Chapter 12 : The Looking-Glass
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Oh, and not a minion of a totalitarian regime.
It was mercifully quiet as Tanith slunk inside, the heavy wooden door creaking as she let it swing shut behind her. Comfortable wood panelled walls made a pleasant break from the too-trendy establishments she had seen on her walk down; this was rather more reminiscent of better times. The Leaky Cauldron, before Death Eaters had been its main patrons, the White Horse back in Kittering, Cal’s hometown, with all the others.
But she was here to avoid reflecting on both past and present. And it seemed the only place to go.
At this time of day the patrons were just those heading home after a long day of work and stopping off for a drink, but there was a space cleared towards the corner where various bits of electronic equipment were being set up she only dimly identified as speakers and... well, the rest, she didn’t identify at all. Of course. It was the live music night. She’d forgotten about this.
Or had she?
Either way she made her way to the bar, pulling up a stool, and peered curiously across the drinks on display as the bartender arched an eyebrow at her indulgently, still serving some of the other patrons. So she ordered what she thought would be a beer, and sat back to wait.
For what, she wasn’t entirely sure until a figure came ambling into the pub, holding a heavy case she recognised as the same shape Cal’s for his guitar, although this one was sturdier. He was whistling a cheerful, jaunty tune, heading over to the cleared space and setting the case down, before he noticed her.
Surprise clearly flickered about his expression, before he smirked and sauntered over. ‘Didn’t think I’d see you round here again.’
Tanith gave a lazy smile. ‘I didn’t think I’d be around here again.’
‘I guess it wasn’t as bad as either one of us had thought.’ David the Muggle’s toothy grin flickered slightly broader.
Her own smile softened. ‘I guess not.’
He nodded at her glass. ‘What’re you drinking?’
‘Um.’ Tanith looked down at the bottle in front of her. She’d decided to go with a bottle, they seemed safer and cleaner, and more reliable than the dark beers from the pumps whose names would make even wizards think twice. ‘Beer.’ She blinked at the label. ‘Carlsburg. See?’
‘You don’t know your music and it takes you a few seconds to remember Carlsburg. You’re a strange girl.’ He pulled up the stool next to her, gesturing to the bartender, and within a few seconds a glass of coke was on the bar in front of him.
‘None for you?’
‘I’m playing tonight.’ David nodded over towards what was clearly, now, a makeshift stage. ‘You wound me. I thought that’d be why you were here.’
‘It’s why I remembered here?’ She tried for an appeasing smile. ‘So what do you play?’
‘Oh, no.’ David shook his head, putting his glass down. ‘You’re the girl who doesn’t know anything about music. I might have a few hours until my set, but even that’s not long enough.’
Tanith took a swig of her drink, feeling the beer and the man’s easy manner both go a long way to ease the knotting in her gut that had been present for longer than tonight. ‘Is it long enough to get a start?’
David looked apprehensive for a moment. Then he nodded, and began talking.
He was a good talker, she remembered early on. There were some stumbling blocks where he made references she didn’t get, but then he seemed to realise the level of knowledge of his audience, and he slowed it right down. Clearly he loved his subject matter too much to get patronising.
He talked about the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, and she managed to appear not a complete cretin courtesy of Cal and Nat, and she quickly found herself wishing she hadn’t ignored most of their conversations about music. But David’s love of it clearly went beyond theirs, because he then gave up on explaining everything and dragged her over to the jukebox and laughed at her as she fumbled for the correct change to play the tunes he thought she needed to hear.
And he cursed as the jukebox lacked all the songs he wanted, but this seemed to only speed up the swift journey through music he loved, because then he was playing something rowdier on the jukebox and lamenting the death of someone called Kurt Cobain.
‘...I mean, you get your conspiracy theorists who think it was murder, and then you get your naive kids who think he martyred himself or something because he couldn’t cope with making sackloads of cash, but I just think he was a really ill guy. Kinda sad, really, that so many brilliant people have some serious problems, and that’s part of why they’re brilliant... but, really, the whole thing might have been much clearer if the fucking police hadn’t taken, like, a month to check the prints on the shotgun...’
