Chapter 40 : The Prestige
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“Black Fire potion.”
“Uh… Boomslang skin. Three ounces. Monkshood. Sneezewort. Aconite.”
Nat looked up from her Potions textbook and peered at Tanith across the Library table. “Monkswood and Aconite are the same thing.”
Tanith winced. “I was hoping you wouldn’t notice that.”
“Noticed.” Nat smirked. “Though it does need an awful lot of Aconite.” She hefted her copy of the Advanced Potions textbook. “Alright. What else?”
Tanith sagged, head slumping against the desk. “We’ve been doing this for two hours, Lockett. I’m going to die if I have to think of any more ingredients lists for any more obscure potions that probably won’t be in the exam.”
“One of them will be, I guarantee you. And if you don’t know the ingredient list, you’re fucked,” Nat reminded her eloquently.
“What, proper fucked?”
Tanith gave a rueful laugh. “And to think I wondered why Chang beat you to the Ravenclaw prefect slot, foul-mouthed motivational speaker like yourself.”
Nat leaned back in the chair and laughed quietly, hand over her mouth to suppress too much noise in the middle of the library. “Flitwick always did rather prefer the more clean-cut authority figures.”
“Yeah, because Chang’s well-known for being strong and unflinching in the face of opposition. A real beacon to look up to,” Tanith muttered a little bitterly, making some notes on the next set of potions on her roll of parchment.
There was a pause, then Nat shook her head. “Maybe once upon a time,” she said quietly. “Before Diggory.”
Tanith flinched, looking up with an uncertain expression. “Sorry,” she said at last. “I guess she’s your friend. Being your housemate and all.”
“Honestly, she’s much friendlier with Marietta. Emily Flynn and I always had a lot more in common, both of us being Muggle-born, and Aurora Jameson, of course.” Nat paused for a minute, one eyebrow raising – then she suddenly clutched at her chest in mock-astonishment. “Wait a second. Did I just get an apology from Tanith Cole, Slytherin Bitch-Queen?”
Unable to stop herself, Tanith smirked with a hint of self-awareness. “‘Slytherin Bitch-Queen’? I didn’t realise I had such a lofty title.”
“Every year needs Slytherins to hate. These days, Gryffindor girls and Hufflepuff girls hate Drake and Larkin. Ravenclaws? We’re too smart for them. Just run circles around them all day long.” Nat spoke with her own good dose of self-mockery, and Tanith idly wondered if the girl ever took herself, or anything else, seriously. “You, on the other hand, actually understand the notion of ‘witty banter’.”
“And thus with my intellect do I win hate. How absolutely marvellous,” Tanith said, dryly but not entirely insincerely. It was always good to gather a reputation around one’s self. Made life easier when dealing with those one wanted out of the way, to begin with.
Nat gave a lopsided smile. “I know, Ravenclaws just dish out the most awesome prizes.” She nodded at the parchment Tanith was still scribbling on. “Think you’ve got the rest of it down?”
“You’re not going to quiz me any more?” Tanith sounded suspicious. Every other night they’d been revising together, she’d been almost locked in the library until she could recite a thousand and one potions recipes.
“That was all the ingredients for Black Fire. The real bugger is in heating it at the temperatures you need to for it to brew properly.” Nat closed her textbook with a hint of finality. “And we’re doing brewing techniques tomorrow.”
“I can hardly wait.” Tanith rubbed her eyes and suppressed a yawn. Without noticing it happen, darkness had fallen outside, and she realised she had to squint through insufficient candlelight to see the textbook in front of her. “And the day after, I get to take you through the paces on Defence.”
“Excellent, I’d actually like an ‘O’ in that,” Nat said, with more relish at the prospect of revision than Tanith thought was strictly necessary. She’d known the other girl to be downright nuts, and bore that in mind all the time, but occasionally forgot that she was still, after all, a Ravenclaw.
“Then let me perfect your casting time and you’ll be rolling in it after the practical. Theory, we may have to hit the books together on,” Tanith admitted as she packed away her Potions books. She was as strong as anyone when it came to academia, bright and with a good memory, but was not one of the few who could remember and process huge chunks of information without breaking a sweat, or to whom working for hours on end came naturally. So she had to rely on mortal methods to get ahead.
“Duelling laws, curse configuration… I’ll need a new book for that…” Nat muttered to herself, her enthusiasm now moving towards stationary in a fresh display of insanity. “That’ll be fun. So did you get another letter from Toby?”
