Chapter 45: The Parting of the Ways
This was the last time she'd ever stand on this train, Tanith realised with a small lurch in her stomach as she made her way down the corridor, walking not without difficulty. The last time she'd be surrounded with the excitement and upset of school holidays, of the mixed emotions that both freedom and separation from friends brought. True, one could visit, or holiday together, but it was not the same as living in the same space as these people, growing to know them as well as you knew yourself.
And for her, it wasn't just a holiday. It was the end.
Madam Pomfrey had done her work well. The damage to her had been more mundane than her injuries over Christmas, solely from the impact of being thrown against a wall rather than any magical pains. Some potions and spells and sleep and she was limping around well enough to cope. Most of the damage, truly, was from taking action when so thoroughly injured, especially when the capacity to do so had come from a magical means. An Invigoration Draught might have made her capable of moving through the pain, but when your body was broken and battered on the floor and telling you to just lie there and do nothing, it was telling you that for a bloody good reason.
But she'd had to act. And now she just needed to find out how she'd been able to.
Gabriel was sitting in the compartment the four of them had commandeered. Cal had gone to see Lockett, Tobias was catching up briefly with Riley and some others, and so he was alone, staring out of the window when she came in. He just smiled absently as she closed the door behind her, and she dimly recalled their last trip southwards on the Hogwarts Express, where there had been fewer unanswered questions in life, but fewer answers, too.
"You're looking alright," he said generously. "Ambling about the train's not too much activity?"
"I've had worse," Tanith said, but sat down opposite him with a sigh of relief anyway.
Neither of them spoke for a long moment, just watched the Midlands race by the window in the mid-afternoon sun. It was a comfortable silence, a companionable silence, a pause of obliviousness before they returned their attention to the world and its ills.
"I wonder why students who live closer to Hogwarts than King's Cross are still expected to take the train," Gabriel mused at last. "London isn't exactly central, and yet all sorts of people have to travel there to get to school. Urquhart lives in southern Scotland, yet he's sitting there, two compartments down."
Tanith gave a small shrug. "Would it be Hogwarts without the train ride?"
His expression flickered. "I suppose not." Gabriel gave a small sigh. "And it never will be again, will it."
"Not for us."
"Will it be for anyone, with the war, with Dumbledore dead?" Gabriel wondered.
"Wars end," Tanith said determinedly. "And Dumbledore wasn't Hogwarts' first and last headmaster. Hell, McGonagall's been here more in the last five years than he has, with the Chamber of Secrets and Umbridge and everything."
Gabriel made a non-committal noise. "True," he mumbled, looking out the window again.
The fresh silence was less comfortable, and Tanith squirmed in her seat, trying to find the best way to raise the burning questions that hummed around within her. How to best raise this delicately, with how his health had been and... everything.
And, if she was honest with herself, she was a little scared of him right now.
"How did you do it?" she asked at last, voice low, but abandoning any notion of being indirect. It just didn't work. "How did you get the potion out there?"
Gabriel blinked at her with surprise. It looked like, of all the questions she could ask, that wasn't the one he'd expected. "I brewed it," he said slowly, "and then hid it roughly where I thought you were going to end up. And put it in a box."
"Why an Invigoration Draught?"
He coloured a little. "You know I'm not that
good at Potions, right? I only got an E?" Gabriel shrugged exaggeratedly to hide his mild embarrassment. "I didn't know how to brew any bone-mending elixirs, or anything like that. So I went for something I thought might give you a chance to do one thing. That it... might be enough. Just one thing." He gave a very small smile, looking back out of the window. "Looked like it worked."
Tanith paused. "But why?"
Gabriel seemed to roll the question around in his mouth before he answered it, speaking slowly. "From the vision, I knew I wouldn't be there. Now, I intended to
be there, but I had no idea why I wasn't in the first place. So I couldn't guarantee I'd have a chance to change things myself. The vision didn't tell me how you were injured, so we had no way of planning around that."
"Tobias started the fighting," Tanith sighed. "I don't think there was much I could have done, even knowing what was
going to happen. It would have been hard."
Gabriel nodded. "So I had to plan around what I knew. Don't get me wrong, I planned on being there. But I left the potion there as... a contingency plan."
Silence reigned once more, silence that was even more uncomfortable until Tanith drew a deep breath. "Thank you," she said quietly.
He waved a hand quickly. "You don't have to thank me. I did the only thing I could do."
"What happened to you, anyway?" she asked. "What was that headache? And why did you pass out?"
Gabriel shrugged helplessly. "I wish I knew," he said. "It... felt like the headaches I've had in connection with these damn visions. The same kind of ache, in the same part of my head. But I intend to find out."