It was probably best to not tell him what she did for a living. Even the equivalent thereof. Besides, she didn’t know enough about Muggle law enforcement to lie about it convincingly, and that would probably just lead to trouble.
But before too long there were four grubby men setting up at the stage with their instruments and David stopped playing tunes on the jukebox, and got her to sit down with a fresh beer. In between the songs of the set he talked about the tunes, and how he thought the drummer wasn’t very good which was a disaster because a drummer was the backbone of the band, but during the tunes he just listened.
Then when they were done, when the clapping had stopped and the band were clearing off the stage, he gave her a grin and a wink and got up. ‘I’ll try to break a leg,’ he assured her.
She thought it best to not voice her confusion to such a bizarre statement, and just settled down to listen.
He was quieter than the other band. Which, in all honesty, she preferred. And more talkative; he started out going right into a rather jovial song that had her unconsciously drumming along to the beat, before launching into a cheerful welcome and good evening to all attending. He bantered with the crowd, said he’d take a request, soundly - but pleasantly - mocked the choice of a young man in the audience, before playing a song she actually recognised from Cal’s music, though she’d never remember the name or the artist.
He played maybe half a dozen songs in total. It was enough that Tanith was confident her desire for a distraction was working; it was hard to dwell on her choices or her life with this music, with his enthusiasm just filling the room.
The second to last song was something exuberant that got the whole crowd in the audience riled up, and so she could barely understand when he settled them down for the final one, sat back down on the stool, and began the last song with nothing but some strumming.
It was slow, it was deep, his voice was gentler and more melodic and altogether richer, and as she watched him, and the reactions of all around, Tanith could not help but wonder how anyone - including herself - could assume Muggles to be inferior.
Some wizards mocked Muggles for finding their magic in the mundane, like music, but there was something altogether more real about this, more real than flashing lights and complicated spells and impressive power. This summoned feelings, feelings just as real as those when she thought of her friends, thought of her family, thought of-
Then on the dying bars of the song his eyes met hers, and thoughts of halfway across the world stayed that far away.
By the time he’d sat back down next to her - after the clapping of the audience, most of whom were by now making ready to move on for the night, and after he’d put away his equipment - there was another band playing, rather less competently she thought, and she was out of beer.
‘That was - good,’ Tanith stumbled, grinning uncertainly at him.
‘I’m glad you liked it,’ David said, before pushing a fresh drink across the table to her. ‘I thought I’d mix up my set. Play some of my better stuff. I’m no Kurt Cobain...’
Probably not a good idea to make a comment about being better due to being not dead, Tanith resolved, but shrugged. ‘I did like it.’
‘Good.’ David nodded and took a sip of his own drink, now finally a beer. ‘So why’re you here?’
It was a blunt question but there was nothing aggressive about his tone, just honesty in his voice and in his brown-eyed gaze. Still she faltered, gulping quickly on her drink. ‘What?’
‘I didn’t think I’d see you around here again. I definitely didn’t think you’d be here on your own. It’s been two months; what’s happened?’ Again, despite the brusqueness, there was actually honest concern in his expression.
Tanith was barely used to her friends being able to show genuine concern behind all of their posturing, let alone someone she’d only met once. ‘I...’ Somehow, lying - despite the fact she’d been trained in it - seemed impossible. ‘I needed to get out.’
‘You don’t mean of the house.’
‘I do. But not just that.’ Tanith grimaced. ‘Is it going to make me seem crazy if I say there are some things I can’t talk about?’
David snorted. ‘No offence, Tanith, but I’ve spoken to you twice and it’s pretty clear you’re not normal.’ As indignation tugged at her expression, he lifted his hands. ‘I don’t mean badly. I don’t mean crazy. But you didn’t know the Beatles sang Yellow Submarine. You’d never heard of Kurt Cobain. That’s not sheltered boarding school, that’s like you grew up under a rock.’
Tanith winced, remembering the various consequences for breaking the Statute of Magical Secrecy. And then she remembered who enforced that these days. ‘Sort of. There was a boarding school.’
‘Then it’s okay if you can’t talk about the rock.’ He definitely looked rather confused, and a little curious, but nodded. ‘If you needed to be somewhere not under the rock, and talk to someone who’s not a rock-dweller, then, well, I’ll try to figure it out.’
