Chapter 15 : The Domino Effect
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Tobias didn’t question how Will was getting in touch with Jen Riley and her gang. He figured it was best he didn’t know, in case something went wrong, but the moment he’d mentioned what Tanith had said about them, Will had grinned.
Within a week they got a report of a successful attack on an MLE Patrol, the team’s movements communicated by Yaxley and intercepted by the coal - though Tobias liked thinking of their source as the Cole. This was followed up almost immediately by communication from Brynmor’s office being transmitted, as Tanith had clearly had a chance to get the second coal in place.
The editors, writers, and researchers of the Midnight Press - all three of them, so far - stood in their press room around the first collated issue, and confirmed it was fit for production within a day of the Lions’ strike against the Enforcers. Will popped open a bottle of champagne, and they - along with Dimitri, who was refusing to be considered staff for political purposes, but had been more than happy to fetch, carry, and gleefully point out spelling errors - toasted to their success as the printing presses hummed away to produce the first editions.
Val McGowan might have been dead, his work fallen to ash and dust. But the fire had not gone out. And the torch had been passed.
‘I come bearing good news and beer. One of these things is rarer than the other,’ declared Tanith as she burst into the flat, a box under one arm, a rolled up paper in the other.
Cal lifted his head with a jerk. He’d been lounging on the sofa, his guitar in his hands, but a string hadn’t been plucked or strummed in about fifteen minutes, dark thoughts prowling about his mind proving to be the order of the day. ‘You’re in a good mood.’
‘Because I have good news!’ Tanith crossed the flat to the kitchenette, depositing her first prize in the fridge - though saving a couple of bottles - and turned to face him. She was beaming, and he hadn’t seen her smile in so long he’d almost forgotten what it looked like. ‘Aren’t you going to ask?’
‘I’m just not used to - what’s the news?’
She tossed him the paper, and he unrolled it expecting the day’s issue of the Daily Prophet. But it wasn’t - the header he didn’t recognise, the words 'The Midnight Press' emblazoned across the front, and the headline ‘Enforcers Beware’ under it.
He gave a guffaw that was half-surprise, half-approval, sitting up. ‘What is this?’
‘Read it!’ Tanith flapped her hands at him with uncharacteristic glee, bounding over to sit on the armrest next to him.
He did so, sinking in the details, the brazen declaration of how openly-named and identified resistance fighters - his old classmates - had taken down a gang of Enforcers and freed the dissidents they’d already rounded up. How their wands had been taken and broken, and they’d been tied unceremoniously to a tree in Grizedale Forest to be found by their comrades. It even included a picture, obviously taken by the Lions themselves, of the incapacitated Enforcers.
‘Who’s done all of this?’ he asked gleefully.
‘Well, the attack was Riley and her mob,’ said Tanith, passing him a beer. ‘But if you mean the paper... it’s Toby.’
Cal looked up with surprise. ‘I know he was helping Val McGowan, but...’
‘McGowan’s dead. And this is more piercing, more destructive to the regime, than anything McGowan could write. The first-hand information, the contacts with the resistance movement...’ Tanith chuckled. ‘It’s unreal.’
Cal sighed, looking back at the paper. ‘I thought we were all fucked. I mean, proper fucked. There’s not even been much that’s come out about Potter in recent weeks.’
‘There’s more to this war than Harry Potter,’ she said, swigging her drink. ‘It’s going to take every good witch and wizard in Britain coming together to defeat all of this. And most wouldn’t because they’re scared, but this... this shows someone can bloody You-Know-Who’s nose and brag about it.’
‘You-Know-Who doesn’t have a nose,’ chuckled Cal.
‘Then flatten. Flatten his face even more and brag about it,’ Tanith laughed, and extended her beer bottle to him.
‘To Toby.’ He grinned.
‘To Toby. Cheers.’
They drank, and for a moment, it seemed hope alone was all they’d need to get through these darkest of nights. Then a thought struck Cal, and he sobered a little. ‘Do you think we’ll be in trouble?’
Tanith hesitated, and he thought he noticed guilt in her eyes. ‘Why?’
‘Because if Tobias has done this, how likely is it that they might suspect we had something to do with it?’
‘Ha.’ Tanith shook her head. ‘How could we have helped them? You stay in this flat all day doing bugger all. I wish I knew about Enforcer movements to pass on to the Midnight Press, or the Lions of Britain. But I’m chasing the Lions of Britain, anything I know about them the administration already knows and is using against them.’
‘Yeah. I guess so.’ Cal put his beer down and lounged back with his guitar, fingers finding their way to shape chords, the lack of inspiration to play faded despite worrying thoughts. ‘But might they try to use us to get to Toby?’
