'Oh, do brighten up, darling. The world's not ended.'
Tanith could only lift her gaze balefully at Ariane Drake as she slid into the chair in the small teashop, hands wrapped around her steaming mug as if it might hold the solution to all of life's problems.
She had never had high expectations when it came to meeting her two former roommates for a cup of tea. That would be why she'd dodged the invitations for weeks at a time. But she had expected to get beyond a brief greeting before being driven to such frustration.
'What,' she asked waspishly, 'is there to be happy about, exactly.'
This gleeful exclamation came from the modest form of Melanie Larkin as she threw herself down onto the over-stuffed sofa, clutching a teacup and a small plate holding the precious biscuit that had caused her so much happiness.
Ariane gave an indulgent smile which did a good job of making her look as haughty as she was and somewhat more above it all and intelligent than she was. 'Apparently, sweet snacks are a reason to be happy.'
'Have you tried their shortbread? Seriously?' Melanie waggled the plate at Tanith, who just declined with a tight smile.
'But really, Tanith.' Ariane swept her long, gorgeous blonde hair over one shoulder and leaned forwards with a smile so patronising it made even the tea taste sour. 'You shouldn't be looking so miserable.'
Tanith arched an eyebrow at them. 'Really. And why not?'
'I thought you always told me that's not how arguments work?' Melanie asked through a mouthful of shortbread. 'That you have to tell us why rather than us tell you why not?'
Often, Tanith assumed Melanie Larkin to be more stupid than she was. Often, Tanith suspected this was intentional on Melanie's part.
'After all,' Melanie continued. 'You're not dead.'
'No, you're not,' Ariane contributed helpfully. 'And you're not injured, and you're not ill - are you?'
Tanith sighed. 'No,' she said. 'I am not injured, ill, or dead. This is not a séance over tea with my ghost.'
'I did that with my grandmother once,' Melanie mused, but she straightened up before Tanith could peer at her curiously. 'And none of your friends or family are dead, injured, or ill, are they.'
She rolled her shoulders. 'No, but -'
'So what's there to be upset about?' Ariane asked with a small grin.
Tanith drew a deep breath, and leaned forwards. 'For starters,' she said quietly, 'let's consider the fact that the Minister of Magic is dead.'
Melanie shrugged. 'We've got a new one. Did you know him?'
'No, but -'
'Lots of people are dead. You don't see it ruining my day.' Melanie took a large gulp of tea.
No, it'd need to affect you before it could ruin your day, you self-absorbed cow, Tanith thought uncharitably, before she grimaced and straightened. 'Let's also consider a large number of former Death Eaters have been pardoned for their crimes and brought into the government.'
She let her voice drop a good few decibels as she spoke, despite her anger. Because this was a crowded coffee shop, and even though it was off the beaten track, down a quiet corner of Diagon Alley, you never knew who was here. Never knew who was listening.
And it didn't do to complain too loudly about Pius Thicknesse's government.
'At least the war's over,' Melanie pointed out. 'You don't have the risk of being attacked just for walking down the street.'
No, just the risk of being arrested and bundled into prison for walking down the street. Tanith thought it perhaps wiser to not even try voicing this one out loud. She drew a deep breath. 'Then how about the fact that one of my best friends has been thrown into Azkaban, and another can't return to the country or he'll join her?'
The two other women exchanged glances at this, and Tanith's shoulders tensed. There was a reason she had avoided her two Slytherin housemates throughout the weeks since they had left school. They made her feel like she was right back there.
'People don't get thrown into Azkaban for nothing, Tanith,' Ariane said abruptly, waving a hand dismissively. 'And I won't deny that the government are being a bit more forceful, but at least we feel safer!'
Tanith rolled her shoulder. 'I suppose it works out better for you that your father got that big promotion, didn't it,' she said, just short of an angry growl in her voice. Bacchus Drake had never been arrested for Death Eater activity, but she'd seen his file. Seen the suspicions, the surveillance teams placed time after time only for him to slip through the gaps. It hadn't been confirmed, not even in that unofficial way.