Tanith almost dropped the book she was putting away, more through surprise at how abruptly the conversation was being redirected than the subject matter itself. Mostly, anyway. “What? Oh, yes. Weekly, usually. Though he missed it out on his last week of training. He got his badge.”
“Really? That’s great.” Nat nodded firmly, stowing away her own affairs. “He’ll be hitting the streets in no time.”
“He’s already doing so,” said Tanith quietly.
Nat looked up. “He’ll be fine. They wouldn’t take him on if he couldn’t take care of himself.”
“I know he can take care of himself,” Tanith said, a little defensively. “But I also know there’s a war, and even competent people die in a war.” She paused, then shook her head, getting to her feet. “Sorry. I don’t mean to snap. I just… I worry.”
The other girl gave a sympathetic nod. “I know. I mean, I can imagine. I was trying to be helpful.” Nat’s expression twisted wryly. “Didn’t do so great a job.”
“I appreciate it,” Tanith said sincerely. “See, you got me apologising twice in one lifetime. You’re doing pretty good.”
Nat chuckled. “I must just bring out the guilt in you.”
“Remind me why I’m hanging out with you again?”
“Because I’m saner than the boys?”
Tanith shook her head, rolling her eyes exaggeratedly. “I would question that, but you know the boys.”
“I do.” Nat swung her bag over a shoulder. It was a large bag, stacked full of books, and Tanith was slightly confused how the smaller girl could carry such a heavy burden with such ease. Years of practice, she supposed. “And Cal’s stable enough, but… Doyle, he’s a weird one.”
“He’s just… Doyle.” Tanith had to stop herself as she realised that the only defence for Gabriel’s oddities was private – and that it didn’t strictly apply, as he’d been peculiar for many years already without headaches and visions.
“He’s been going nuts in his revision. I think he’s locked himself in the Divination section. But he’s not doing Potions, is he?”
Tanith blinked at the apparent non-sequiteur. “I… no, what?”
Nat shrugged. “He’s been down in the dungeons during his free period – I know, we have Potions right after him. Brewing something up. I thought it was revision, but then Cal mentioned he doesn’t do Potions. And I definitely caught a few distinctive whiffs.”
Tanith frowned. Gabriel had mentioned none of this to her. “Like?”
“He’s been brewing Invigoration Draughts; probably wants to pull some all-nighters on his revision, which is fine, but I’m just mentioning it to you because you know what too much of that stuff can do…” Nat grimaced with a hint of concern. “You don’t want to put your body through that kind of surge too much, too often.”
“I thought Invigoration Draughts were better for short bursts of energy anyway?” Tanith said with confusion.
“Well… usually, but there are different kinds, which are a bit more advanced than OWL level, to be frank, but Sharpe’s been brewing up some of the more endurance-friendly ones himself so I figure Doyle just got the idea from him.” Nat shrugged. “Just thought you might want to know. You know him better than me.”
There is no way Gabriel got any idea from Craig Sharpe which wasn’t inspiration on how to do someone grievous bodily harm. Tanith just nodded, looking about the bookshelves. “Thanks. Is he down here? Divination section, you said?”
“I think so.” Nat glanced over towards the door. “Good luck in finding him, anyway. I better split; Aurora’s decided we all need our hair and nails done tonight. Apparently, this is therapeutic and to help us relax. I think they just want to interrogate me on Cal.” She gave a broad smile which made Tanith not particularly want to know what answers there were to be given, then headed out of the library.
Tanith sighed, slinging her bag over her shoulder and plodding towards the Divination section. Gabe, what are you up to? Not that for a moment she thought he was actually doing Divination research.
She found him far towards the back of the Divination section, having claimed a table now littered with papers bearing all manner of scribbles, illegible due to the books strewn across them. He was looking about furtively as he scrawled something on one piece of parchment, and so saw her coming. Though he bent over his paper protectively, he frantically gestured for her to come over.
“What are you doing, Gabe? You’ve been brewing stuff up in the dungeons?” Tanith hissed, keeping her voice down to avoid the attention of a pair of Gryffindor sixth-years a couple of tables over, locked in their own actual Divination revision.
“Just a contingency plan,” Gabriel said, waving a hand dismissively as she sat down. “I’ve been doing some reading. About Firenze’s ‘clock’ theory.”
He’d told her what had happened with the centaur, and had seemed more than a little agitated about the entire affair. All in all, Tanith thought the situation was beginning to leave him a bit unhinged. In public he was fine, his mask of control perfect, but when she caught him in an unguarded moment, or when it was just the two of them and he didn’t have to pretend, he could be downright flakey.
