It was somewhat generous to name this place a club. Living above a rather dingy pub that seemed to favour real ale and live music, it seemed like the kind of establishment that would have been set up in an atmospheric cellar or empty warehouse with a lot of industrial decoration but was lacking the budget. The compromise thus seemed to come in with music, loud; lights, dim; and drinks, cheap.
They'd been there for two hours by now and Tanith had been long wondering whether this impulse of hers to go out had been her brightest ever idea. Jacob Van Roden had been rounded up - she suspected as a kind gesture to try to make her feel like less of a third wheel, and to also avoid Nat and Cal feeling as if they weren't allowed to go off and dry-hump on the dance floor.
Truthfully, Tanith would have been quite content if they'd felt they couldn't do that. The two of them were clearly at ease in the environment, and she dimly recalled that they had snuck off together during the last Easter holidays off Hogwarts, actually broadening their horizons beyond a pint down the Leaky Cauldron.
That was one thing she had to give Muggle society. Wizards didn't have anything like this.
She wasn't sure if that was a good thing or not. Wizards didn't have densely packed rooms of flashing lights and thumping music and a whole menagerie of people close together in their wild enjoyment. At a glance it just seemed invasive, repetitive, and annoying, but there was clearly something to it, clearly something to the collective enjoyment, the mass of people feeling the beats and hums of music together.
Tanith was well-versed in Muggle art, but Muggle music, however, was still likely to always escape her.
Cal and Nat didn't look like they'd be peeled off the dance floor any time soon, and Jacob had - unbelievably - been cornered by some dark-haired young thing within the second song. Tanith wasn't sure if he was genuinely enjoying the attention or if he was just too polite or confused to be able to shake her off. It wouldn't be too surprising if even he wasn't sure.
So she'd made her way to the bar, and was mostly set on exploring what different drinks the Muggles had that were unfamiliar to her. They had strange names, both as concoctions and as brands, and yet almost all of them went down more smoothly and with less burning than Firewhiskey.
She'd expected to blend in less. There had been a small council at her wardrobe consisting of her and Nat at the Muggle-born's insistence they find something for her to wear. Tanith had pointed out a few pieces of casual clothing which Nat had dismissed for a night out, before going straight to the two corners of her wardrobe Tanith would have looked at last.
The first was her work clothes. The second was a variety of formal clothes that had been inflicted upon her by her mother.
'Are you kidding me?' was Nat's reaction to Tanith's dubious expression. 'These things are gorgeous. Black velvet? There's a whole fashion movement in Muggle society that would give their eye-teeth for this thing.'
Tanith had blinked at her, then pointed at her work clothes. 'And large, hob-nailed boots?'
'Well, not together, obviously. One's very gothic, the other's pretty metal. You seem more metal to me.'
'Thank you?' Tanith had squinted in confusion.
'It probably has a different name by now,' Nat had mused. 'I never did keep track at the best of times.' She pushed Tanith's work boots into her hands. 'These. Your dragonskin trousers, those are to die for.'
'They're flame-retardant, hard wearing, and give a little magical protection, they're not to look...'
So Tanith had, and she'd been surprised to see that Nat was right. Black was the predominant theme, but Tanith was practically dressed for work, barring a rather more revealing top that had been loaned to her by Nat, and she looked like she'd been doing this for years.
Nat had been right about the black dresses, though. They weren’t an oddity. Though the frocks would have made her mother and sister roll their eyes and insist the girls prancing around in them go find themselves a better tailor.
Either way, none of it was, in her opinion, something to wear when going out dancing.
She slumped against the bar, nodding for the bartender's attention and waiting for him to get to her just before a man stepped up next and lifted a hand. 'I'll have a-'
It wasn't the first time this had happened to her tonight, but irritation was building and Tanith leaned forwards. 'Hey, there is a queue.'
The man straightened up and looked at her. He was dressed a bit more normally - by Tanith's idea of what the Muggle standard was - than the others in the room, just jeans and a t-shirt of some band she didn't recognise, but looked tired and worn enough that his surprise at noticing her seemed genuine.
'Oh. Sorry. I'll have a cider, and... what do you want?'
It seemed like an apology as he gestured to her. But it was so matter-of-fact and presumptuous that Tanith couldn't help but be taken aback, and for a moment she blinked. 'Oh. I'll have a...' Her voice trailed off and she squinted at the bottles. What was she up to trying? 'Jack Daniels?'
