‘What is all of this
?’ Dimitri walked into the printing press with a dropped jaw. ‘When you were given permission to rent premises in Moscow, we thought it was for more living space so the three of you did not have to be cramped into one suite!’
‘There’s nothing wrong with the suite.’ Tobias’ voice sounded muffled as it drifted to him from behind several pieces of machinery. ‘It’s close, but the three of us can cope.’ He stuck his head out from behind the first of the three magical printing presses that filled the small office space, two of which were right now churning out page after page. ‘Nobody said that this was going to be living space.’
‘But you implied,’ Dimitri said, with impotent disapproval, then he just sighed and wandered over to the nearest of the presses, picking up a page. He looked it over with a small frown. ‘List of the Missing and the Dead. Cheerful!’
‘It’s important.’ Tobias finally emerged from out from behind the one printing press that wasn’t producing any sheets. He gave it an impatient flick of the wand, and it sputtered to life and began to whir away at work. ‘People need to know these things. One of the first steps any totalitarian dictatorship takes in securing its control is clamping down on the circulation of knowledge. Ignorance is their tool.’
‘Does telling the public the name of everyone who has been killed by the government and how it happened inspire them?’
‘It details every injustice. Every wrongful attack. It drives home the mistrust and brings the truth squirming to the light.’ Tobias took the sheet out of his hand, and carefully placed it back on the pile. ‘And since the public have been told a pack of lies about what happened to these people in the first place, it not only pokes holes in the trust in the government, it also pokes holes in the faith in their competence. Not only are they covering up the truth, but they’ve been caught.’
‘And so people begin to see that they can be beaten, yes?’
‘Precisely.’ Tobias gave him a tired smile. In fact, everything about the young man had seemed more tired since the fall of Britain, which Dimitri supposed he should not have been especially surprised about. If Russia had fallen back under the influence of a megalomaniac dark wizard, then he would not exactly have been sleeping well at night.
‘What can I do for you, anyway, Dimitri?’
‘I am only here to make sure you are settling in your new... er, what I thought would be your new housing. I will make sure that the suite is not taken from you.’ Dimitri gave a lopsided smile.
Tobias frowned a hint. ‘It’s not going to be a problem, is it, us renting this space?’ He gave a flick of the wand, and several of the sheets began to fly off the various piles and bind themselves together into a single issue.
‘Oh, no, no. If anyone asks to much I will just tell them that this is housing for, euh, Mister Rayner, or for Ms Marlowe, and that you just did not want all three of you under one roof.’ Dimitri shoved his hands in his pockets. ‘So how is this going? Is it being successful?’
There was a sigh from Tobias. ‘It’s... hard. Don’t get me wrong, Val McGowan’s a courageous genius for what he’s doing, but he shouldn’t still be in Britain. He insists on dealing with this all on his own. He just sends me the information and articles and wants me to arrange and print it. I’m more like a publisher than a contributor.’
‘And distributor!’ Dimitri said. ‘That is all important.’
‘Yes...’ Tobias grimaced. ‘But it could be better. We could be getting information from other sources. Sources who might have an easier time getting information out to, say, Moscow, than getting it to someone who’s perpetually on the run in Britain. Sources other than just McGowan’s. We need some real links with the various resistance groups, we can only report so far on what You-Know-Who’s administration are doing - and at least it’s the truth, not propaganda - but I want some stories about people who are striking back.’
‘There was the story of Potter breaking in to your Ministry. I thought that was very good.’ Dimitri smiled toothily.
Seemingly despite himself, Tobias did smile. ‘It was. But then, that was all over the country anyway. We did not report anything new.’ He threw a hand in the air. ‘But we’re doing something. Don’t worry about me bellyaching.’
Dimitri cocked an eyebrow at the turn of phrase, but nodded. ‘You look tired, my friend. You should not be working so hard.’
‘Distribution’s a pain in the arse,’ Tobias grumbled, watching the issues beginning to assemble themselves. ‘Will’s got some contacts in Dover who are trying to get it into Diagon Alley. But all I’ve got are some contacts at Hogwarts - and I think the majority of what I’m sending isn’t getting through. There is our big coup of Saint Mungo’s. One of my fellow prefects from school’s girlfriend is a trainee Healer there. She’s slipping papers in with her.’
‘This sounds very good.’ Dimitri’s shoulders slumped in sympathy. ‘But you do not need to be doing something all the time. You should be relaxing more.’
‘Doing what?’ Tobias scoffed.