Her shoulders sagged. ‘Thanks.’ Dimly she realised this was why she was here. Not just because this was the only place she knew to visit for a distraction, but because this was the first person in a long time she’d found conversation with to be so... easy. So without pressure.
‘I work for some... not good people,’ she began falteringly, looking down at her bottle. ‘It wasn’t bad when I started, but it’s all changed. And I can’t leave.’
His expression settled into a rather more serious one. ‘Is there someone you can tell? Someone in authority you can report it to?’
Tanith gave a sober laugh. ‘They are the people in authority. There’s nobody I can tell, and I can’t leave. So I’ve been trying to make things... not so bad. Trying to do what good where I can, or at least minimise the harm.’
‘That sounds reasonable,’ David agreed slowly, nodding.
‘Only I’ve really fucked up.’ She was a little bit more drunk than she’d thought, Tanith realised with a start. ‘Instead of making things better I’ve made things worse. In doing my job I’ve got someone in trouble, real trouble, and this wasn’t what - I got into this job to make things better.’
‘If it’s hard,’ David said, still speaking slowly, clearly aware he was on unknown territory, ‘then surely you’re not going to get it right all the time?’
‘I don’t think I’ve got it right at all, yet. And this isn’t just a mistake, this is serious. So I just - I work for some utter bastards. At what point am I making the most of a bad situation where I’m trapped, and at what point am I...’
‘Only following orders,’ he finished for her, with an intonation like the phrase ought to be meaningful. ‘And it’ll be bad if you turned around and refused them.’
Tanith drew a deep breath. ‘Really bad. And not just for me.’
David watched her for a moment, then scooted his chair around so he could look at her head-on. ‘I can’t pretend to imagine what’s going on,’ he said, gaze meeting hers. ‘You might actually just be a crazy person. But I don’t think you’re a bad person. Call me naive for trusting my gut instincts.’ He smiled very slightly, and gave a brief wink.
‘You don’t know me.’
‘If you were a bad person you wouldn’t be in here beating yourself up for it,’ he said. ‘If you were a bad person, you wouldn’t care.’
‘It still makes my actions bad, whatever I feel about them.’
‘True.’ David frowned a little. ‘I’m sorry I can’t be much help.’
‘No.’ Tanith shook her head quickly, meeting his gaze falteringly. ‘You’ve - there’s not really anyone I can talk to about this right now who wouldn’t have their own assumptions, or isn’t just as screwed as me. Or might rat me out.’
His frown deepened. ‘Are you in danger?’
All the time. She shook her head. ‘No. Not - not real danger.’
But he didn’t look like he was buying the lie, though, and leaned forwards. ‘Look, if you want some company under that rock...’
‘I have company under the rock.’ She tilted her head very slightly. ‘It’s company and perspective outside of it that I need. It’s - you’ve helped.’
David grimaced. ‘I’ve not really said anything.’
‘The music helped.’ Her gut twisted again, albeit this time in a rather more pleasant way. This was unusual. She was used to tension or intense guilt to accompany it. ‘I liked the last song.’
‘It’s one of my favourites,’ he said. ‘I wasn’t going to play it, but I thought it might be good if you heard it.’
‘It all helped.’ Their eyes met for a long moment, before Tanith tensed and looked down at her watch, grimacing. ‘I should go.’
David nodded quickly, reluctantly. ‘All right. I hope you - I hope you figure this out,’ he said as she got to her feet, pulling her dark Auror’s coat off the back of the chair and slinging it around her.
‘So do I,’ she muttered.
‘You just have to find out what you can get away with. And find out what you can live with yourself for. And do the most good inside of those.’
She winced. ‘Easier said than done.’
‘Then in more practical terms, you get the guy you got into trouble... out of it,’ he said with a shrug.
Tanith paused, one arm in her coat, one out, looking a bit ridiculous but not caring as something slotted into place in her mind, and a slow, determined grin began to tug at the corner of her lips. ‘That,’ she said at last, with not a little satisfaction, ‘is something I think I actually can do.’
‘What do you want, Cole?’
