Chapter 8 : The Boy Who Cried...
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The state of the economy had not been the first thing on Cal's mind when he'd realised just what was happening to Wizarding Britain. Hypothetically he supposed that international trade might be affected by a coup, and businesses might be making less money, but it hadn't especially made him think about his job security.
Apparently an admin monkey in the Department of International Magical Cooperation was no longer so necessary under the rule of Minister Thicknesse.
Cleaning out his desk would have been embarrassing if Cal had actually had anything to clean out. As it was, he only had a mug that had been used once and then never washed to retrieve, and had then glared at his manager until he was escorted out of the Ministry.
Down into the lobby with the huge 'Magic is Might' banners and the grotesque statue that had been there the first day he'd stumbled into work, and towards the floo fireplaces until-
He didn't know the voice, and Cal couldn't help but scowl as he turned, holding his rather sad cardboard box with its dirty mug. What he was met with was not what he'd expected. In the hubbub he hadn't been able to tell if he was being addressed by a man or a woman, so he could only falter for a moment as he saw the young woman in the robes of the Magical Law Enforcement Squad trotting over to him and his former supervisor.
She just nodded politely at Cal's ex-manager with a dismissive air that could only speak of being confident in one's own power, before fixing Cal with a smile. 'Mister Brynmor, Supervisor Brynmor has asked to see you.'
Cal tensed, ice shooting up his spine. 'Has he, now.'
'He sent me down just now to find you.' Her smile was picture-perfect, but it didn't quite reach her bright green eyes. And though Cal had to accept that it was a good smile, there was an obsequiousness there that he immediately didn't like, this hint of satisfaction at doing her job. And in Cal's opinion, anyone who appeared satisfied at working for Death Eaters could go straight to hell.
'I didn't realise it was Supervisor Brynmor now.' Cal's smile was equally forced. And actually, it was a lie; Tanith had falteringly explained that she was working for his father now. He just hadn't cared about the details.
'If you'd come with me down to the office?' the Enforcer asked, clearly ignoring the attitude.
Cal turned unsmilingly to his former boss, and suddenly felt somewhat guilty for begrudging the poor man for doing his job. He, at least, wasn't a Death Eater supervisor. Just the lesser evil of middle-management. 'And to think I thought I was going to get the afternoon off,' he said humourlessly, before nodding to the man and turning to follow the Enforcer. 'Lead on.'
The Department of Magical Law Enforcement had changed a lot since Cal had seen it. Whenever he visited Tanith at work - usually to bring something she'd forgotten from home, or to drag her from the office - she'd been at the main headquarters, the separate building. That was where most records were stored, training was held, and the detainment of prisoners before they were shipped to Azkaban took place. The offices in the Ministry were more for government business or liaising with other departments. In fact, he was quite sure he'd only been there once or twice before.
Back then, it had been a rather sterile place littered with wanted pictures and various posters warning about strange people in alleyways or not to trust unknown magical devices in case they were secretly cursed. It had been full of serious people doing serious work.
Now the only word for it was dark. Whilst most departments had seen only cursory changes, with the odd Death Eater or suspected sympathiser coming in to supervise or replace one or two staff members, the MLE had been gutted. Almost nobody at the higher echelons had remained in place, according to Tanith, either fired or imprisoned - or forced to go on the run to avoid imprisonment. Or, of course, killed. The footsoldiers of the MLE were mostly untouched, but there were still new faces there, and the odd person elevated rather quickly, and whilst people in the DIMC had mostly gotten away with muttering to themselves and moaning about Thicknesse's regime while Ambassadors were ejected and notifications of political asylum came in, they didn't think they'd disappear if they were overheard.
Obviously the people who had to enforce this new government were going to be monitored more closely, and Cal couldn't stop the hairs on the back of his neck from standing up as he was led through the corridors.
Eventually, the Enforcer - whose smug smile was beginning to look forced around the edges, enough for something potentially approaching empathy to tug at Cal - came to a halt outside of a closed door, gesturing. 'He's waiting for you, sir.'
Since he'd been in school a scant three months ago, Cal couldn't help but flinch at the term 'sir'. Even when Death Eaters ruled Britain, some things he just couldn't get used to.
'Sure. Hold this,' he said, and shoved the cardboard box and the uncleaned mug - which he was sure had begun to spawn new life after being so unsupervised for so long - into her hands, before he just pushed the door open.
Perhaps he was meant to knock. But he was fairly sure he could get away with such a discourteous move. And if this was the extent of rebellion he could indulge in and live through, then this was what he would do.