Dimitri shrugged. ‘Come out with me some time. I will show you the best bars in Moscow. Drink many things and talk about the old days, yes?’
Tobias’ lips twisted. ‘The old days between us were hardly so friendly.’
‘Then talk about our mutual interests.’ Dimitri tried for a smile. ‘And now that I mention them, have you heard anything from Tanith?’
Tobias’ expression tightened somewhat unwelcomely, and sympathy tugged at him again. ‘No,’ he admitted, voice a little throaty. ‘I mean, she’s high enough profile that I’m sure I’d hear if she was in prison, or dead, or if - if anything happened to her, but I’ve heard nothing.’ He sighed. ‘I suppose she knows nothing about me, either.’
‘I would not be so sure,’ Dimitri said, grinning. ‘If you and this Val McGowan are causing so much trouble then surely she will hear of you! Think of it like that. The more fuss you make, the more she will know you are alright!’
‘Until the Death Eaters catch up with me?’ Tobias asked wryly, but there was a bounce of humour in his eyes. ‘I suppose you’re right.’
The door behind Dimitri slammed open, and before the big Russian could really think too much about it, Tobias’ wand had snapped back up towards the entrance. But by the time Dimitri had turned, Tobias had relaxed at the sight of Will Rayner striding in.
But there was nothing relaxed in the older man’s stride or gaze, and he clutched at a piece of paper with a rather cold expression. ‘We’re in trouble,’ he said, voice thick.
It was hard to not notice the flash of fear in Tobias’ eyes. ‘Trouble?’
‘It’s McGowan.’ Will drew a deep breath. ‘He’s been captured by the Death Eaters. The government caught up with him at last. We don’t know, right now, if he’s alive or dead.’
Tobias stared at him for half a moment before turning on his heel and blurting out a sudden flurry of curse-words which Dimitri made a mental note of adding to his vocabulary for when truly pissed off. ‘Son of a bitch!’ he concluded angrily, throwing his hands in the air. ‘Bastard’s going to hope he’s dead!’
It seemed a bit callous to Dimitri, but Will just nodded. ‘By the time they’re done with him, he will, at least. But I would not be surprised if he made them kill him to bring him down. If he’s dead, they can’t interrogate him.’
Dimitri straightened. ‘If they caught him, are the two of you in danger?’
There was a flicker of hesitation from them both, before Tobias let out a deep breath. ‘No,’ he eventually said firmly. ‘Even if the Death Eaters didn’t know about us, they would know eventually. This has just sped up the timetable.’
‘But what’s it going to do to the paper?’ Will pointed at the nearest pile with a frown. ‘Without McGowan...’
‘McGowan didn’t know anything helpful about our distribution methods. There’ll be nothing he could tell them which would really shoot our circulation in the foot.’ Tobias was pacing by now, hands clasped behind his back, brow furrowed deep in thought.
‘That’s great.’ Will’s voice was flat. ‘So we can circulate blank pages.’
Tobias stopped, looking up at Will with some astonishment. ‘What do you mean?’
Will frowned, and Dimitri blinked at the crossed wires which were apparent. ‘Without McGowan, it doesn’t matter if we can print and get the papers out there, we don’t have a paper.’
Tobias still looked rather nonplussed. ‘You know some of his contacts.’
‘Just because I was one.’ Will winced. ‘I don’t know everyone McGowan knew, he was a newspaper editor for God’s sake.’
Dimitri noted the rather dark, perhaps premature use of the past tense, but thought now not the best time to comment.
‘You still know people. So do I. So must Aurora.’ Tobias drew himself up straight, brow furrowed. ‘And we can get more. McGowan barely got this project off the ground. Just because he’s gone doesn’t mean the entire thing’s going to fold. I’m not going to let it.’
Will drew a deep breath, air whistling between his teeth. ‘I know I came here to get your help, Toby, but I didn’t come here to make you sign up to be Public Enemy Number One.’
‘Two.’ The both of them blinked at Dimitri, who smiled helplessly. ‘I do not think that Grey could make himself more hated than Harry Potter.’
Tobias smirked. ‘See? I’ll be fine.’
Will straightened, looking rather less like a tired old man, and rather more like an irate father. ‘Tobias,’ he began levelly. ‘In between “fine” and “Harry Potter”, there is a whole world of still not bloody fine.’
‘So what do we do, Will? Sit in Russia and wait for the war to be over? So what if I piss them off? We’re in Moscow!’
