the clawed gloves, but showed not the slightest sign of surprise, only a hint of dull resignation.
“Yes!” Fist – or claw – pumping the air victoriously, Cal rose to his feet as if he’d just scored a Cup-winner himself. “I’ve seen what McLaggen’s like on the pitch – just makes me wish I hadn’t made that bet with him about the Doxy eggs last year so he could have played then!”
He was so exuberant that Tanith couldn’t help but laugh, and Lockett’s expression softened noticeably. “We’re still ahead of you on points, you know,” the Ravenclaw said with amused, quiet calm. “You’ll have to trounce Hufflepuff to win, still.”
“It’s Hufflepuff. They’re a bunch of duffers.”
“So much duffers that you’re banking on them to win today?” Lockett’s eyes danced.
“Stop it.” Tanith raised her hands. “Or you’ll explode from trying to second-guess this match. Both of you. Besides,” she nodded down towards the pitch, “the teams are coming.”
And indeed they were, Gryffindor in the crimson and gold, Hufflepuff in their bright yellow and black, having finally abandoned the black arm-band worn in honour of Connor O’Neal. Perhaps it was time to stop mourning, perhaps there had, by now, been so many deaths that honouring only one felt disrespectful. That and, as Tanith had unkindly pointed out a year before, then regarding the armbands worn for Diggory, it was rather hard to tell if it was a mark of mourning or a part of their strip pattern.
The whistle went, and they saw that Cal had, indeed, picked a fine spot. So high up were they that they could see the whole pitch, and though they lacked the intense atmosphere of being right at the front, they could see, as Nat said, the ‘bigger picture’ of the game. As such, over cold meats and Butterbeer, they were quickly granted a stupendous view of Hufflepuff’s first three goals in tremendously quick succession. At the third, Cal let out a small, but distinctly non-masculine squeak of excitement, stuffing his gloves into his mouth.
“Who the bloody hell is that commentating?” Gabriel demanded irritably, rubbing his temples.
“Oh, that’s Lovegood.” Nat waved a hand dismissively. “She’s nuts, ignore her.”
“Where did ‘nuts’ come in with ‘wit beyond measure’?” Tanith asked, keeping cheer in the gibe so it remained good-natured.
“Where did ‘built like a battleship’ come in with ‘cunning and ambitious’?” Nat shot back, and Tanith laughed despite herself.
Their end of the stadium was going wild by now, the Hufflepuffs their stand connected to in absolute fits of excitement, and the Slytherins in determinedly satisfied glee. Even the Ravenclaws didn’t look too displeased at the prospect of Gryffindor being taken down a peg, though their schadenfreude was distinctly weaker in comparison to Slytherin’s.
Cal couldn’t stay off his feet, and was whooping and cheering with the rest of them. “This takes – this is – stay here!” he declared, then shot off down the pews, vaulting over and in between the throngs of people and hurtling towards the sea of black and yellow.
“Grahams! Grahams!” His voice was hoarse from shouting over the crowd, but he was big, and enthusiastic, and his hands were clawed, so it wasn’t too difficult to fight his way past the cheering masses over to his fellow seventh-year prefect. “You’re Muggle-born, right?” he asked her by way of greeting.
Grahams just managed to not punch him in the face as he landed next to her in the stands – not through anger, but through waving her hands in the air in wild glee. “What? Oh, Brynmor. Yeah. Great bloody match!” She turned back to the pitch, where the Gryffindors Chasers were desperately attempting a defence against the Hufflepuffs, all the while trying to ignore instructions hollered at them by the red-faced McLaggen.
“It is!” Cal agreed enthusiastically, ducking a nearby Hufflepuff waving a clacker dangerously near his head. “You know what a Mexican Wave is, then?”
Grahams paused, then looked at him with a Cheshire Cat smile. “Oh, yeah. I think this occasion calls for one.” She looked back at the sea of Hufflepuffs. “I’ll pass the word, get it explained, and we’ll start. Next goal –”
She stopped as there was a surge in the crowd when the Quaffle went sailing past McLaggen, who was still roaring commands at the Chasers, and through a hoop.
Cal chuckled. “Next goal. You start, we’ll finish. I’ll explain it this end.”
By the time Cal had worked his way across the Slytherin stands and got across the complicated notion that ‘when the person to your right stands up and waves their arms, you do it too’ to his exuberant House, Gryffindor had managed to score once, but then so had Hufflepuff. His last stop was Urquhart, who was at the very front, standing on his own, showing no sign of the glee Cal had expected.