“Has there been anything to disprove it?” she asked indulgently, instead. After all, if the centaur was right, and all Gabriel could do was see the future without changing it, then he was in one rotten situation.
"It's only one theory," Gabriel said adamantly. "And a very centaur one. If Trelawney wasn't such a drunken hack, I might ask her. But there are all sorts of differing perspectives."
Tanith rather wondered if this was because Divination magic was so unclear to any but the most severely talented, and they didn't tend to write books on the matter, but she kept this thought to herself. Gabriel had seemed rather determined in recent weeks, ploughing through all sorts of papers and hefty tomes, most of which he had declared to be useless.
"Unfortunately, a lot of it is just theory," he continued, turning the page of the nearest book with delicate care, dust flying up just by the ancient volume being so much as moved. "Nobody seems to know for sure, and those who sound like they know have their opinion contradicted by someone else who sounds equally certain.
"And a lot of it's about prophecy. Where if it seems mutable, then there are arguments that it's just a differing interpretation of the same text; there's not a great deal on visions."
Tanith blinked, turning over a few of the magical journals Gabriel had dug up from the darkest corners of the library. "Visions are rarer, then?"
"Any wizard can wave their wand over a crystal ball. In so much as any wizard can do Transfiguration; natural talent helps." Gabriel didn't look up from his dusty tome, which bore the title "A Prelude on Predestination" down its spine. Tanith didn't want to know what it was a prelude to, from the size of just that volume.
"But visions happen only to Seers. And Seers see things differently. The most common have temporal arcana entering them, filling them, and spilling out. I've seen conflicting ideas on why. And most writing's about that. There's not much on visions themselves." Gabriel sighed, scowling at his book.
Tanith's eyes turned down to the journal she was flicking through with only idle interest, her gaze landing on one sentence. "'They're snapshots of focal points in the future, where time and reality can branch along different paths'," she read aloud, almost absent-mindedly.
Gabriel's head snapped up. "What?"
"S'what it says here." Tanith turned back a page. "Article here by C. S. Whitaker."
He snatched it out of her hands, turning it over a little desperately. "‘Branch along different routes’... I haven't read this..."
His head bent over the journal, eyes hungrily consuming word after word, and Tanith sighed, standing up to leave him to it. But as she did, her hand came down on a sheaf of parchment, which was moved out from under a book to show the picture scrawled across it.
She wouldn’t have looked at it if she didn’t have a fellow artist’s interest, interest which faded rapidly as she saw it was a rather rough sketch of the Ravenclaw Quidditch stand, with arrows pointed at stairways and such. But artist’s interest faded for confusion and curiosity.
“What’s this?” she asked vaguely.
Gabriel looked up, eyes widening, then reached to snatch it from her hand. She didn’t try to stop him, but he moved so quickly she didn’t have a chance to let go, and in the brief, unintentional struggle knocked over a small stack of books to reveal another sheaf of parchment.
This one bore no pictures, but instead the frantic scribbling of a spider diagram. Most of the words in bubbles were in writing too small for her to identify, but the centre was written in desperate block capitals which were unmistakeable, even reading upside-down.
CAL WILL KILL TOBIAS.
Gabriel looked down the moment she did, and let out a deep, shaky breath. “Oh, shit.”
Tanith sat down, eyes locked on the parchment for several long moments, where all that could be heard was the faint tittering of the two Gryffindors. Then her gaze raised to Gabriel, who looked incredibly guilty.
She drew a deep breath. “What did you see?”
Gabriel almost collapsed at the question, tension flowing from him and burying his head in his hands. “I don’t know if I can…”
“What. Did. You. See.” It was hard to be loud in a library, especially if you were trying to avoid attention. That didn’t stop Tanith from pounding strength into every word, even at such a low volume.
He didn’t look up. “After the Quidditch match… when McLaggen pushed Cal over… I helped him up. And I saw something.”
“Something.” Tanith felt the icy chill in her gut spread to her voice; which was just as well, because it made Gabriel flinch and thus probably be more cooperative.
“You… you were…” Gabriel reached for his pile of parchment, and began to spread out badly drawn pictures. “I put these together so I might… remember it better…” Not that he sounded as if he’d have any difficulty recalling what he’d remembered.
“I saw through Cal’s eyes,” he began again, falteringly. “Inside the Ravenclaw stands – you know, just beneath the benches, where they store the drapes and so they can get up there for maintenance and such? You were there, and Tobias was there, and… and so was…” Gabriel closed his eyes. “Thanatos Brynmor and Idaeus Robb.”
Her gut didn’t twist again. Perhaps it couldn’t contort any more. “Shit,” Tanith said eloquently.