At least, until the Death Eaters had got into power and Bacchus Drake had suddenly become ten times more powerful in the Ministry.
Ariane lifted her hands. 'It's good for Daddy. But it doesn't affect me, and my job at Madam Malkin's has remained secure. Even in times of heightened security people still need the perfect robes designed for them.'
'That's all that's important,' Melanie said, and her voice dropped even though she was by now stirring a sugar lump into her generous cup of tea and trying to look as innocuous as possible. This was, Tanith realised with a start, the larger girl's idea of subtlety.
'We're safer now,' she continued. 'You can walk down the street and not be attacked. If you accept the schemes to move you into a government-grade position, you get paid better.'
'Not everyone has a choice on those,' Tanith commented, remembering how many previously private services had been absorbed by the Ministry. How angry Jennifer Riley had been when her law firm had been absorbed by the MLE, and she was now set to prosecute dissidents who were arrested.
It wasn't like defence lawyers were a part of the process any more anyway.
'But plenty of people do,' Ariane squeaked, not quite as subtly as Melanie, and whatever secret message was coming from the latter it had not reached her best friend. 'And the pay from the Ministry is excellent!'
'And yet Cal's lost his job. Go figure.' Though Tanith would eat her hat if Cal's recent unemployment had come from anywhere other than his father. Especially considering her housemate was now finding himself utterly reliant upon the Ministry, and by extension his father, to be able to eat and pay the rent.
And she didn't like that Perkins woman who seemed set to come around every week.
'Well, his was just a low-level administrator position in a Department that's downsizing,' Ariane said gently. 'And I'm sure he'll be able to find something else, considering his father's influence.'
'He doesn't want his father's -'
'My point,' Melanie interjected, glaring a little at them both. 'Is that things could be a whole lot worse. You still have your job. It's a shame about Lockett, but...'
'But what?' Tanith had to keep the snap out of her voice if she didn't want to be overheard, but there was still anger in her eyes as she leant forwards. 'But that's just as well, she's a Muggle-born anyway?'
Melanie gritted her teeth, and met her gaze. 'But at least it's not you.'
Tanith rolled her eyes, making a small sound of disgust. 'And that's the important thing, isn't it?'
'In this day and age?' Melanie genteelly placed another sugar lump in her tea. 'When such bad things can happen, and can be brought down on yourself and your family if you put a step wrong?' She smiled humourlessly. 'Yes.'
Tanith had known her housemates to be possessing of a rather self-absorbed mercenary streak before. But she had also previously considered them to be too stupid to consider other people.
That Melanie seemed so self-absorbed and yet well-aware of it was disconcerting and rather unwelcome. If nothing else, she had thought better of the other woman.
'Anyway,' Ariane said, interrupting thanks to her finely-tuned senses of being able to tell when matters were tense courtesy of glares and discontented mumbling. 'Why can't Grey come back to the country? Where is he? Transylvania?'
'Russia,' Tanith mumbled.
'What did he do?' Melanie sounded rather more long-suffering in the question.
'Got the Ambassador to Russia deported.' Or that, at least, was what Tanith had heard. Antonius Clint had definitely left Russia in some disgrace, and was definitely influential - or, had been - with the new administration.
'Oh. Well, that's quite impressive. In a very bad sort of way.' Ariane had spoken at first with a surprised smirk, but then, seemingly realising she might be overheard, attempted to mitigate this with the worst effort at subtlety Tanith had ever witnessed.
'He's also been working with Val McGowan.' It didn't seem like this was the sort of thing that she was supposed to be hiding. At the very least, it wasn't secret information, it just hadn't hit much of the public eye.
'Who?' Melanie squinted.
'Former editor of the Clarion.' Tanith waved a hand. 'McGowan's been trying to-' She paused, drew a deep breath, and summoned the company line she'd been fed for the past week. 'He's been trying to get together papers full of dissident propaganda and spread them to the public, but he hasn't been doing a very good job of it. Distribution appears to have been the problem.'