The office was large and opulent, and had to have belonged to someone quite important before now. Someone who was almost certainly not in the employment of the MLE anymore, and it was unlikely that they were both alive and free. The walls were fine wood-panelling, there were several large bookcases filled with hefty volumes on wizarding history and law - with a few notable gaps - and above the mantelpiece was just bare wall, the wood a slightly lighter shade.
Whatever picture had been there before, obviously the office's new occupant didn't care for it.
The man himself was seated behind a desk, leaning towards what looked like an old-fashioned phonograph, focusing on the horn. The internal communication system which had only been installed in the more important offices, while everyone else had to travel by foot or send the paper airplanes. How Cal had coveted them in his old job.
But there was little time to be jealous of Thanatos Brynmor.
'He's still in the country. We'd know if he left, he wouldn't have the facilities to do this abroad!' Brynmor was roaring into the horn with an irritation which made Cal flinch as he closed the door behind him. 'So I don't want any excuses!'
A tinny voice came back that Cal couldn't fully hear, and it didn't seem like Brynmor was paying it much attention as he looked up at the door's closing. There was a moment as father and son's eyes met, before Brynmor lifted a hand over the horn, leaning in closer and interrupting.
'I don't want excuses. I want results. Just get me Percival McGowan. Brynmor out.'
Then the horn was tilted downwards and Brynmor stood up, prompting Cal to give up on wondering where he recognised the name 'Percival McGowan' from.
There was not much between them in height or build. Both of them were tall, both of them were broad, his father not much wasted from his time in Azkaban - reports had suggested he had fought the Dementors’ presence with determined physical exercise - and Cal himself toned from a Beater's work. Both had the mop of dark, closely-cropped hair, both had the same deep brown eyes, both had the same firmness of jaw and sturdiness of feature.
Cal had not had much opportunity in the past to study his father in the flesh. Before that he could only consult photographs, but even then he had concluded he took more after his father than his late Death Eater mother.
It was just quite horrendous how much this was like looking twenty-five years into the future.
'Thank you for coming,' Thanatos Brynmor said quietly, moving around the desk towards him - and then faltering with inexplicable uncertainty. 'I hope Perkins was polite.'
'Perkins?' Cal blinked, his mouth dry, before he realised that Perkins had to be the Enforcer. 'Oh - yeah. She was a real peach.'
Thanatos frowned. 'She's a good girl. From a good family. She came rather highly recommended.'
This, of course, did not especially commend 'Perkins' to Cal. 'She's fine,' he said with an angry smirk. 'She's doing an excellent job of flunkey work, and of holding my stuff.'
'Your stuff?' Thanatos tilted his head.
'I... my desk.' Irrationally Cal felt a stab of - was it shame? He tried to clamp down on it quickly, instead tilting his chin with a hint of defiance. He didn't give a damn what his father thought. 'I got fired.'
'Oh. Of course.' Thanatos nodded somewhat uncertainly. 'I heard they were making reductions across the departments. I didn't realise that affected you.' He stepped back towards his desk, waving a hand. 'I'll find something for you here -'
'Like hell you will!'
Silence hung in the air between them, and Cal found himself holding his breath after the words slipped out, escaping of their own accord. But he had spoken, now, and so there was nothing for it but to push forward. 'Where's Nat?'
Thanatos sighed, leaning on the desk. 'Nathalie Lockett has been found guilty of having not a witch or wizard parent. In fact, she can't prove a single magical individual in her entire family history. So she's in Azkaban.'
Cal's fist clenched. 'I forgot, this is a crime now.'
'I don't make the rules, I just enforce them.' Thanatos opened his hands, actually sounding apologetic. 'I cannot make exceptions. Not even for my own son.'
'You don't want to!' Cal exclaimed.
Thanatos straightened. 'She is important to you. Whilst I cannot but disapprove that you would choose someone of her heritage, I imagine she has some qualities to commend her. And I would spare her Azkaban for your sake if I could.'
Cal looked away, a muscle at the corner of his jaw twitching. This was not what he'd expected. A lecture, perhaps. He'd wondered if this was going to be the prelude to his own one-way ticket to Azkaban. This genuine concern was just simply disconcerting.
'Why am I here?' he asked at last, rather tightly.
'I thought we could talk.' Thanatos' voice was unwelcomely honest. 'The last two occasions were not exactly conducive to discussion.'
'And just what the hell were we going to talk about? Politics? Or did you want to sit down and discuss my career options?' He threw his hands in the air, unable to bite down on the frustration simmering in his gut. Because it was either that or submit to the panic threatening to take hold.
'You should be pleased to know that the man who murdered your mother has escaped justice,' Thanatos said darkly, moving to return to his desk chair. His shoulders were abruptly rather hunched, taut, and a frown tugged at his brow.