‘The government might like to tell you that Russia is a place free from dark wizardry, but if it were, then people would have let themselves forget what it’s like to fight it,’ Will thundered. ‘It’s one thing to be printing out these papers. It’s another thing to make yourself bloody Editor-in-Chief of the Midnight bloody Press!’
Inexplicably, Tobias grinned, turning away and heading to his desk, where he picked up a quill. ‘There. You’ve solved our problem. We now have a title.’
‘I would be suggesting you drop the “bloody”,’ Dimitri said, awkward as anyone would be when standing in the middle of an argument which does not really involve them.
Will sighed aggravatedly. ‘Fine. Fine. I will talk to my contacts. I will try to see if we can recreate McGowan’s network. We’ll make more contacts. And we’ll try to bust this whole thing wider and more open than poor Val ever did. The three of us.’ For a hair-raising second, Dimitri thought he meant him, before he remembered Aurora.
The older man shook his head and sighed yet again at the recklessness before him. ‘But what do you intend to do, then, when Death Eaters come for you in the night?’
Tobias straightened up slowly, not looking at either one of them. His gaze went to the window, and the ghost of a tight, empty smile tugged at his lips. ‘Don’t worry. When it comes to Death Eaters trying to murder people in the night,’ he said, voice harshly quiet, and rolling past his lips with a world of memories, ‘I’m an expert.’
‘I didn’t think you were supposed to be my secretary.’ Cal frowned at Perkins as he looked over the several letters she had deposited on his coffee table.
‘I’m not,’ came the slightly testy reply from the young Enforcer. ‘It was nevertheless your father’s wish that I help you out wherever I can. Finding a job strikes me as a good way of doing this.’
‘So you’re not my secretary. You’re my babysitter.’
There was a brief scowl from Perkins at this, and she pushed letters away, straightening up. ‘Fine. Then I won’t help you with your application to the Tutshill Tornadoes as a trainee assistant physical trainer.’
Cal got to his feet, assuming a smirk of epically smug proportions as he sauntered over to the kitchen unit. ‘That’s fine, then. You don’t get a beer. I’m pretty sure my Quidditch record will be enough for me to get in for interview without my help.’
‘I shouldn’t have a beer anyway, I’m on duty,’ Perkins corrected, stacking the letters.
‘Oh.’ Cal’s smirk turned rather evilly impish. ‘Do you want one, then?’ he asked, waggling a bottle fresh from the fridge at her, intending on extracting as much satisfaction as possible from her thwarted temptation.
Then she smiled with her own hint of victory. ‘Absolutely.’ Her grin broadened at his sudden surprise. ‘I said I shouldn’t. That doesn’t mean I won’t. Besides, you’re the last thing on my schedule today.’
‘So I’m so unworthy of your attention that you don’t need a clear head?’ Nevertheless he pulled a second bottle out of the rather bare fridge - aside from milk for tea and some cheese that had been there for far too long, the considerably lighter beer box was the only thing inside - and cracked them both open.
‘No, you’re just so maddening that I’m going to need to drink to get through this.’ She gave a short, prim nod as he passed her the beer, but she drank from the bottle with a practiced air which belied his assumption she was more of a girl for a white wine spritzer.
‘Thank you,’ Cal said, his smirk remaining as he flopped onto the sofa next to her. ‘So don’t you do patrols and all that?’ he asked, taking a swig of the beer.
‘There are other jobs in the MLE, you know.’
‘And yours is to do my paperwork?’
‘Apparently.’ Her eyes followed him as she took a sip. ‘Though I can do more than just paperwork for you.’
There was a pause of half a beat as Cal shifted his weight. ‘What did you have in mind?’ He glanced over at her only very briefly.
‘Helping you get what you want.’
This time their eyes did meet, and Cal couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow with a tense curiosity he wasn’t sure as to the cause of. ‘You mean with my career?’
Perkins’ lips twitched. ‘I mean with what you want.’
Finally, the urge to dispel the moment with a raking smirk proved too overwhelming for Cal to fight, and he snorted gently. ‘I’m not sure you could handle everything that goes on in my head.’
She took another sip of beer, not looking away from him. ‘Do you want to bet?’
His breath caught in his throat, which was perhaps just as well, for in that moment of hesitation the door was kicked open. It was enough for his heart to nearly burst out of his chest, but within seconds he realised this was not some Death Eater raid, but rather a discontented Tanith Cole returning home.
He jumped to his feet guiltily as she stomped in, already yanking off her Auror coat and slinging it on the coat-stand by the door, before she turned with irritation. ‘What’s she doing here?’