Riley clearly hadn’t expected to see her down in the bullpen of the Ministerial Prosecution Service wing of the MLE. That she had delivered several thick files, all of which pertained to the Manchester raid, had gone down even worse.
Tanith didn’t let that stop her, though, as she glanced around the office and judged it abandoned enough to talk - or, at least, hiss - freely. She planted her hands on Riley’s desk and leaned down. ‘Nick’s getting transferred at 3 o’ clock sharp.’
Riley froze, the shock evidently both at the news and the source. ‘Why’re you telling me this?’
‘We’ll apparate him to the Azkaban coast, and then he’ll be picked up by Dementors to be transferred to the prison. Once in there he’ll have a week before the Kiss unless an appeal gets through to overturn the judgement.’ Tanith spoke very fast, gaze skittering across the quiet office. It was first thing on a Monday morning. That was enough to get overlooked, for even Death Eaters hated Mondays.
‘That won’t happen.’ Riley’s breath caught. ‘No appeal’s got through unless there were serious family connections. He’s not just a criminal, he’s a Muggle-born - it’s why he went renegade. There’s no way it’ll get overturned.’
Tanith gave a one-shouldered shrug. ‘Then you better do something.’
The other woman looked up at her, their eyes meeting tensely. ‘Why are you telling me this?’ she repeated, rather more nervously.
‘I’m going to be on the escort service. There are two other prisoners for transfer, and six Detectors.’
Riley squinted. ‘I didn’t see your name on the records.’
‘That’s because I haven’t been posted to the duty yet. Don’t worry, I will be. That just means you have to worry about five people.’
There was a pause as Riley looked over at the clock on the wall. ‘Then I’d best make the most of the next five and a half hours.’
Tanith nodded curtly and straightened up. ‘I’ll see you later, Jen,’ she murmured, a little tautly and not without guilt.
‘No,’ Jennifer Riley said absently, bowing her head back over the work on her desk as if they’d just had a pleasant chat about the weather, ‘You won’t.’
‘You want to be where?’
‘On the prisoner escort.’ Tanith shifted her weight uncomfortably as she stood in front of Thanatos Brynmor’s office. ‘Considering this is the last chance at fresh air Nick Wilson is going to get before his brain dribbles out of his ears.’
Supervisor Brynmor narrowed his eyes at her and folded his arms across his chest. ‘That’s either rather bloodthirsty or spectacularly soft for you, Cole.’
‘It’s not soft.’ She drew a deep breath. This was where the bullshit was going to have to be really, really good. ‘We were at school together. He was a Gryffindor, I was a Slytherin. You do the maths, sir.’
‘And to think inter-House rivalry usually gets forgotten once people graduate.’
‘We only left this summer.’ She looked down at him, meeting his gaze warily. ‘And that doesn’t stop him from being a miserable streak of piss, sir.’
Something lit up in Brynmor’s eyes distractedly, and he leaned back, tilting his head a little. ‘Oh?’
‘He was an arrogant bully. The kind who thought might made right but didn’t have the brains to back it up. He gave me and my friends hell, and though we gave it back, I’m not going to shed any tears about him being my catch.’ The reticence in her voice was not hard to fake. The reason for it, however, was.
‘And so, because he was a bully at school, you want to say goodbye to him while he goes off for the Kiss.’ Brynmor leaned forwards, gesturing for a chair opposite her. ‘Sit down.’
She did so, rather stiffly. ‘Can I speak freely, sir?’
He nodded curtly. ‘Of course.’
‘You know I don’t like the policies of this administration. You know this, or you wouldn’t be keeping me on a tight leash.’ Tanith closed her eyes, partly in anticipation of the swell of self-loathing that she knew her subsequent words were going to bring forth. ‘But it is reality.’
Brynmor made a small noise of surprise. ‘It is.’
‘And what you want - what the Minister wants - is ultimately a better world for me. For my family. For my friends - most of them.’ She opened her eyes to see him nodding with approval, and hated herself. ‘So I need to make the most of it. Help pin down the worst opposition. Because the truly violent activists are going to hurt everyone, whether I like them or not. And that needs stopping. Wilson was a part of that, or he was at least riling up those who would.’