'Sounds good. Scrap the cider. Two of those.' The man pulled a note out of his wallet and Tanith realised with some relief she wasn't going to have to take part in the complicated process of deciphering Muggle money. He gave her a lopsided smile as the bartender went off. 'In apology for my poor manners.'
'Why two?' She frowned.
'Nobody ought to drink Jack Daniels on their own.' He shook his head as if this would be some sort of crime. 'I'm just glad you didn't ask for it with coke, then I'd be in a real moral dilemma.'
Tanith tilted her head in genuine confusion. 'Why would I do that?'
'Exactly!' He chuckled as if she'd made a joke, then slid the note across the counter as their drinks were deposited in front of them. 'You're not a regular,' he observed.
'No, I'm here with... friends,' she said a little cautiously.
He looked her up and down, an evaluating gaze that wasn't intrusive enough to be unpleasant. 'This was their idea?'
'Do I stick out that badly?' she asked, somewhat defensively. She'd thought she'd been doing a fair job of blending in.
He laughed. 'You just got out of school, right? And this is the first time your friends are dragging you somewhere like this?' There was a shake of the head. 'You don't seem to know the dances. And when the favourites are played you don't seem to react to them.'
Tanith looked at him, frowning a little. 'You've been noticing?' He couldn't have determined all that just from one brief conversation.
Instead of answering, he tilted his glass towards her. 'I'm David.'
David paused, glass half-lifted to his lips. 'What, really?'
She frowned. '...yes. Really.'
'Huh. Pleased to meet you, then. Tanith.'
Bloody Muggles. She forced a smile. 'So you're a regular?'
'Every other Friday it's live music here. That's more my thing. But I have to fill the other nights somehow.' David took a swig of his drink.
'Live music. You mean bands?' She was working hard to not sound like a complete idiot and make him suspicious, but he didn't seem too surprised at the notion that she was a bit clueless about everything.
'Actually it's just me and my guitar when I'm up there, but there are bands.' He leaned against the bar, looking sideways at her. 'So if this kind of thing isn't your scene, what is?'
Tanith blinked, a brief stab of panic. 'Oh. You know. Pub. Staying in. I spend a lot of time working, to be honest, this is my first night off in a while.'
'So you came to listen to this racket?' He grinned, gesturing. 'Let me guess. You usually just listen to the charts? All that crap?'
She laughed, a little nervously. 'Something like that.'
'Well, this isn't the best introduction to real music.' He nodded at the speakers, set up on the walls around them. 'You should come along next week. That's got some real talented people. It's a bit more mellow, too. Some of the groups just do covers, but for most of us it's our own material.'
'Oh, so - you write songs?' That sounded a bit safer. It's not like she'd be expected to know anything about material he'd written.
'Some. Been trying to move out of the warbling and wailing that Oasis has reintroduced to rock. I'm a bit more Pearl Jam and Nirvana than Britpop.'
He might as well have been talking in another language, but Tanith nodded. 'I'd... like to hear that.' It wasn't an insincere expression of interest. She'd spent enough time studying Muggle art to be able to appreciate culture beyond just the wizarding, and though Cal was the man with the ear for music, she had no objections to broadening her horizons on principle.
And it was a distraction. This man, was a distraction. He wasn't looking at her like she was crazy for working as hard as she did, or with some thinly-disguised pity or disapproval or something else equally demeaning. Perhaps it was just because he didn't know her yet, but being freed of the sense of being judged or looked down on was more than a little liberating.
And why, exactly, should she feel guilty for enjoying the company of some man she'd been speaking to for all of five minutes, who was still pleasant and not taking himself more seriously and not unattractive, in a somewhat rumpled, unshaven, devil-may-care kind of way, and a good smile.
It wasn't like she had promised anything to Tobias, who had left the country without a word - who had kissed her and they had still never talked about it - and who still had the right to be grieving over Annie. And he'd barely written to her.
'Like I said. Come down next week.' David gave a lopsided smile, running his fingers through his hair and draining his drink. 'It should be good. Acoustic stuff. Not this.' He pointed upwards, just as one song died abruptly. Then another started, and his smile broadened slowly, looking distinctly more impressed. 'That's better.'
She blinked. Then, drew a deep breath. 'Okay. So, you've got me. I'm here because my friends dragged me here and I don't have the first clue about this kind of music.' Tanith nodded at the speakers. 'So this is a good song?'
'This,' David said, expression going a mixture of amused and confident, 'is Killing in the Name Of.' He turned to gesture for some more drinks from the bartender, who seemed to know him well enough to not need specific instructions, and shortly they both had fresh glasses of Jack Daniels in front of them. 'You won't have heard of Rage Against the Machine, then, but they're an American band pretty big on their anti-establishment rage...'