Cal slowly realised that Perkins had got to her feet too, but something about Tanith’s tone was enough to have a hint of defensive irritation rise in his gut. ‘Hey, she’s here to help me out, there’s no need for you to be so damn sullen about it.’
‘No. Sullen? Today? Why would I be sullen?’ Tanith glowered at Perkins, who looked a little bashful, before stomping over to the kitchen area and yanking the fridge door open. ‘The beer box is empty.’
‘There’s some in the cupboard,’ Cal told her, putting his own down discreetly.
‘It’ll be warm.’ Tanith wrinkled her nose in disapproval, and her expression didn’t change as she looked at Perkins. ‘No, seriously. What’s she doing here?’
‘I was just leaving. Good afternoon, Detector Cole,’ she said, stacking up her papers quickly.
‘That’s Auror Cole.’ Something else twisted in Tanith’s expression, something almost sardonic in her correction.
Perkins smiled humourlessly. ‘Not according to the paperwork. Good night. And to you, Cal.’
He gave her a small smile he realised dimly was actually apologetic. ‘Yeah. G’night.’ The moment the door was shut behind her, however, he turned to Tanith, who was sniffing Perkins’ abandoned beer experimentally. ‘That was bloody rude.’
‘She’s one of Brynmor’s flunkeys. Colour me not caring. Do you think it would be disgusting if I finished her beer? She only had a bit of it and it’s still cold.’
‘Yes.’ Cal snatched the bottle out of her hand, and took his own swig. ‘You were rude. So, no beer.’
‘Rude.’ Something twitched in Tanith’s expression, and she folded her arms across her chest. ‘What did you do today, Cal?’
He hesitated, realising slowly he’d begun to amble onto dangerous ground. ‘I... slept in, I got some lunch, I tidied up a bit, then Perkins was here for some paperwork...’
‘Mmm. “Paperwork”. Right.’ But he didn’t have a chance to follow up on the accusing sneer in her expression before she straightened up, still almost a foot shorter than him, but this was a limit Tanith had never let stand in her way before. ‘You sat around doing fuck and all. I spent the day doing my damn job, so don’t you bloody well stand in judgement of me for being a bit terse.’
Cal squared his shoulders. ‘What, you’re above reproach? And you are any less of one of my father’s flunkeys right now, Detector? What did you do today, Tanith, process paperwork for fascists? Or did they actually let you be their dog this time?’
It was perhaps dangerous to make this accusation, but the implication that her time was being spent more worthily than his was enough to raise his hackles. It wasn’t that he felt especially defensive of being unemployed, but the fact remained that she was still enforcing the law of a corrupt government. Even if she was trying to mitigate damage, it was hardly a job to be proud of.
But even as her expression twitched, he was saved from a reaction by an abrupt, angry hammering at the front door. They both jumped a little and, with a scowl, Cal tore away to stride over. Expecting Perkins, he shifted his expression into more of a controlled mask, and yanked the door open.
It was not Perkins. It was, in fact, an irate Jennifer Riley, who barely looked at him before her gaze shot past Cal and into the room. ‘Cole.’
Tanith froze, much to Cal’s confusion, and as he stared at her gobsmacked - and was it guilty? - expression, Riley had pushed past him into the room. ‘Cole, you little hypocritical shit!’
For a second Cal thought Riley was going to actually attack, and he reached out swiftly to grabb her by the elbow to keep them at least the length of the coffee table apart. ‘Woah, woah. What the hell’s going on?’
‘So, you two didn’t get as far as “Hi, how was your day”?’ Riley’s lip curled, and she glared at the two bottles of beer on the coffee table. ‘Or was this a little celebration of your successful arrest...’
Tanith, who had fallen rather quiet and gone a little pale, raised her hands slowly. ‘Look, Riley, I didn’t know it was Nick...’
‘Did you even care?’ Riley spat, trying - and failing - to shake off Cal’s iron grip. ‘Or were you just ready to beg for scraps from your master?’
Two comparisons to dogs, however inadvertent, seemed to be enough to galvanise Tanith back into anger, and her cheek twitched. ‘What do you expect me to do, Riley? It was a raid. I was on call, and I went after someone, and it happened to be Nick. I even gave him the chance to get away, but, but...’ But her voice gave out, failing her, irritation dying as quickly as it had bubbled up, and she was just left staring at the table with an expression more lost than Cal was comfortable seeing on the face of Tanith Cole.