'What's Tobias been doing, then?' Ariane asked, pouring herself a fresh cup of tea lazily.
'We think he's been collating the information and printing the papers.' Tanith couldn't help but sigh at the prospect that Tobias was making things so much worse for himself, with so little success.
Because Val McGowan was, she was convinced, a crackpot. Running amok and stirring up trouble and with very little real plan of action. His revolutionary ideals did not appear to have survived contact with reality, and now he was on the run from people who would kill him if they found him.
And yet, he had little idea of how to be successful at the efforts that would see him murdered.
Tanith was not surprised Tobias was being a rabble-rouser. But it seemed somewhat ineffective. She had seen the sad little pamphlets, with their half-baked information. Being on the run, McGowan clearly couldn't tap half the contacts he wanted to, and so was reliant upon the odd bit of luck, which usually made a headline for his leaflets, and the rest was filled in with wild conjecture or secrets which weren't at all secrets.
When it came to an effort to rile up the populace against the Ministry's administration, and to bring to light every little ugly deed they did, or every victory against their injustices, it was sorely lacking.
'I haven't even heard of these papers,' Ariane said with a dismissive wave of the hand, and Tanith's heart would have sunk if she hadn't considered the other woman to be completely not McGowan's target audience. The daughter of a Death Eater was hardly the kind to listen to anti-Ministry rhetoric. 'That's a shame. Grey was always such a smart boy.'
'He is,' Tanith corrected a little tersely. 'But so long as he's in Russia, he's safe.'
Melanie made a small noise of irritation. 'Officially. Do you think countries won't make back door deals with each other to get trouble-makers silenced or brought back?'
Something twisted in Tanith's gut, but she tilted her head a little. 'I don't think it'll come to that,' she said, and wished she could have argued with the principle rather than just the particular. 'This leaflet isn't a big problem.'
Melanie met her gaze, and there was inexplicably a hint of sympathy in her eyes. 'Let's hope not.'
Ariane clapped her hands together in that little way of hers which made it clear she was bored of the conversation and desired to be the centre of attention as she leaned forwards. 'So, Tanith, how have you been?'
'Me?' Tanith squinted a little suspiciously. 'I've been... fine, I guess.'
'Adapting to your new job? It must be exciting, hunting down dissidents!'
Melanie rolled her eyes as Tanith leaned back, drawing a deep breath. 'I'm not really hunting anyone,' she said, shaking her head. 'They leave that to the more experienced, more proven people. I suppose I'm just an information gatherer.'
So far, she had not been involved in a single arrest of dissidents against the Ministry. So far, she had just collected and collated data, and set forth projections. And though she couldn't deny that she had probably caused the arrest of several people whose endeavours she supported, would even pursue herself if she had the chance, it still beat being the one to Stun them and drag them to Azkaban herself.
'Oh.' Ariane paused, clearly quite stopped in her tracks by how unglamorous Tanith's career was actually proving to be. She took a sip of tea and frowned. 'I thought you studied for a very long time for this?'
You actually think life is going to go on as it ever did, didn't you? That this is just a hiccup, a change in direction, but that the essentials will be much the same as they ever were, don't you? Tanith frowned at her friend - to use the term loosely - before she gave a sigh. Really, in essentials, Ariane's life was not likely set to change under Death Eaters.
'I did study a lot. But I need experience first,' she said, deciding to meet her at her own game.
'Oh, well, that'll just come with time,' Ariane said, waving her hand briefly. 'Though I could have a word with Daddy, see if there are any better jobs going down in the Wizengamot -'
'No!' Tanith tensed, shaking her head at the offer. The idea of working down there, where they judged and sentenced people with the bat of an eye and doomed them without even listening to a word they said, was enough to make her blood run cold. The only place she'd rather be less was Azkaban.
She cleared her throat as Ariane looked startled and a little hurt. 'I mean, well, you don't have to do that. I mean, I'd much rather achieve this myself. Or I could have had my father pull some strings.'
'Hmm.' Ariane looked rather unconvinced, but Tanith supposed this was more likely suspicion at the idea that Daedalus Cole could wield enough political might, these days, to get her ahead in life. It was not unreasonable suspicion.