'William Rayner has managed to evade the authorities and has fled the country. We think he's heading for Germany.' Thanatos' voice was a deep, dissatisfied rumble. 'I thought you might want to know.'
Elation burst in Cal's chest at the news of his foster-father's escape. Will Rayner might have killed his mother - but his mother had been a Death Eater, and in the same fight Rayner had avoided being murdered by Voldemort's forces and had successfully apprehended his father, dooming him to Azkaban.
It was impossible to hate a man who was more family to him than the mother he had been forced to kill.
So he gave a tight smile. 'Good,' he said simply.
'I imagine he will not try to contact you,' Thanatos continued. 'Nor will, I imagine, another international renegade you are familiar with: Tobias Grey.'
Cal's grin just broadened. 'Thanks for confirming Toby's still staying from out of your grasp.'
'For now.' Thanatos returned the grin, though now it lacked all pleasantries. 'I am sure that if they contact you, however, you will inform the proper authorities.'
'You know as well as I do that I won't,' Cal pointed out bluntly.
Thanatos sighed, his shoulders sagging, and he reached for a stack of parchments on his desk. 'I was afraid you were going to say that,' he said, pulling off the top sheets. 'You know, Azkaban is in danger of over-crowding. There has been a suggestion that low-risk Muggle thieves of magic might just be stripped of their wands and returned to their Muggle homes.'
Something tightened in Cal's throat, and suddenly the pieces before him were bright and clear. He was no fool. Thanatos' implication was impossible to ignore. He could save Nat from Azkaban, let her go home to her parents, spare her all of this...
Then he scowled. 'I will not feed you information on my friends!' he snapped, pointing angrily.
'You did before,' Thanatos said levelly. 'Or have you forgotten how we realised that Annie MacKenzie would be such a target?'
'I was just talking to you!' Cal howled, throwing his hands in the air. 'You regret that there has been such a rift between us? That I don't understand you, understand your way of life? Maybe this wouldn't have happened if you hadn't gone on to abuse my trust. Oh, and murder my best friend’s girlfriend!’
'I am not putting the cause before you!' Thanatos snapped, straightening up. 'I am putting the cause first because then it will provide a better way of life for you. My priorities are not as misguided as you. I am still choosing the person I care about the most.'
Cal closed his eyes and thought of Nat - thought of her smile, of her laugh, of the simple way she could raise his spirits - and then his expression closed down thunderously. 'I won't be your spy,' he hissed. 'I won't sell out Tobias. Or Will. I won't spy on Tanith. Not even for Nat.' He took a slow step forward. 'And not even because I care for them more. But you know what? If she got out of Azkaban, and knew what the price for her freedom was? She would hate it.' His eyes narrowed. 'She would hate me.'
Thanatos watched him for a moment, his expression increasingly stony. And when he was done, he just gave a short, sharp nod. 'As you wish,' he said quietly, and Cal did his best to ignore the hint of wistfulness in his voice. 'Just you know that hiding information about wanted criminals is a serious crime.'
Cal gave a humourless smile. 'You'd have to prove it,' he snarled.
'Very true. And this is very difficult.' Thanatos leaned back, steepling his fingers. 'I suppose, if they try to contact you, there'd be the chance they would try to contact Miss Lockett.' He nodded thoughtfully to himself. 'Should we have reason to suspect, we would have to interrogate her.'
Again, his meaning was not lost on Cal, and he straightened. 'You bastard-'
'Should we have reason to suspect,' Thanatos repeated sharply, cutting him off with a thunderous glare. 'At this moment I believe they would not be so foolish as to approach you. At this moment.' He took a deep breath. 'Desperation may breed foolishness.'
'They won't be that dumb. They know about you,' Cal said, praying he was right. And praying that, even if he was right, nobody would have reason to suspect the opposite.
Because he was sure suspicion, rather than fact, would be enough for Nat to be punished for his silence.
And then he wasn't sure what he would do.
Thanatos didn't reply for a long moment, stacking the pile of papers, before he pushed what had to be Nat's file over to one side. When he looked up his expression was taut, controlled, and his eyes rather empty. 'That was all, Cal. Thank you for seeing me.'
He turned to go, before his father cleared his voice again. 'Perkins will see you out. If you need anything, just tell her.'
Cal hesitated, looking over his shoulder. 'I don't want anything from you.'
Thanatos straightened a little. 'You will need something to live off now you've lost your job, if you don't want me to find you something. She will make sure that your stipend from the government comes through. She's my aide but she has enough time to be placed at your disposal.'