‘I think your father’s made it clear he’s not going to do anything to you,’ she said. ‘And as for me... my father might not be the regime’s most popular guy, but my family are still people of note, publicly known in society. I doubt we can wriggle out of punishment, but punishment for things we didn’t do? It’s harder to hand-wave.’
‘I guess so.’
‘Don’t guess, just enjoy it.’ Tanith gave him a sidelong glance. ‘What’s this song?’
‘Just a Muggle song.’
‘No, really, I know this.’ She slid off the couch next to him. ‘Huh. I didn’t realise it was... you know, a real song.’
‘As opposed to a fake song?’
She swatted him on the arm. ‘I mean a famous song.’
‘Where’d you hear it, anyway?’
Tanith shrugged, sipping her beer. ‘I don’t know,’ she said, and he knew she was lying but didn’t press. ‘This is nice. Normal. Like we’re not going to be dragged off to prison or get news of a dead loved one at any moment.’
‘Fear the power of the guitar.’ Cal grinned crookedly, but they both jumped at the knocking on the door.
‘Oh, hell. Get that,’ said Tanith, reaching out to kick their copy of the Midnight Press under the sofa as Cal put his guitar down and went to answer the knocking.
It was Perkins, her hair wet, looking like she’d been out in the early autumn rain. She’d probably walked all the way here from the Leaky Cauldron entrance. Without waiting, she pushed past him and into the room. ‘Cal.’
‘Am - Miss Perkins.’ He frowned as she walked in. ‘What’s going on?’
‘Well, “nice” didn’t last long, did it,’ exclaimed Tanith as she saw her, sighing and draining her beer. ‘Don’t let me get in the way. I’ll just go sit in my room, it’s not so stuffy and fascist in there.’
Perkins arched an eyebrow at the other woman with her usual detached disinterest. ‘Of course, Detector. Don’t let me keep you.’ She watched her as Tanith left the room, closing the door to her bedroom with perhaps unnecessary force.
Cal folded his arms across his chest. ‘What’s going on? We’re not due to meet until tomorrow. It’s a bit late.’
‘And tomorrow I get to inform you that you have been rejected for interview by the last two job applications,’ said Perkins, crossing the room to seat herself at the sofa. ‘I know, I am not here to give you an update of your paperwork, but it seemed fruitless to obscure the knowledge for another eighteen hours.’
His heart sank, but he tried to hide it, rubbing the back of his neck. ‘Well, that sucks. You didn’t come all this way just to tell me that, though.’
‘I did not.’ She opened her briefcase and pulled out the second copy of the Midnight Press he’d ever seen, though he tried to look surprised. ‘Have you seen this? It’s been on every street corner, despite the efforts of Enforcers to suppress them. The distributor just keeps on producing more. Some are charmed to duplicate. It’s ridiculous.’
He shrugged. ‘What is it?’
‘It’s your little friend, Mister Grey, making a nuisance of himself.’ Perkins bit her lower lip, her terseness fading, and she stood, green eyes on him intently. ‘Cal, I have to ask - do you know anything about this?’
She was, he thought, concerned. And that was more confusing than ever. Cal lifted his hands. ‘I haven’t seen Tobias since June. I haven’t heard from him since August. And that’s not some way of me mincing my words. I really don’t know anything about this.’
Her shoulders sagged with visible relief. ‘Good, because there’s going to be a manhunt. Clearly there’s some sort of security leak, and they are going to find the person responsible, and make them pay...’ Inexplicably she turned away, wringing her hands together.
‘Hey.’ He stepped over, blocking her path as she began to pace. ‘It’s okay. It had nothing to do with me.’
Perkins jerked, and it was as if a mask was being slipped back on, austere control back in place. ‘Good,’ she said. ‘Because it would destroy my career if it transpired you were a dissident who’d been under my nose this entire time.’
Cal couldn’t fight a lopsided smile. ‘I’m not going to be dragged off to Azkaban any time soon.’ She hesitated, then returned the smile, almost - he thought - shyly. And that was like a fresh stab of guilt to the gut, and it was his turn to twist away. ‘It’s not like my father would allow it.’
‘If you were helping the resistance, even he couldn’t save you. This sort of fighting is - it’s silly, it’s just going to get people punished and killed.’
‘They’re fighting for what they believe in.’ He stomped over to the window of the flat, brow furrowing. He’d been so keen to reassure her...
‘I’m not questioning their beliefs, I’m questioning their methods,’ said Perkins, rather delicately. ‘It just gives the administration an excuse to clamp down on people, and the people who get punished are rarely the people responsible!’
‘That’s the administration’s fault, rather, isn’t it,’ sneered Cal.