'And anyway,' Tanith said, setting her teacup down firmly. 'That's my lunch break done with. I should get back into the office.'
Ariane rose as she did, and pulled her into a hug with firm kisses on the cheeks before Tanith could pull away from the taller woman. 'It was wonderful to see you, my dear,' she gushed, and though Tanith doubted she was insincere, it was also hard to be touched when she was like this with everyone. 'We must do this again some time.'
Then she let go, and Tanith turned to Melanie, who was still focused on her shortbread and most decidedly not moving to get up. Melanie just looked up at her and gave a small smile. 'Do stay out of trouble.'
There was a warning there, as well as a wish, and Tanith just gave a small nod before she turned to head for the teashop's door.
In the shop, the outside world seemed less relevant. This was a place that smelled of tea, and biscuits, and was covered in plush furnishings and pictures of pretty landscapes and that sort of soothing, calming scenery.
Stepping out into the bright sunlight did a good job, on the other hand, of exposing such a farce of an escape for what it was. Because the outside world was a cruel place. And she didn't just have to live in it, she had to work in it.
Right now, as a matter of fact.
The Diagon Alley of her memories was long, long gone. No more were there shops of brightly-coloured signs and exciting front windows, no more did wizards wander around this most central home of their kind, relaxed and for once not needing to or wanting to hide their nature.
Shops were closed, or at least had shutters down. Rubbish and debris littered the streets, nobody stopping long enough to tidy up, nobody wanting to go too near the signs of where a building had been damaged. You didn't want to pretend like you disapproved of these disciplinary measures. So witches and wizards hurried to their destination, shoulders stooped, heads bowed.
And above all, you ignored the Wandless.
They didn't bother Tanith. They knew better than to turn their desperate eyes or reaching hands towards a witch in Auror robes. But she saw them up ahead, begging pitifully for even a knut, or bemoaning the state of their lives.
The highest-profile Muggle-borns had gone to Azkaban. But there was no room for all of them if the Ministry wanted to send its worst enemies to the prison too, and it did. If they weren't executed, they wanted them under the tender care of the Dementors. So those Muggle-borns who slipped through the cracks just had their wands taken from them.
Some of them returned to the mundane world. To families and friends, and presumably tried to make their way without qualifications or familiarity, and presumably tried to forget.
Others were either more stubborn or didn't have this flexibility. Children of two Muggle-borns, still not magical by the definitions of the Ministry. Or those without family ties close enough to return to, those who wouldn't even know how to survive. There were plenty of Muggle-borns who had given up on the Muggle world at the age of eleven. When that was a lifetime ago, how were they supposed to survive in that world?
And yet they could not survive in the wizarding world, either. So they begged.
They scraped. And they hoped.
Tanith was glad they avoided her such that she didn't have to look them in the eye. Not for her guilt. But because she could not bring herself to see that much pathetic desperation in another human being when there was nothing she could do.
And she hated that she could see the thin line between pity and disgust.
So she was quick to make her way home to Floo back to the MLE office in Canary Wharf. There would be little for her to deal with that afternoon.
Except that when she found herself in the corridors of her departmental wing, it was not as quiet as she'd expected. Normally the field personnel - the former Death Eaters, and those who had loyally crept their way into being trusted - were in the field, conducting searches she preferred to not think about, and those like her, the mistrusted, did nothing more than put together reports and files to support them.
So, usually, her work was not so unpleasant. Compared to how it could be.
She could tell something was wrong the moment she opened the door to the main office. The pens were not quiet with Aurors - or Detectors, or whatever they were supposed to be these days - hard at work with their heads down. The room was, instead, bustling with activity.
And, at the front of the room, one broad, the other wiry, stood the two men she thought she hated more than anyone else in the world. Thanatos Brynmor. Idaeus Robb.
She really missed the days when she only had to see their faces on the Most Wanted Posters as Sixth and Fifth, respectively.