There was a certain tilt to his head, a certain ring in his voice as he said that which made her look up with a raised eyebrow. "Oh?" she said, pointedly.
"This... Whitaker character. They've written interesting things," Gabriel said, leaning forward. "I don't
see what's carved in stone, if they're right."
"And that we changed what you saw... suggests they're more right than Firenze." Tanith nodded.
He shrugged again. "I think my gift is different to Firenze's. But what Whitaker writes about isn't seeing the future, not exactly. I see... focal points in time. Where big decisions are made, or maybe the consequences of big decisions, I'm not sure. But they don't have
to go that way, I'm just seeing... the most likely outcome."
"And so you have a chance to change them?"
Gabriel rubbed his forehead, but thoughtfully rather than with any hint of discomfort. "I'm not sure. I mean, obviously I can
, I stopped this one. But I don't know how it works. So I'm going to find out."
Tanith straightened up. "How?"
"C.S. Whitaker lives in Rio de Janeiro. I mentioned I'm going travelling?" Gabriel gave a small smirk. "I'm going to get answers straight from the horse's mouth."
She paused, and considered this. A part of her - the part that was becoming an Auror - resented that. That there was a war on and he was going to hop off to Brazil. Run across the world finding out about his own problems.
The part that was his friend understood and could only agree enthusiastically. It suppressed the first part, and appeased it by pointing out that his gift could be so very, very useful if he understood it more.
So she just nodded. "Write to me?"
Gabriel smirked his familiar smirk. "I have to be able to talk about this with someone
," he said casually.
There was his family, of course - his parents, his older brother. But Tanith had enough of her own familial distance, a distance which seemed irrelevant compared to the chasms in the Doyle household - she had never known for sure, in seven years, what went on there - to not question this preference.
His smirk broadened as he continued. "So you'd better stay alive so you can keep listening."
She laughed. It was a short laugh, but it felt good, dismissing a whole wave of tension with it, and brought with it a burst of much-needed confidence as she stood on this precipice of disaster. "You can count on it."
* * * * *
"Oh, no," Bletchley groaned as the small orb in the centre of the cramped compartment continued to project light onto the drawn blinds, and buried his head into his hands.
"You were such
a boy," Ariane admonished him, still staring at the images on the blinds. Images of the past. Nostalgia for all of them to see.
Not for the first time, Tobias regretted having bought Cal a Recording Orb for Christmas in their fifth year. The first time he'd regretted it was the moment they were viewing now: the infamous Yule Ball.
It was hard for all eight of them to be crammed in one compartment which was quite full at six. Especially when two of those people were Cal Brynmor and Edmund Montague. But the Slytherin seventh years were trying it, two hours away from King's Cross, for one last hurrah. They had never been the most united, but when Bletchley had suggested they break into some butterbeer that had gone undrunk in the year, nobody - not even Tanith - had thought it was a bad idea. With Tobias and Gabriel soon abroad, and the others in a country torn up on by war, it was possibly the last chance they'd ever have to all be in the same place at once.
Then Cal had smirkingly provided his old Recording Orb, and the groans had begun.
"I can't believe you two didn't have dates," Tanith was mocking Cal and Gabriel by now, smirking.
"I can't believe I was in the Hospital Wing and missed the whole thing," Melanie complained.
Gabriel pointed at her. "See? I did
have a date. She broke herself. That's not my fault."
Tanith laughed, and looked at Cal. "And what's your excuse?"
Cal considered this for a long moment, expression wry. "Well," he said at last, "I didn't have a date because I couldn't find one. And that was bad. But I instead spent the whole evening behind
the Orb. So that means I'm hardly going to be seen throughout this entire recording. So... I think, in the long run, I've won."
Bletchley rolled his eyes as Cal smirked. "And you have a hot Ravenclaw bird now. Double win."
Tobias arched an eyebrow at Bletchley. The urge to punch him whenever he saw him had subsided in recent months, but had never gone away entirely. "Ravenclaw bird?" he repeated dubiously.
He grimaced. "Ouch. No pun intended."
They laughed, then Ariane groaned about the dress she'd been wearing that night, then there was a sombre moment as Connor O'Neal was caught on the Orb, then laughter again as they caught sight of Pucey dancing with Davies, Pucey himself laughing the hardest.
The laughter didn't abate when Annie MacKenzie swirled past the couple, dancing with Tom Everard in the background, but it did catch a little in Tobias' throat. The pain was familiar by now, a companion he clung to as a reminder, as drive to keep him going, to get him up in the morning. This time was a little different. Two people already had shown up on this recording of this evening who wouldn’t be seen again. Ever.