There was a suggestion that he would brook no opposition to this, and so Cal barely had to even think the word 'spy'.
And yet, he couldn't live off his meagre savings and a tense Tanith's charity. So he just gave a grunt of acceptance before he tore out of the office, stomping into the corridor and slamming the door shut behind him - only to find Perkins still standing there, waiting for him.
The gloom of the MLE offices suited her. Perhaps it was the dark uniform robes, or her long dark hair pinned back somewhat tightly to make her pale skin stand out in the gloom. She was tall - tall enough that he could look her in the eye, which was unusual enough without her bright green eyes glinting as they met his.
'So you're at my disposal,' Cal said, and suddenly the darkness of the corridor was rather closer than he'd remembered.
'That's what Mister Brynmor said.' She nodded, stepping closer, and shifted the cardboard box to her other arm as she extended a hand. 'Amanda Perkins.'
'Cal Brynmor.' Cal swallowed, reaching to take the box with some sheepishness. It seemed like such a petty gesture, now. He'd bin the mug once he had the chance, anyway.
'I know.' Her lips twitched. 'I saw your picture on your file.'
He straightened up a little. 'I have a file?'
'It's quite... notable.' Perkins clasped her hands behind her back once they were free, straightening. 'You are an interesting man, sir.'
Cal flinched. 'Don't call me "sir",' he insisted before he could stop himself. If nothing else, she had to be around his age - he thought he dimly recalled a Ravenclaw a year or two above him who looked like her - and that she was probably older just made it disconcerting.
'Calling you "Mister Brynmor" would be odd when dealing with your father,' Perkins pointed out.
'Then call me Cal.' He scowled. 'Just don't think this makes us friends or anything.'
'Of course not. Cal. I'll show you out.' Without missing a beat she gestured down the corridor, and he fell into step behind her, grimacing.
'So you're my father's lap-dog,' he grumbled.
'Your father looked through the Enforcer ranks for an aide from a good family who he thought had the skill-set he required. I had an interview and was selected,' Perkins told him smoothly.
'A good family. You mean a Death Eater family.'
Perkins' expression didn't change. 'My family are pure-blooded. That is all it meant. None of them have ever been indicated in any criminal activity, even in breaking the misguided laws of previous administrations many patriots have been pardoned for.'
Patriots. I might go vomit. Cal scowled at the back of her, watching the swishing of her uniform robes around her graceful form. Avoiding being caught was no indication of anything when it came to Death Eaters, anyway. 'So what does being "at my disposal" entail?'
She glanced over her shoulder, and this time her lips twitched as her gaze lingered on him for half a moment. 'Whatever you need it to mean.'
Cal's frown deepened. 'Then what did my father mean?'
Perkins did falter. 'I think right now, just show you out. But I will meet with you every week to make sure your unemployment stipend is received. Your father thought it best I deliver this directly rather than relying on bureaucracy. He'd want me to help you with anything you need at all of these meetings.'
So Thanatos' surprise at his unemployment was a lie. That, at least, was not a surprise.
'And then you report back to him.' Cal skidded to a stop as they finally reached the lift, and he gripped his cardboard box tighter as he pushed the button and turned to face her. 'Fine. You can deliver the money. And then you can go.'
'Really.' Perkins straightened up. 'Because I can arrange meetings with anyone in the Ministry when it comes to finding you new work. Or outside.' She reached into a pocket and pulled out an organiser. 'The directors of all the major Quidditch teams will take an Owl from Supervisor Brynmor's office.'
Cal's breath caught in his throat, before the anger bubbled over it and overcame his shock. 'If my father thinks he can buy my affection with a job -'
'Your father wishes the best for you.' But Perkins hesitated again, her gaze flickering as she watched his reaction. '...and I imagine that this is rather difficult for you.'
He faltered, not having expected the sudden quieting of her voice. 'What?'
'Your girlfriend in Azkaban. Your father being as... infamous as Supervisor Brynmor.' Perkins drew an uncertain breath. 'I joined the Enforcers two years ago, si- Cal. I joined Cornelius Fudge's ministry. Not Pius Thicknesse's.'
The implications hung heavy in the air, and Cal just blinked as she took a step forward, reaching to rest a hand on his forearm. Her hands were warm on his bare skin, and the hairs on the back of his neck stood up again, tingling somewhat more pleasantly this time. 'Let me help you.'
Then the lift declared its arrival with a loud ding, and Cal jerked upright, pulling away.
He didn't look at her as he stormed into the lift, didn't say a word until the cage was pulled shut between them and the lift began to rise. Then he failed to avoid her gaze, those sharp green eyes, and his expression twisted.
'I'll see you next week.'
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