Brynmor was barking out orders, but he still saw her first, and jerked a finger in her direction. 'Cole! Get over here. We need you.'
The words sent a shiver up her spine, but still Tanith approached, straight-backed and expressionless. 'What brings you down here, sir?'
It was Robb who answered, standing with his arms folded across his chest, watching the hubbub of activity with an impassive gaze. 'We have a lead,' he said smoothly, 'on the McGowan case.'
Disappointment rose in her chest, but not surprise. It was hard to be surprised at the idea that Val McGowan's mad-cap scheme would reach an end eventually. Still, she fixed Robb with a cool look. 'So why are you here, sir?'
Robb rubbed his hands together. 'McGowan has contacts abroad. I am here to see if there are any leads which can help my department.'
'We've found a warehouse in Manchester where they've been hiding out. We've already put up the Displacement Aura. Now the only thing for it's to go in.' Brynmor smiled a smile which was altogether too humorous. 'Since half the department is chasing up the aftermath of the Potter Incursion, we're going to have to take some lower-rated Aurors with us.'
Jacob had been dragged into investigating the Potter Incursion. Tanith thought it likely this was because of his suspected role in charming that raincloud in Yaxley's office. She just wished he'd made it rain acid.
But she'd counted on him being there the first time she got dragged into the field. 'I'm still barely field-rated, sir. Even by old standards.'
'Old standards be damned. I remember what you did to Alfonse Sneddon.' Inexplicably, Brynmor grinned.
Robb sighed dryly. 'Yes, quite. Oh, how we laughed,' he said humourlessly, before turning to his compatriot. 'You had best get this mob under control.' Somehow Robb managed to get away with saying this without being hexed, and indeed did Brynmor just grumble before lifting his hands and bellowing for attention.
And then the briefing began. A warehouse with all of the exits identified. Hopefully their coming had not been anticipated, and so they would close on the location, surround it, and then send in an assault team.
Tanith could only be glad that she was going to remain with the perimeter team until Robb looked straight at her upon this assignment. 'And Cole. I'll be observing for anything related to McGowan's international contacts. So I'll have you with me for the perimeter watch. Just in case you spot anything interesting.'
Aside from the prospect of spending this unpleasant activity so close to Idaeus Robb, Tanith had to accept that it could be worse. It wasn't as if Tobias was going to be in the warehouse, after all.
Her gaze went to the rest of the room. The young and the disloyal, there was not a single happy expression on the faces of the Aurors present. And yet, it was not rebelliousness that ruled, but grim acceptance.
If they could quit, they would have done so. If they could run, they would have done so. But so far none of their consciences had been tried.
And, really, when it came down to a choice between the crackpot Val McGowan and their own lives, their families' lives, it was no contest. Tanith just had to think of little baby Leah to realise that there were few people she would not hex in the face to keep her niece safe.
It didn't take long for them to kit up and mobilise, though Tanith still reached under her desk for her tool belt, the one she didn't normally need to wear; the one stocked to the brim with Peruvian Darkness Powder, Distractors, and all manner of other 'toys' from the Weasley brothers.
They might just keep her, and those she cared about, alive. Even if that turned out to be people on both sides.
They had a Portkey to bypass the Displacement Aura, and deposit them a building away from their target. Then they moved.
Despite the shadow hanging over the entire operation, despite the thumping in her heart and the nausea in her gut Tanith hadn't experienced before any other raid, it was hard to ignore the fact that this was the biggest Auror operation she had ever been a part of. And that it was impressive.
She went to move out into the street just as a heavy hand grabbed her by the elbow, and she looked up at Robb with a curious, somewhat annoyed expression. 'What?' she hissed. 'We have to get into position to observe that alleyway.'
'It's not just that alleyway we need to observe. Think three-dimensionally, Cole. I thought you were intelligent,' Robb retorted, and pointed at a door to, of all places, the warehouse next to their target. 'We're going to need to watch the roof.’
The prospect of watching an exit with Idaeus Robb had been unpleasant enough. The idea of doing it from one of the roofs of this run-down industrial wasteland just made the entire thing reach levels of being nearly unbearable.