‘There are several people in Saint Mungo’s after Potter’s incursion,’ Brynmor said in mild agreement.
‘Exactly.’ Tanith bit her lip. ‘And when the worst of the dissidents are settled, then we can begin to... separate our society properly. Get people like Nat out of Azkaban and back into the Muggle world, and focus on a wizarding world for wizards.’
Brynmor leaned back, clasping his hands in front of him. ‘That’s an interesting perspective,’ he said slowly. ‘I don’t see what it has to do with Wilson.’
‘I don’t like him.’ This, at least, was nothing resembling a lie. She really couldn’t stand Nick Wilson. ‘So the way I see it, if I’m going to have to learn to live with these measures - for the time being, until we no longer need to enforce them - the best way to get used to them is to see them used against someone I think is dangerous, and someone I don’t like.’
He met her gaze, and she met his unwaveringly, trying to keep her expression from being too neutral in the way Altair had always taught her made a bad liar. She had to seem earnest and nervous, not completely deadpan. Then he drew a deep breath, and nodded. ‘All right.’
Brynmor waved a hand. ‘All right. You can replace Tirpitz on the escort duty. Get him to Azkaban. Say goodbye. And if you wish, you can attend the Kiss next week.’
She nodded with some apprehension. ‘I’ve never seen it performed.’
‘You should.’ Brynmor looked over at her sharply. ‘If you’re going to send men off to have it done to them, you ought to have some understanding of what it is.’
And if all of this goes wrong, witnessing the consequences of my actions is the least I deserve. She just nodded mutely, weakly, getting to her feet.
‘Alright, Cole.’ He slapped a hand down on the desk lightly. ‘I’ll post up the transfer order. Now get out.’
It always rained at Azkaban.
She’d only been here once, on one of the training sessions showing her the ropes. Van Roden had apparated with her to the shoreline and then they’d taken a boat across the crashing waves of the sea to the island. It had been cold, and wet, and miserable, but altogether not as terrifying as the stories had suggested without the Dementors.
But with Minister Thicknesse they had returned. And so it was not by boat that they would be going to the prison.
Their team had taken the three prisoner from the holding cells down at Canary Wharf and then escorted them down to the safe apparition spot. As far as routine and risk went this was child’s play. Nick Wilson was the most notorious and dangerous of the three; a man of eighteen newly-graduated from Hogwarts. An attempted escape was not anticipated - or, at least, not a successful one.
Nevertheless, Tirpitz, the grey-haired, slightly mousy and nervous Auror whose spot she had taken had found her and thanked her once he’d learned. Few people were blessed with the confidence of not batting an eyelid when it came to an Azkaban trip.
The others were all older than her, more veteran than her, but she knew from the files that they were all inconsequential. More important Death Eaters had more important work to do; more renowned members of the old administration would not be trusted with the transferring of enemies of the state. And all they wanted, clearly, was to get in and get out.
Tanith did her best to ignore the sea-spray crashing over her. They were high up on the cliffside, the island itself nothing more than a jagged shadow jutting out of the mist and gloom in the distance, but even up here it did not take long to be drenched by the wild and raging fury of the North Sea. Her right hand clutched her wand, and through tension and cold was almost numb. It was with a fumble that she pulled out her pocket watch and blinked through the rain at the time.
Four minutes to three. Almost time.
They were tightly surrounding the three prisoners; two at either side of the group, one at the front, one at the back. Tanith had volunteered for the rear guard. She had no desire to be close to the Dementors if something went wrong.
And if something went right, then, she could cope with being called a poor lookout.
Three minutes to three.
‘Where the hell are they?’ Lackardy, one of the young Death Eaters in the group, said nervously. His voice was a muffled mutter over the roaring of the sea.
Tanith didn’t answer, though she wondered the same thing. The only difference was that Lackardy meant the Dementors.
She wasn’t sure what she was expecting Jennifer Riley to do. She’d actually hoped that by the time she got to the cells, by some miracle Nick Wilson would be gone. But he was not, only glaring at her accusingly and making a few snide comments about how much she had to be enjoying this before Mulready, the ranking Death Eater, a dour, rather slow man who nevertheless had seniority on this assignment, snapped at him to shut up.