“And you were… there’d been a fight, maybe, something had happened to you, you were lying on the floor against the wall, and Cal didn’t have a wand, and Tobias was facing off against Robb. And Cal’s dad – and Brynmor – said it was fine, you weren’t dead and that he’d prove it. With the Cruciatus.”
Tanith leaned forwards as colour began to drain from Gabriel’s face, and grabbed his wrist. “You wrote that Cal kills Tobias. What the hell did you mean?” It wasn’t just death being worse than pain which had her from pressing on, but a desire to skip over the particularly unpalatable thought of torture if she possibly could.
“…Cal picks his wand up from wherever it is…” Gabriel shuffled the nearly stick-man diagrams to show her the events he’d seen in what had to be excruciating detail for someone who couldn’t draw. “…and disarms his father. And then Tobias goes nuts, really shouting at Brynmor, and he’s got his wand on Brynmor, and Robb’s got his wand pointed at Tobias, and Cal’s got his wand pointed at Robb…”
Gabriel bent over, hand coming up to his temple now, grimacing with what was now a familiar pain. “…and Brynmor will make it worse. He’ll taunt Tobias. He’ll taunt him about MacKenzie. And Tobias will get angrier and angrier and… Tanith… is it possible that Thanatos Brynmor killed Tobias’s dad?”
Oh, no. Her gut could twist further.
She had to swallow to suppress bile. “It’s possible.” Her voice sounded, by now, like it didn’t belong to herself.
“…and this taunting will go on until Tobias does something – hurts Brynmor – and then Cal will remember that Thanatos is his father, after all, and tries to get Tobias to stop… but he won’t, he just gets angrier and angrier, about his dad, about MacKenzie, about you, and then he seems to lose it and goes to cast what I think is the Killing Curse, he gets about as far as Avada…” Gabriel’s voice trailed off, by now such a thick tangling of fear and difficulty that it was almost incomprehensible.
“…and Cal kills him instead?” Tanith finished at last, with a note of distinct disbelief. That couldn’t happen, that wouldn’t happen, Cal wouldn’t do that.
“I don’t think he meant – means – will mean to… damn, I hate these tenses…” Gabriel scrubbed his face with his hands at last, speaking a little more coherently now. “You know how Cal seemed to do really well with that Bone-Breaker Curse Snape taught us? Like, how you’re shit-hot with the Stunning Curse?”
“That came with practice,” Tanith said without pride. “But he had a natural talent with the spell, yes. And Snape did encourage us to… adopt a spell that was ours, that we could hone and perfect and cast without even thinking – not to rely on it, but just in reserve, something we knew we could get off no matter what.”
“…he’ll use it on Tobias. The Bone-Breaker Curse,” Gabriel stumbled. “And… well… you can imagine where that might go wrong, hitting the wrong place, when panicked, in the dark… I think it was his neck… then Cal will freak out, completely, and… and Brynmor will suggest he comes with them, because Hogwarts won’t take him as a murderer, and I think…”
Gabriel leaned down, head resting now on the desk with a thick sigh. “I think Cal’s going to leave with Brynmor and Robb. Just by being so panicked at what he’s just done… and… the vision ended there.”
A grim silence fell upon them, Gabriel sounding like he might be in danger of hyperventilating, Tanith just staring at him in near-disbelief. A detached part of her mind idly wondered how long he’d been going to pieces like this without them knowing, for how long the vision had been weighing on him this heavily. Either it had only kicked off in recent days… or he was a lot tougher than she thought.
“So there are theories that these visions are just moments where reality branches. ‘Branches’ suggests… different routes, different options.” Her voice sounded alien to her own ears, firm and uncompromising. “That suggests this isn’t the only way it can happen.”
Gabriel nodded morosely. “I’ll look at what this Whitaker has to say…”
“No.” Tanith’s hand thumped down on the table, making Gabriel jump, and the two Gryffindor girls look at her suddenly. She grimaced, drawing her hand back. “I mean… yes, you will, but that’s not the be all and end all. We will change this. We will stop this.”
He nodded again, this time a little more firmly, but with the air of one who was being told something he already knew. “What do you think I’ve been trying to figure out how to do for the last few weeks? The only conclusion I’ve reached is that, whenever this happens, I have to be there.”
She could tell he wasn’t entirely telling the truth; that there was something else, but with the worry gnawing in her gut and his rather detached manner, she didn’t think to press him on that. There were far too many other considerations fighting for attention – of how to stop this from happening, of when it would happen, of how to change even the smallest thing…
And they would change it. They had to.
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