So as the rest of the Aurors moved into their positions, the map almost engraved on Tanith's memory, she found herself trotting up a heavy metal staircase towards the roof of the adjacent warehouse.
'It is a shame about your friend, Mister Grey,' Robb then said, and Tanith cursed herself for having fleetingly thought the situation couldn't get any worse.
'What is?' she asked through gritted teeth, wand out, watching the way ahead. She had to force herself to keep her voice low as they went from stairway to stairway, keenly aware of the possibility that their information might be the slightest bit wrong, and that this building might not be entirely abandoned.
'That he has chosen to throw his lot in how he has.'
'I'd call it unsurprising,' Tanith said grimly. 'Death Eaters murdered his father. Death Eaters murdered his girlfriend. He's not in the business of being friendly with them.' She cast a humourless glance over her shoulder at Robb. 'Besides. He's only a half-blood.'
Robb sniffed derisively. 'True enough,' he said, without a hint of irony. 'I suppose it is fortunate for you.'
Tanith almost stumbled on a step. '...why?'
'You wouldn't want to curse any children of your own with a mudblood grandfather. Hardly befitting a daughter of the Cole family.'
The only reason Tanith didn't fall or turn at this could only be explained by her body, recognising the emotional turmoil gripping the brain, deciding that it was going to run entirely on automatically for this. So she kept on walking up the stairs.
Her body did not, however, keep control of her mouth, and her jaw dropped. 'What the hell are you talking about?'
'Teenaged hormones can be responsible for a lot when it comes to ill-advised desire, but they're still best avoiding.' She couldn't see Robb's expression, but there was a hint of taunting humour in his voice. 'His being in exile - and to be arrested should he ever return or be extradited - simply keeps you safer.'
How the hell does he know? What the hell does he know? Tanith had long suspected that more had happened on that night at Anne MacKenzie's house - and before it, and in everything about that grim night - than she had been told. Especially with Cal and Tobias' antagonism directly afterwards. But still she couldn't help but shiver with discomfort.
'Grey is my friend. That's all,' she said, a little dully, automatically.
'Mmm.' Robb didn't sound remotely convinced, but fortuitously didn't have the chance to pursue the matter as they finally reached the door at the top of the stairway to lead them to the warehouse roof.
It was only late summer now, the sun still warm despite the buffeting wind bringing a lot of coolness on it as they emerged onto the gravelled rooftop. Manchester spread out beyond them, first this decrepit industrial park which was all but abandoned, then the more affluent parts and, in the distance, the city centre.
Overall, Tanith thought, McGowan's lot had chosen as good a place as any to hide out. Barring that rather-insurmountable fact that they'd been found.
She padded across the rooftop, wand in hand, Robb in her wake, towards the next warehouse. Crouching low, she reached into a pocket to pull out her Auror-issue pocket-watch. Everyone on the operation had seen their watches synchronised for this operation, the multiple teams represented on individual hands on the watch. Still, every hand was on 'Positioning'. Once they reached the end of that timer, Phase One would begin. The break-in.
The neighbouring warehouse was silent, dark. Tanith knew to not take that too seriously, but it was enough, in the waiting, to have her wondering if they were in the right place. Or if McGowan and his cronies had been somehow tipped off. The Displacement Aura hadn't registered any scrambled disapparitions, but what if they'd been too late?
Inexplicably, she found herself hoping this wasn't the case. Only training could be blamed for this instinct, this Us vs Them mentality. When she wasn't even on the side of 'us'. Not especially.
'Soon,' Robb said, and his voice was actually calming, reassuring. 'You will get used to the waiting.'
She grimaced. 'I don't need tips from you.'
'Because our skills are so very different. Finding the enemy. And hunting them down.' He crouched next to her on the rooftop, expression twisting to a dark smile. 'We work in much the same way.'
It was hard to argue with that, especially when it would likely only come down to nuances of method, and philosophy. And they both regarded themselves as being protectors of a way of life. Just on opposite sides.