Really, against six - or five, not counting herself - enemies, she didn’t know what a legal aide in the MLE was going to do.
So she was too tense and panicked to especially pay attention to the flicker of movement out of the corner of her eye. She assumed it to be a trick of the light and the rain, until she saw it again, along with a flash of green which was too bright to have been some bush swaying in the wind.
But Lackardy seemed to have noticed as well, half-turning with his wand coming up. ‘Did you see -?’
Then a Stun smacked right into his chest from a shape she hadn’t seen a half second before crouching in cover behind one of the nearby rocks, and all hell broke loose.
There were perhaps half a dozen attackers. Tanith took the time to whirl around and count the spells splashing from their surroundings; it was hard to tell if those from one rock were two wizards acting in unison or one just throwing out a lot of firepower. Her fellows, obviously far more panicked and far more fearful, were rather too frantic to take stock of their enemies, as evidenced by the desperate spells that began to fly through the air.
She had to throw herself to one side to avoid a Stun, and it instead hit one of the others in the back, knocking him over as if he were a felled tree. But alive.
It was debatable if all of the attackers - if any of them - knew she was on their side. Or at least not against them. So there was no sense in painting a target of herself.
On her elbows she began to crawl forwards, past the fallen shape of Lackardy, and towards the front where Mulready stood, shooting curses with a skill and speed she wouldn’t have credited the older man with. Then the only other Ministry guard still standing by then dropped from a Full Body-Bind Curse, and Mulready swore, lifting his wand up high.
That was when Nick Wilson, bound by his wrists and ankles and having been unable to do more in the chaos than keep his head down along with his fellow prisoners, bunched his fists together and drove them into the Death Eater’s gut.
Mulready staggered, and Wilson bounded forward as best he could and for a moment Tanith thought that the Muggle-born might have been about to end it. But then the Death Eater’s wand whipped up and Wilson staggered as if punched by an invisible force - just as Mulready’s free hand snatched him by the shirt and pulled him forwards.
Within a second Mulready had Wilson gripped before him as a human shield, wand poking viciously into the soft skin under his jaw. ‘Dissidents! Cease fire or I will kill the prisoner!’ he barked, thick voice rolling across the cliffside.
There was a rumble like distant thunder as the echoes of the fighting died, and then silence fell. Mulready looked down at her, glaring, and jerked his head. ‘Get up, Cole, for feck’s sake,’ he spat. ‘I appreciate staying out of danger but don’t be such a fecking pansy.’
Tanith got to her feet ruefully and told herself she didn’t really care what Mulready thought. ‘There’s a lot of them, boss,’ she said as she moved over to his side.
‘I know. But the Dementors’ll be here soon,’ Mulready muttered, before drawing a deep breath. ‘How ‘bout you show yourselves, cowards?’
There was some movement from the large rocks around them before, finally, a few figures emerged. Only five, leading Tanith to suspect she’d been underestimating Riley’s skill as the other woman came out from behind the rock that had been throwing out the most spells, making her the nearest of the attackers.
But she recognised them all. Cormac McLaggen, Tom Everard, Percival Anderson, and others. Schoolmates from Hogwarts. Some renegades. All friends of Nick Wilson and Jennifer Riley.
‘If you don’t want to join your mate,’ Mulready growled, eyes locking on McLaggen in a mistaken assumption of the beefy young man’s size denoting leadership, ‘then you’ll scarper. Or the Dementors will have you in a cell. I guaran-fucking-tee it.’
Tanith spared a glance over her shoulder towards Azkaban, and her breath caught in her throat as, indeed, two dark shadowy shapes could just about be seen growing larger and larger in the sky from the island prison.
They had minutes, at best.
‘We’re not letting you go with him.’ This was Riley, whose wand was pointed levelly at Mulready but whose eyes were locked unwaveringly on Wilson. There was a tension in the young witch’s voice that sent a shiver up Tanith’s spine, and yet again she was reminded that Jen Riley had been Annie MacKenzie’s best friend.
She’d already lost one of the most important people in the world to her. She wasn’t about to lose a second.