In a year's time, how many more would be gone? In two years? Three?
But now was not the time for such thoughts. Now was the time for Butterbeer, and laughter, and nostalgia - and friendship. But he stayed quiet through the rest of the recording, only barely laughing even during the insane spiralling of the Orb when Cal fell over from inadvertently drinking too much spiked punch. There were notable cuts in the recording, too - there had been at the beginning when Cal had spoken to several people, there was one when he, Tobias, slumped over to Cal after being shot down by Tanith, and the evening ended very abruptly after a bizarre array of recordings leering over Ariane, Jennifer Riley, and Hermione Granger. By the end, Cal was bright red from both embarrassment and laughing so hard he could barely breathe.
Then it was over, and Bletchley launched into nonsense about how they would all remain close, all remain friends - as if they had all ever been either - and they'd meet up for drinks regularly to stay in touch and talk about old times. Tobias gave those sessions a month before people found better things to do.
It was sad. But it was the truth. And the people he cared about would, he knew, stay close. He and Gabriel might be globe-trotting, but distance had tested them before, and with Tanith and Cal moving into their new flat within the next few days he had a standing offer of somewhere to stay when in the country.
Some things were stronger than distance.
They all slumped back to their respective compartments when it was done, with handshakes exchanged with Bletchley, Pucey and Montague, insincere hugs received from Ariane and Melanie, and by the time the four of them sat down, he was quite ready for peace and quiet.
It was dark outside now, the lights of cities visible in the distance, and they couldn't be far from London at all. Probably less than an hour. Inexplicably, he felt his stomach twist and his heart rate increase.
This was it. The end. Funny. He'd thought that had already happened.
They all looked at each other, expressions lost, before Cal lifted a pack of cards. "Exploding Snap?"
Tanith raised an eyebrow. "What are you? Eleven?"
He smirked. "It began with Exploding Snap. It will end with Exploding Snap."
So they played. Eyebrows were singed, fingertips burnt, but by the time the train did pull in to King's Cross they had all been laughing so hard that it just seemed natural to grab their luggage and tumble out onto the platform without a second thought, as if they'd see each other next September, as if they hadn't just done that for the last time.
Then they stood there, as if rooted to the spot, on a cold station with realisation dawning as younger students swirled around them.
Tobias' gaze scanned the crowd. His mother was still in Paris, though had promised to be back tomorrow to help him pack and bid him a proper farewell. Since Gabriel had received his apparition licence, his family had never picked him up or dropped him off at the station. But down by the far end, towards the entrance, a respectful distance away, he could just about see the burly form of Will Rayner, and the ominous silhouette of Altair Ritter, seeming to understand they were supposed to wait.
"So." Cal shifted his feet and his trunk, and almost knocked over a running first year with the motion. "Russia, huh? Lots of snow."
Tobias' expression twisted. "Not in summer."
Tobias nodded firmly. "I promise. At least once a fortnight."
He didn't know then he'd fail to keep that promise. At least, not in the way he meant.
Cal looked at Gabriel, who's gaze had gone distant, quiet, evaluating. "And you, flitting off to exotic places. You'll be back?"
Gabriel smirked his quiet smirk. "Before you know it."
"Bring us back tequila?"
Gabriel frowned. "Isn't it rum in Brazil?"
"I don't care," Cal said levelly. "I want tequila."
Gabriel rolled his eyes exaggeratedly. "I promise to bring tequila. We'll have a big house party at Christmas, and we can all drink the tequila. From Brazil
They would, it would transpire, do no such thing, but all nodded in agreement that it was an excellent idea.
Cal nodded with satisfaction, turning to Tanith. "You can sod off," he said with a smirk. "In two days' time I'll never be able to get rid of you."
She punched him on the upper arm, he laughed and pulled her into a hug, then he clapped Gabriel and Tobias on their shoulders and was gone, off into the crowd and towards his foster father.
Gabriel looked between them with that same evaluating look Tobias had never been comfortable with. "You two take care," he said, with a rather strange edge to his voice. "Keep cool. Don't do anything stupid." He shook Tobias' hand, then also, inexplicably hugged Tanith - who inexplicably hugged back - and started for the exit.
Leaving Tobias and Tanith on the station, alone despite the swirling crowds around them, the joyful familial reunions, the farewells of friends. How familiar, and yet so very, very different.
"I'm sorry," he said, not really knowing why.
She shook her head. "I knew you'd be going to Russia the moment you mentioned it," Tanith told him, a small smile playing about your lips.
Tobias frowned. "How did you know? I didn't know. I didn't even know I was going to until Dumbledore died."