She'd thought any Auror who talked about having even a grudging respect for the Death Eaters they fought to be mad. And she was hardly ready to respect Robb and Brynmor, but she was certainly beginning to see how it happened.
'You will be fine,' Robb continued.
'I really don't need encouragement from you,' Tanith muttered.
'No. You don't.' He nodded. 'I've seen how you fight. Your perseverance is astonishing. I thought that you would stay down when we fought at Hogwarts.'
'I'm sorry to disappoint,' she growled venomously.
Robb shook his head. 'On the contrary,' he said, 'I'm impressed.' His pocket-watch came up, twinkling dangerously in the sunlight. 'It begins.'
She looked down at her own to indeed see each team's hand move to Phase 1. Which, for the teams breaking in the front and the back, meant action. But for everyone else, including them, it just meant more waiting.
There was no sound from inside. They would have charmed the warehouse against that. And so for long minutes it still seemed like almost nothing was happening, like they were crouched on a rooftop for no particular reason.
Then the door leading to the target warehouse roof swung open, and a figures emerged. In Muggle clothing, but the outline of a wand in his grip was unmistakable. The side of his face was slick with blood, and gravel flew in the air under his feet as he skidded to a stop upon seeing them.
There was a moment’s hesitation. Then the wizard ran, straight at them, and leapt into the air off the edge of the building.
For several seconds, Tanith thought he’d suicidally hurled himself into thin air to plummet onto the street below where, even if he survived, even if he could walk, he’d get hoovered up by the other Aurors. Then the air danced under his feet, swirling under the incantation of a simple levitation charm, and he kept rising, higher, higher.
So high he flew over their heads and hit the roof of their warehouse some ten yards behind them. And kept running.
'Damn it!' Robb cursed, clenching a fist. 'You go after him, I’ll keep watching in case there are more!’
And send the poor bastard to Azkaban? No, Tanith resolved. There was only one thing for it. She was going to have to pursue them, and then let them take her down. Let them get away.
And take the consequences for that as they came.
She twisted around and to her feet, and broke into a dead sprint almost immediately. The figure wasn't too far away, running across the expansive rooftop. Tanith didn't have any kind of clue about what this warehouse was for, but it didn't have a flat roof, arches running up and down. Enough to have her staggering up an uneven slope only to have to avoid tumbling over the crest and falling.
It wouldn't do to not appear to be chasing. She just didn't have to be able to catch up.
So she ran, but not as hard as she might, and let herself slow on the rises, and took advantage of being out of sight on the dips.
Until she took the next rise to see, unbelievably, her target fall.
Before she could think further, before she could consider doing anything which wouldn't be blatantly letting him go, she was over the crest he'd tumbled down and on top of him.
A blast came shooting from his wand but she spun to the side and it just zipped harmlessly past her shoulder - and instinctively her own came up, light flashing from the tip for an Expelliarmus he was too sluggish to beat to whip his wand from his hand.
And so, as she stood over him, unarmed and on his back and unable to move because there was every likelihood that would lead to just a short, sharp hex from her, Tanith realised two things slowly.
The first was that she had just managed to, by accident and by instinct, capture an enemy of the government that she, although working for, opposed with all her heart.
The second was that the panting form in front of her, red-faced and weary and fighting for his breath, was her former schoolmate Nick Wilson.
He spat on the floor, laying his head back and looking like he might well be making the most of his capture to get a rest. 'Cole. Expected to see a fascist like you in all of this.'
Anger twisted in her gut. 'What the fuck did you have to go fall on your face like that for, Wilson? You never were smart!'
He gave a dark, lopsided smile which held no amusement, only utter disgust. 'Go ahead. Gloat if you want,' he gasped, his voice still ragged with breathlessness. 'But even if you kill me, even if you kill McGowan, our work's going to continue. We're going to take you sons of bitches down.'
And as she began to hear the shouts and footsteps of her backup, the sounds of the warehouse arrests spilling into the street and sounding like the Ministry had been absolutely successful, Tanith could only look at her old classmate and hope, deep down, that he was actually right.