‘You don’t have a choice,’ Mulready sneered in response. ‘I can think of a slicing charm and rip his throat out before you could even think of hitting me. And you bloody well know it. I so much as see a wand twitch and I’ll -’
Then he jerked, a brief, strangled noise escaping his lips as a word was caught in his throat. His grip on Wilson loosened enough that the man shook him off desperately, but immediately Mulready swayed, then slumped to the floor with a thump, as stiff as anyone who’d been hit with a textbook Stun.
Riley looked over at Tanith, who was lowering her wand. ‘Took you long enough,’ she said wryly.
Tanith let out a deep breath. ‘He’ll need his memory altered.’
‘I’ll get to it,’ Tom Everard said, jumping over Lackardy’s prone form and moving over to the lead Death Eater. ‘He didn’t see you, it’ll be really easy to just confuse him on what direction the spell came from. I’ll implant a suspicion that there was someone else hiding and let him reach his own conclusions.’
‘It’s not necessarily required, though.’ Riley wandered over to Tanith, gaze searching. ‘You could come with us.’
Tanith frowned. ‘Come with you?’
‘Er... hate to break up the discussion, but those Dementors are going to be here in a moment!’ McLaggen barked, halfway through severing the bonds on the three prisoners. Nick Wilson was, that moment, giving his best friend a toothy grin and a backslap as he was freed.
Riley looked over Tanith’s shoulder, then to McLaggen, then shrugged. ‘We’re going to have to go on the run. Go into hiding. Fight the Death Eaters from the outside. You could come with us, you’d be useful. You know a lot, you’re good in a fight.’
She hesitated, temptation tugging at her heart - and then she thought of Cal, of her parents, of her sister, of her little niece. No, Brynmor had made it all too clear what would happen if she tried to run. ‘They’ve got my family,’ she said, voice thick. ‘If I go, they’ll make them pay.’ And with Dad, they just need the faintest excuse to go for him. ‘But I can do something where I am. Get more knowledge to you, undermine them, help where I can, get them from the inside...’
Riley sighed, but there was understanding in her eyes as she nodded. ‘Of course. Thank you, for doing this much. And... I’m sorry.’
Tanith frowned. ‘For what you said before? Don’t be. You weren’t wrong.’
‘Not for that.’ Riley looked over in the direction of the rock she’d been taking cover behind, and frowned. ‘You were right.’
But she said it too loud, and with a slightly too odd inflection for this to have been part of the conversation. Then as Tanith frowned and turned towards where Riley was looking, she felt the familiar thud of a Full Body-Bind curse slam into her, and she couldn’t even totter as impact and the wind did their job of sending her crashing to the floor.
It hurt, landing like that when she couldn’t brace herself, her head at least bent sideways and so not pressed entirely in the rock and dirt. Desperately Tanith tried to talk, but her jaw was locked, and all she could do was make a faint noise of protest.
‘Like I said,’ came Riley’s voice from above. ‘I’m sorry.’ Then the other woman turned, and Tanith could barely see her heading towards her small band, lifting her arms. ‘Alright, guys, we are out of here! Memories are all wiped? Everyone’s all right? Then let’s get the apparition spot off Percival and be gone before the Dementors get here.’
But even as she barked instructions there was the crunching of boots on pebbles, and a shadow fell over Tanith as someone stopped beside her. She couldn’t quite look up to make them out, though, even when she saw the pair of legs crouch down next to her.
The voice that spoke, however, was infinitely familiar to her.
‘Sorry about that. But if you didn’t have a mark on you there’s no way they’d have believed that you went down fighting. I thought you’d forgive me for hitting you before you forgave Riley.’
And then she could see his face as Gabriel Doyle bent down to give her a brief, affectionate kiss on the temple. He looked, if possible, even more dishevelled than he had the last time she’d seen him, on a platform at King’s Cross a lifetime ago. Dark hair dangled into grey eyes, which looked even more cold and detached than ever before, and as if they’d seen a world’s more pain.
But, still, the familiar half-smirk tugged at the corner of his lips.
‘I’ll see you soon, Tanith. I know you’ll be all right. Just stay strong. You’re going to have to.’
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