'Cal... what's Oyster Jam?'
Cal was fighting to walk straight - or, rather, fighting to keep the Nat who was leaning on him for support straight as the four of them slumped down the road towards the Leaky Cauldron. 'What?'
It was about 2 AM. Or, rather, it had been 2 AM when the club had shut down and kicked them out, and they'd spent some time trying to remember exactly the way back. A taxi driver outside had offered his services, but none of them were sure whether asking for a ride to the Leaky Cauldron was a good idea, or even feasible.
Cal was probably the most sober. Compared to his rather waifish girlfriend, Tanith who had spent the first portion of the evening drinking so she didn't have to dance and then had seen her drinks bought for her, and Jacob who'd been plied with alcohol by his pretty brunette thing all night.
So the Welshman was focusing a bit too much on navigating to really pay attention to Tanith's question.
'Oyster Clam. Jam. Something. They're a band. Or it's a song.' She was mostly upright of her own accord, walking pretty straight but her words were slurring quite badly.
'Blue Öyster Cult?' Cal asked, wondering where the hell Tanith had heard of them. 'They did Don't Fear the Reaper?'
'...that's not it. Pearl Clam?'
'Pearl Jam?' Cal's nose wrinkled. 'American band. Don't really know them. Why? None of their stuff played tonight.'
'I got talking music.'
Cal frowned. Had hell frozen over? 'With what? A deaf guy?'
Tanith giggled. Definitely drunk. 'No! With a man. He talked music, at least. I feel educated.'
'Educated enough to forget Pearl Jam?' Cal squinted.
'I got a more important question.' Jacob, Cal had decided, was a deceptive drunk. He walked straight. He talked straight. He'd just tried quite eloquently to convince them that the Leaky Cauldron was in completely the wrong direction. That was a dangerous habit.
But then, Cal wondered how often the rather straight-laced Auror had been lured into alcohol. He didn't know Jacob Van Roden as Tanith, or even as well as Tobias had, but either way the man was not known for being the most sociable creature in the world. The idea that he had criticised Tanith's isolationism was staggering more in what it said about her than about him.
'What's that, Jake?' Next to Cal, Nat giggled when she tripped, and he was just glad that by now he was more dragging her than expecting her to walk off her own steam. At least she was still as light as ever.
'How do you even use a phone?' He was, Cal now realised, turning a piece of paper over in his hands and squinting at it with some confusion.
'Give me that!' Tanith staggered over and plucked the paper out of his hands, waving it in the air. 'Is this that dopey brunette's number? Oh, Van Roden, you can do better...'
'You're assuming he's after her brains,' Cal pointed out, then straightened up as he saw the swinging sign of the Leaky Cauldron as they turned the next corner. The streets were notably empty, which probably wasn't so unusual at this time of night.
'He should be,' Tanith said a little haughtily. 'You don't want some superficial little idiot...'
'And who was your dapper young man tonight, then, Cole, hmm?' Jacob challenged with a smirk. 'You're allowed to play the field but I'm not?'
'What did you even talk about?'
There was a sharp silence here as Jacob squinted in effort to recall, but it was broken by Cal rattling the handle to the front door of the Cauldron. 'Locked,' he proclaimed. 'We'll have to take the gate to the back.'
'S'weird,' Nat slurred from his shoulder. 'Even at this time... s'rarely locked...'
Cal looked down at his girlfriend as he steered her around the side of the building and through the narrow alleyway that would lead them to the back yard - and the brick wall to let them into Diagon Alley. 'Oh, you're going to be a joy in the morning, aren't you.'
Nat smiled innocently. ''m always a joy!'
By the time he'd got there Tanith and Jacob, up ahead, were squabbling about the order to tap the bricks, Tanith finally getting it right first if only because she'd batted Jacob out of the way and thus had the opportunity to try more.
Had Cal been more sober, he might have noticed what was wrong. But in his defence, neither of the Aurors did either, slouching their way through the quiet roads of Diagon Alley.
And it was quiet. Not a single person out at this time of night. Not a single light in a single shop front. Any illumination creeping from the windows above was sparse, and always dim, and always from behind drawn curtains.
Had they been more attentive, or more accustomed to Diagon Alley at two in the morning, they might have smelled a rat. But Jacob said his goodbyes at one corner, leaving them to amble their way back towards the office they had a flat above.