‘If policy were dictated either by logic or by you and I, Cal, this would all be different. We must deal with the reality of the situation,’ she said, again sounding flustered. ‘I just worry that these, these gestures of defiance get people killed and gain very little except for satisfying the egos of these self-declared figureheads.’
‘Tobias Grey is no egotist.’ Anger twisted in Cal’s gut at the accusation, at the implication his best friend was in this for his own gratification rather than to do the right thing, and he turned. But Perkins was standing closer than he’d expected, standing right behind him, so as he rounded on her he found them face to face.
She flinched, but stood her ground, even as her gaze flickered across his, eyes wide and bright. ‘Your loyalty to your friend is admirable, but it’s fact that people will be punished for this, and it’ll be his fault.’
‘No, it’ll be the Death Eaters’ fault, because they’ll be the ones punishing people,’ Cal snapped, refusing to stand down, by now close enough to catch the whiff of perfume that hung around her - something musty and refined which put him in mind of good wine and low candles and leather armchairs, all with an undertone of something spicy...
Perkins drew a deep, nervous breath, licking her lips. ‘And people are punished all the same; I can’t help you if you want to be naive -’
She went to turn away, but anger flared again as she tried to turn her back on him, and he reached out to grab her by the wrist. ‘You don’t -’
He wasn’t sure what he’d intended to do or say. And looking back, he wasn’t sure who did what after that point. But he knew she barely resisted as he yanked her around to face him, didn’t pull away as his other hand grabbed her by the elbow to pin her close. He knew she tilted her head up as their faces came close, knew her lips parted eagerly under his as he pulled her to him, knew she squirmed against him in his grasp for them to be pressed even closer together.
‘Cal...’ Her breath was hot as she gasped his name against his lips, and he turned to slam her back against the wall, pinning her in place with his body with every curve of her lithe form against him. The feel of her in his grasp, so barely able to move was so intoxicating that when she went to move her hands he couldn’t stand the thought of letting her go - his grip on her wrists tightened for him to pin her arms against the wall, her every movement his to dictate.
She gasped again, and as he inhaled sharply at the sound of pleasure his head was again filled with the smell of her, that spicy and intoxicating scent so controlled, so precise, so different to the airy and softer feel of Nat -
Desire turned to disgust, disgust at himself, as he let her go and reeled back, lip curling. He went to speak but only a grunt of distaste escaped his throat, and he wiped the back of his hand across his mouth as he retreated.
She stood there, leant against the wall, chest heaving as she fought for breath, and her brow furrowed as she stared at him. ‘...Cal?’
His gut twisted. ‘You can go back to calling me sir, I think,’ he spat, letting his guilt turn to anger and be flung at her instead. For that, at least, he had no remorse. ‘Get out.’
Perkins straightened, neatening her robes, face a picture of confusion. As she neatened her hair he had an vivid flash of yanking her bun free, entangling his fingers in it, and looked away sharply. ‘I...’
His barked instruction sounded alien to his own ears, and much as he doubted her there was nothing fake about how she skittered across the room to the front door, not so much as bothering with her briefcase. The door slammed shut behind her and he stared at it, breathing hard, feeling like his lips and hands were covered with burning oil.
He ran his hands through his hair, another strangled sound of disgust, inarticulate self hatred, escaping his lips, and he turned desperately away as the door to Tanith’s bedroom creaked open and his flatmate popped her head out.
‘...trouble in Paradise?’
She spoke lightly, clearly trying to soothe him with a joke, but her choice of words only made him feel worse. Not wanting to let her see, he forced a tight, choking laugh which she probably wouldn’t buy, and gave a one-shouldered shrug as he turned to face her. ‘Yeah. Well. I shouldn’t expect sense from a Ministry stool-pigeon, huh?’
He looked up as the press machines whirred around him to see Will walking into the unofficial office of the Midnight Press, and he gave the man a broad, toothy grin. ‘Hey, Will. The second issue’s coming along smashingly; I can’t believe we got our hands on that arrest list. We fit it in fine; I’m going to send these off the moment that they’re done so that people are properly warned. I know it’s just a week since the first issue but this is going so well...’
Will had padded around the small network of machines and boxes full of finished issues to approach him, and Tobias’ voice trailed off as he saw the older man’s sombre expression. His eyes widened. ‘What is it?’
There was hesitation on Will’s face, and he took a deep breath. ‘The coal in Brynmor’s office just went dark.’
Tobias paused, lips moving wordlessly. ‘Is it some sort of glitch?’
Will shook his head. ‘No. There’s chatter coming out of Yaxley’s office about a security breach. Specifically in the Floo network. They know.’