‘But what? But you had to look good?’
‘Woah,’ Cal said again, feeling quite useless, and moving to position himself between the two women. ‘Let’s hold on. I don’t know what’s going on here, but if Tanith gets sent on a raid, what do you expect her to do, really? Refuse to go? You know she can’t do that, you know she can’t quit!’
Riley finally yanked her elbow free, but she didn’t go to move, turning her glare on Cal. ‘So that means that all she does should be sit quietly and so prop up the monsters running the Ministry right now? Because to speak out, or to try and move against them, might be dangerous?’ She glowered at Tanith. ‘No shit, Cole! Doing the right thing is hard!’
Tanith took a step back, a mixture of aggravation and confusion in her eyes. ‘What do you want me to do, Riley? Get myself killed?’
‘It would do a damn sight more good than if you stuck around and got good men sent to Azkaban for the Kiss!’
Riley’s words echoed around the small flat, and in the silence that followed, Cal let out a deep breath. ‘Wilson’s been Kissed?’ he asked, something small and hollow in the pit of his stomach. He had been embroiled in a childish rivalry with Nick Wilson, and his best friend Cormac McLaggen, since his first year at Hogwarts. Sometimes he had respected the other as an equal, sometimes he had hated his guts. Either way, he didn’t deserve the Dementor’s Kiss.
‘Not yet.’ Riley inhaled deeply, straightening. ‘But he will be, I bet, the moment he’s done with processing in the MLE HQ. They’re trying to make an example of everyone who was affiliated with Val McGowan. Who, I’m sure you know, has been summarily executed.’ She gave a grimace of a humourless smile. ‘Oh, I’m sorry. “Killed Resisting Arrest”.’
Tanith just nodded numbly. ‘...I heard,’ she muttered, not looking up. ‘I - I’m sorry, Jen, really, I didn’t know it was Nick...’
‘It would have still mattered if it wasn’t Nick,’ Riley said, quieting a little, perhaps at the unprecedented use of her first name, but she seemed no less upset and with no less anger under the surface. ‘But damn it, Cole, you were supposed to be one of the good guys. Just keeping your head down and doing nothing doesn’t make you a good guy, it makes you part of the problem.’
‘Making a stand will just get you killed,’ Cal said, expression aghast.
‘Go tell Harry Potter that,’ Riley snapped, straightening. ‘Oh, wait, you can’t, because he’s in hiding after waltzing into your precious Ministry, freeing a bunch of Muggle-born prisoners, flipping off the Death Eaters, and getting away scott-free!’
‘And now he’s nowhere!’ Tanith burst out, her voice thick with frustration. ‘We haven’t heard a thing from him since because of it! How’s that going to bring down the Death Eaters? What bloody good did he do?’
‘For the Cattermoles, and anyone else who got away? A hell of a lot of good.’ Riley tilted her jaw a little, challengingly. ‘I don’t disagree that one individual can’t bring down this administration, but you know what can? A group of individuals!’
‘Then go do it yourself!’ Tanith said, and it was clear that this was a defensive lashing out - at least to Cal - from the abrupt wave of her arm and the way she looked away a little guiltily afterwards, rather than truly passing on all responsibility.
But Riley evidently did not see this, for she rolled her eyes and tossed her head. ‘Yeah. I should have known. I thought you were in danger of being a government stool-pigeon before Thicknesse took charge. Merlin, I should have realised that this wouldn’t change a damn thing.’ She turned for the door, not giving Cal so much as a second glance. ‘Go rot in hell, you filthy, cowardly hypocrite.’
Cal winced as the door was slammed shut behind her, and rubbed the back of his neck a little sheepishly, his gaze seeking Tanith. She was still standing by the coffee table, face pale, brow furrowed, eyes unfocused. He cleared his throat weekly. ‘So... what the hell happened out there today?’ he asked, rather more gently, but perhaps if he could just seem to be on her side, she might -
Tanith jerked at his voice, startled out of her reverie and straightening up. She looked right at him for half a beat, before tearing towards the door. ‘I’m going out,’ she snarled, tugging her coat off the stand.
She didn’t look at him as she pulled the door open, just rolled a shoulder, but as she tilted her head he could see the grimace that marred her face. ‘Don’t bother trying to play nice. I’m just a dog, after all, I’ll just bite you.’
Then she was gone, door slammed behind her no more quietly than Riley had done it, leaving Cal on his own with his lingering sense of guilt, his half-finished paperwork, and a flat with no cold beer in it.