Tanith's gaze saddened. "Silly old bastard. Going and doing something stupid like that." Her voice belied her words, and she shrugged before looking him in the eye again, level and calm. "I knew you'd do it because I know you. You've never passed up a challenge. You don't know how to."
He supposed, deep down, she was right. Not everyone could do what he did. And he was a Slytherin, still, just - his ego was powerful enough for that in itself to be a motivation to do it.
"Still," he said. "It would have been nice for us to be... working together."
Tanith shrugged, her smile softening to hold a hint of wry nostalgia. "Things won't be the way they were. Ever," she told him wisely. "But that doesn't mean they're worse. We can't hide from the future." Her mouth twisted. "Unless you're Doyle."
"What?" His frown deepened.
"Never mind." She shook her head, then straightened up. "You have a great time in Russia. Bring back many burly Russian warriors. And I'll still be here, holding down the fort, when you come back." There was a whisper of a promise at the edge of her voice.
Tobias' breath caught in his throat, but he fought on to speak anyway. "I wish..."
She raised a hand, expression flickering at last. "Don't." Tanith shook her head quickly. "We are what we are. That is enough for us, for now, for here. Let the future be... whatever it will be."
It was philosophical, it was true, and he knew it was also to stop him from saying whatever he was going to say. Truthfully, he wasn't sure what had been about to escape his lips, but he understood it might not have been something she wanted to hear right then. It might not have been something he
wanted to hear right then.
"You take care," he said instead.
"And you," she whispered, before stepping forwards, stretching up, and kissing him on the cheek.
There was a half-moment where she lingered as she pulled back, a half-moment where he fought the urge to lean downwards just in the slightest, then they both stepped away. "Just think of me every once in a while," she asked after a moment's silence, gaze now wry, but truly sincere. "Look at the watch, it might help."
"I'll do that," Tobias promised, nodding firmly.
Then she turned and walked off, pulling her trunk behind her, moving towards the crowd, towards Ritter, towards the future he couldn't be in just yet, and he straightened up, some impulse causing him to call out again.
She stopped, freezing for a moment, and he almost ran to her - then she glanced over her shoulder, wearing one of those dazzlingly wry smiles that held all the reassurance and yet realism in the world, and looked him in the eye.
"I'll see you around, Grey."
Then she was gone, and he stood alone on the station, losing her in the crowd more quickly than he'd expected, more quickly than he'd liked.
It was a strange sense, to watch her walk away and not know if he'd see her again. Russia might be dangerous; being an Auror certainly was, and all of a sudden there was a sharp panic in his gut that she was going to fade away like everything else in the past had begun to.
So he fumbled in his pocket, pulling out the watch she'd given him, as always unable to look at it without marvelling at the craftsmanship, at the elegant silver and the tiny, sparkling emeralds set into it. He opened it up, ignoring the displays showing time across all manner of different continents, and his gaze instead fell on the inside of the lid, on the single word carefully engraved across it.
And he would. Always.
That oath silently sworn - one of the few promises made on this platform that would be kept, despite the world, despite the war - Tobias Grey straightened up, hefted his trunk, and trundled, for better or worse, along the platform and towards the future.
Whatever it might hold.
A/N: And that brings us to the end of Shade to Shade! I would like to take this opportunity to express my immense gratitude to those who have been following the story through thick and thin, through sporadic updates and my wranglings with the story, whose reviews and interest and words of encouragement have seen me fighting through the text. When I have thought I was writing utter drivel, your words were inspirational; when I was enthused, your writing reinforced my conviction I was on the right course.
There will be, I hope, a continuation. It is very much in my head how the War will go for our intrepid Slytherins. Regretfully, that is a large and perilous writing project, and being the audacious person that I am, I am at the present time actually trying to also write a genuine BOOK, something to be genuinely PUBLISHED. Whilst I love the distraction of fanfic, where I don't end up staring at the screen and being convinced each word I write is shite, my own world which might just end up putting food on the table must come first.
That said, I often need a break from Serious Writings. And I couldn't leave the Latet world completely alone. Even if I do not get a chance to write the EPIC that would be Book 7 from the gang's point of view, with my own interpretation and fleshing out of just what it would be like to experience the Occupation on an everyday basis (instead of from inside a freaking tent), I intend to write Something. It may just be short stories from later in life. It might just be some small Post Script to let them walk off into the sunset.
But there will be something. I promise. I may just ask you to be patient. Nevertheless, it's been a hell of a ride so far - I've been writing these guys for six, seven years, on and off, as the mood has taken me... hell, I started Shade in the summer Book 6 came out. Imagine that. How's that for slow? But I digress. It's over, my friends, and the time has been great. Thank you very much for your support and your enjoyment, and I am just glad I have entertained.