‘They haven’t found Yaxley’s too -’
‘No, no. That’s safe.’ Will lifted a hand, stepping closer. ‘For now, at least. I designed them to be incredibly hard to detect, I don’t know how they found Brynmor’s but even if they find one there’s no guarantee that even if they look for others, they’ll find them. They might not even know it’s the coal, they might just have identified the connection in the Floo and shut it down.’
Tobias let out a deep breath of relief. ‘Well, that’s something, at least. I mean, I’d hoped they’d stay in place for longer, but if we’ve got to lose one then better it’s Brynmor’s rather than Yaxley’s, and at least there’s no guarantee -’
He stopped, his nervous, relieved ramble croaking into nothing, and realised Will’s sombre expression hadn’t faded. He opened his mouth to ask, but nothing came out and, deep in his heart of hearts, he thought he knew what was coming.
‘They’ve gone through the traffic in Brynmor’s office over the last week and they already have a suspect. A warrant’s gone out for the arrest, Death Eaters have been dispatched - this will be a middle-of-the-night snatch job.’ Will’s expression twisted.
The snap of the apparition echoed through the close, dark room and its rough, stony walls, but before Tanith could try to catch her bearings she was released by one pair of strong hands and shoved roughly down into a chair. Head still spinning from the Stun she’d been smacked with when she’d gone for her wand under her pillow, she squinted around the gloomy corners, through the blinding light of the single ray of illumination bearing down at her from the ceiling.
Footsteps rang out of those who’d taken her retreating, and she heard whispered voices, bouncing too much around her and the room to be understood. She suppressed a shiver at the feel of the cold air on under-dressed skin as water dripped somewhere in the corner, loud enough by echo to be deafening.
There was a thin ray of light from the corner and the sound of a metal door creaking open noisily, before slamming shut. Then there was silence, loud and heavy and oppressive, broken only by the creaking of her chair, or the dripping of water, or the sound of her own breathing, ragged and panicked.
She knew who’d taken her. They wore uniforms. They’d even told her she was under arrest. But she’d tried to fight, tried to run, recalled all of the training Aurors and Altair had given her - and she’d not even touched her wand.
She knew where she was, too. These tiny cells were deep in the belly of the Canary Wharf MLE HQ, wet and dark and protected by all sorts of enchantments - the Enforcers who’d taken her had to have special runestones to be able to Apparate in. She would have been flattered at the high level of clearance and importance such measures took.
If she weren’t scared out of her wits.
Tanith failed to fight back a rough sound of fear and surprise at the voice as it transpired she was not alone, and the shadows before her seemed to shimmer and twist around the figure who stepped forwards into the half-light of her ring of illumination. Tall and austere, there was no mistaking Idaeus Robb.
‘Wh - what do you want?’ She hated her stammer, but it spoke truthfully of her terror. Robb was only put on the most important of cases. These measures were only used for the most important of people.
‘You are going to be charged with espionage and treason, Miss Cole. You violated the trust placed in you by the Ministry of Magic and interfered with the Floo connection Mister Thanatos Brynmor, Head of the DDD, with an aim of intercepting his communications and travel and rerouting it to hostile and criminal elements.’
Her mind whirled. Just Brynmor? Had they not found the other coal? If they knew all of this, then why was she in an interrogation cell on the bottom floor? Why was she just being warned instead of actually charged?
They don’t know. They only suspect.
‘Do you have anything to say for yourself?’ Robb’s voice was gentle, mocking.
Tanith fought for breath. ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.’
His expression shifted into one of anger, and he stepped forward. ‘You will confess, Miss Cole. You will tell us everything you know, about the breach in our security and about those you are feeding information to. I know you’re piping it through to Tobias Grey, I know he’s using it for his dissident paper!’
Realisation cut through terror like a knife and formed up into a shield in her mind against fear. ‘That’s it,’ she gasped, lips curling into a smile despite herself. ‘He’s not committing big enough crimes for you to justify going after him abroad yet, is he. Reporting on criminal activity isn’t a crime, and releasing the information he has and being in touch with dissidents would get you laughed out of the extradition process. But if you had testimony he was coercing a member of the government into breaching security and handing over national secrets...’
The smile turned into a chuckle, and she clung onto it with slightly deranged desperation, letting her head drop wearily. ‘Wish I could help,’ she lied. ‘But I’ve not done anything. And I’ve certainly not heard from Tobias.’
Robb scowled and reached for his wand, but she knew what was coming. She’d been trained for this, by Cassius Vaughn, and Altair Ritter, and others, trained to protect her mind against invasion, trained to keep her secrets, because it was secrets that got people killed.
But all the training in the world wasn’t enough to stop her from screaming as her thoughts were cut through as if with a knife of solid ice.
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