Indeed, the Quidditch captain’s arms were folded across his broad chest, and his gaze was locked on the formation of the Gryffindor Chasers with intense evaluation. “Come on,” he was mumbling under his breath, Cal barely able to hear him in the noise of the crowd. “Stick together, ignore that tosser... you can do better than that, Weasley...”
“Jack?” Cal peered at him with mock-suspicion, then raised his clawed hands. “Not cheering on the enemy, are you?”
Urquhart jumped, clearly not having noticed Cal there, then shook his head quickly as if to clear it. “What? Huh? No, no, no, just... I mean... look at them!” He waved a hand vaguely at the swooping Chasers, who were clawing their way forwards in hope of another goal. “She – they’re ten times better than Hufflepuff, with Bell back... They deserve better.”
“They’re Gryffindors, Jack. They deserve death.” Cal smirked to take sting out of his words. “Listen...”
The Hufflepuff and Slytherin crowds seemed quite taken with their new move of celebration. There was a brief pause in the cheer – though much guffawing from Tanith – when Potter was knocked out by McLaggen, but this would recover. The match carried on for a good twenty more goals by Hufflepuff, and at least the first ten of those were greeted with the rippling of the crowd as a wave of jubilant yellows and emeralds rose and surged to greet victory. It was undeniably a sight to see, a wave of glee that crossed half the stadium, and in those seconds of unity, few minds in the wave were focused on war, or death, or anything other than the game. Enthusiasm – and tired legs – waned a little after ten goals or so, for with no Gryffindor Seeker Hufflepuff toyed with their opponents, until Summerby finally, mercifully, put Gryffindor out of their misery.
Cal’s crate of Butterbeer were empty by then, as the four of them had drunk all they could, and then plied the rather tense Urquhart with some leftovers when Cal had finally dragged him from the front to join them. So by the time of the walk back up to the castle, there was much singing of victorious Quidditch matches, and Urquhart was brimming over with plans for practice and the upcoming games and Cup aspirations.
In the bright sun and the glee of the moment, they almost missed the small group of Gryffindors storming across up to the castle, and almost missed the hulking figure at the front of them with a broom slung over his shoulder. But Cal came to a halt, dropping his arm from where it was wrapped around Lockett, and a feral grin crossed his face.
“McLaggen,” he said with a firm nod. “Come on.”
He broke in to a run, Urquhart and Gabriel hot on his heels, and Tanith and Nat exchanged rolled eyes before strolling after them.
“He’s not going to do anything cruel, is he?” Lockett asked a little anxiously.
“Very likely,” Tanith confirmed, without the slightest note of concern. “But you should have seen how McLaggen yanked Cal’s chain for months after he was booted from the team in third year. This is just... how do you guys say it... karma?”
And indeed, Cal skidded to a panting halt on the field a mere few feet away from McLaggen, before sinking to his knees, arms extended. “Cormac! Messiah of Quidditch! You have shown me the way! Teach me!”
McLaggen froze in his stalking, obviously incensed, obviously knowing it would be wiser to walk away as there was by now a small crowd gathering, Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs and Slytherins alike, and none of them very fond of him at that moment. But he stayed, turning to Cal with a scowl. “Piss off, Brynmor!”
Cal got up and followed him as he walked a few steps off, expression one of mock-distress. “No! Stay! Show me how to be a truly great Beater! Show me the wisdom of how knocking out my team captain is the path to greatness!”
McLaggen turned sharply at this point, broom dropping from his hands as he whirled around to shove Cal hard. Wobbly from Butterbeer and cheer, Cal fell to the ground, though seemed completely unharmed and was still laughing. Next to him, Urquhart clutched his knees to stay upright, but threw McLaggen a warning look which the Keeper accepted, turning around again and stalking off into the castle.
“That was awfully mean, Cal,” Lockett chastised, arms folded across her chest but unable to keep the slightest of smiles from her face.
“He deserves it! Three months of worse than that I had to put up with in third year! I’ll leave him alone now, but damn if it’s not worth it to give him a taste of his own medicine.” Cal accepted the hand from Gabriel to help him up, still laughing and he and Urquhart having to lean on each other to stay upright once he was on his feet.
But the mood hadn’t been broken, the cheer remained, and in that moment of victory, of friendship, of payback, none thought of the war beyond the school walls, none thought of their missing friend, and none noticed Gabriel clutch briefly at his temples when he grasped Cal’s hand.
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