The stairs were an interesting challenge through the haze of alcohol, and through needing to steer Nat up them. Then there was a brief drama as Tanith tried to find the key, and couldn't, and Cal looked for his in vain, until it turned out Tanith's was in the first pocket she'd looked in, and, giggling - quietly, to try to not rouse their neighbours - they all staggered into the dark flat.
Only, it wasn't dark. It should have been, they'd left all the lights off, but the fireplace was crackling merrily, and there was a glint of lamps in the corner.
And two tall figures standing by the mantelpiece.
Fear twisted in Cal's belly as recognition sank in, cutting like a knife through the haze of alcohol. With a start he straightened up, and turned to push Nat bodily back through the door the moment he crossed the threshold.
'Nat! Run! Get out of here!'
But a spell had gone off the moment he'd appeared, shooting under his arm and hitting the staggering, confused Nat. Instantly her limbs locked up and she fell on the floor in a stiff, crumpled heap.
Cal didn't have much time to react to this as he turned back to the room with a shocked expression. But Tanith did.
There was a flash of magic in the air, from her spell flying and the magical shield that went up to deflect it, and Cal hadn't realised she could go for her wand so fast. He was still fumbling for his own when a shadow fell over him, the bigger of the two figures, and a fist was unceremoniously planted in the side of his face.
His vision exploded before his eyes into bright sparks as he went down, too inebriated and shocked to resist a blow like that. He hit the carpet hard, his wand spinning out of his hand and under the armchair, just as a fresh spell went off and, out of the corner of his eye, he could see Tanith being pinned up against the wall by an invisible, magical force, disarmed.
'Stay down, boy,' the figure above him commanded in a voice which would brook no opposition, and from weariness and from pain and from fear, he didn't move. 'We didn't come here to fight.'
'What did you think would happen?' Tanith tried wriggling, in vain, against the magical restraints holding her about a foot above the ground, and it seemed there was some pressure against her neck from the strangled tone of voice. 'Criminals on the run from the law and our last meeting wasn't exactly friendly.'
'See, that's where you're wrong.' The other of the two, the one who'd been locked in the magical fight with Tanith, wore a smile that glinted in the firelight as he corrected her. 'Do you want to do the honours, my friend?'
The figure standing over Cal leaned down, holding a scroll, which he unrolled and held before Cal's swimming vision. 'We've been pardoned,' he said. 'By the order of the Minister of Magic, Pius Thicknesse. As of tonight.'
'Thicknesse? Minister of - what the hell?' Tanith swore, struggling again, this time with a strangled gurgle.
'The more you struggle, Miss Cole, the more these restraints will tighten. I suggest you stop if you don't want to be strangled,' said the tall form of Idaeus Robb, by now lounging casually against the mantelpiece.
Cal blinked, fighting into a sitting position and looking up at his father standing over him. 'Pardoned,' he echoed weakly. Determinedly he tried to focus on the piece of parchment being held in front of him; he could see the letterhead, even see the seal of the Minister of Magic at the bottom of the command, see his father's and Robb's names on the document, but he knew too little to begin to even guess at the veracity of this.
'And now senior advisors to Mister Yaxley, new head of the Magical Law Enforcement Division,' said Thanatos Brynmor with a smug, if slightly cautious smile. 'We just came to give you the good news.'
'Your hospitality is lacking,' Robb added helpfully.
'Your welcome is lacking!' Tanith choked. 'I don't know what crazy lies you're spouting, but if you think you're going to get away with attacking us, hurting Nat...'
Cal looked sharply over his shoulder. 'Nat! If you've hurt her...'
'We're not here to hurt her.' His father straightened up. 'We're here to arrest her.'
Tanith gave another swear, another jerk, and her voice was by now sounding like she was trying to talk through a noose. 'On what fucking charge?'
'Simple.' Robb shrugged. 'Theft of magical power. The same crime every mudblood is charged with, for how else can they be witches and wizards?'
'We thought we wouldn't waste time getting her corruption away from you.' Brynmor looked down at his son with a dark expression. 'She's to be taken to Azkaban. Where she will stay unless there's some chance she can prove some magical heritage.'
Cal had been half-sprawled all this time, his right hand splayed out - and reaching further and further under the chair, getting closer and closer to his wand which had been just out of reach.
Then his hand wrapped around it, and he looked up at his father with a curled lip. 'Like hell you are!' he snarled, bringing his wand whipping up to face him, a spell on the tip of his mind...
Before his father again planted his fist in his temple, and this time his vision exploded only briefly into a thousand bright sparks before he sagged back, his head hitting the carpet hard, and he collapsed into blissful unconsciousness.