Chapter 16 : The Girl of Your Dreams
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Then they hit the fireplace, and her breath burned in her lungs as she hissed, ‘Cole estate!’
Tanith jerked, spitting out a mouthful of bile, and the shake of her head brought shadows and blinding light swirling together in the tiny, echoing cell.
Robb cursed. ‘I don’t need to know about that, I know about that, you stupid bitch...’ Then he twirled and swished his wand, and she felt him try to latch onto the memory of Tobias entrenched in her memory, try to ride that wave along from the night of Annie MacKenzie’s death to something else, something more recent.
Wrenching her thoughts away wouldn’t work, would never work as a form of Occlumency, but she could still fight him. Forwards became back, the night in the MacKenzie house whirling in reverse like a macabre mannequin show, before speeding up - and then she wasn’t in that house, at that night, she was in a clearing in woodlands near Hogwarts, rain dripping down the back of her neck.
‘You don’t love, you can’t love -’
‘Rejection.’ Robb’s lip curled, mockery masking frustration. ‘How sad for you.’
‘Fuck you,’ Tanith spat back eloquently, jaw clenched, driving her nails into the palm of her hand in concentration as she rocked back and forth on the chair for focus. ‘Is that the best you’ve got? I can do this all day.’
There were only so many ways one could fight a talented Legilimens conducting an interrogation. It was a game of cat and mouse through the halls of memory. Brute force wouldn’t work - simply shoving memories to the back of her mind would make a path for him to pursue them. Equally, it was difficult for him to force his way through a disciplined mind. It was all about following the threads of memories, making the connections between what you could find and what you were looking for.
So she just had to throw different threads out there. If he latched onto a memory of Tobias, then she had to find something else in that memory, and take him rocketing down that path. Flowing with his efforts, but redirecting them, instead of fighting them outright in a battle of brute strength which would get her nowhere so long as she was incarcerated like this.
Unfortunately, Tobias lingered so strong in her thoughts, even without her actual guilt, that he had an easy time of picking up almost any thread in her memory and bringing it to him. Sharp, painful, or significant memories were the easiest to latch onto, and there was barely a one from her history which wasn’t about him. Pushing forwards after the time he’d rejected her was no hard thing, and this time he managed to bypass the sucking vortex in her memory that was Annie MacKenzie’s death, and go past it to -
CAL WILL KILL TOBIAS-
Forwards, but not enough. Robb made a noise of barked frustration. ‘If you’re so innocent, Cole, why are you fighting me?’
Tanith gasped for breath as she tried to not collapse back on the chair. Her hair was plastered against her forehead with sweat, every inch of her aching with the effort of concentration and focus to deflect the skilled interrogation, and she realised she’d bitten her tongue. This time she spat blood onto the cell floor.
‘Robb, even if I’d never done so much as had a school detention, I wouldn’t let you go walking around my head without a fight.’
Eyes screwed shut, she didn’t see the blow coming. It was crude of Robb to use his hands, but more effective, more shocking, and she knew that was what he was trying to achieve. Or she thought she knew, as coherent thought became complicated at the impact across her cheek. The backhand was strong enough to do more than just knock her head to one side - she was knocked over, out of the chair, landing on the cell floor with a cracking impact.
Her arms splayed out for her to catch herself, and the moment she moved Robb swished his wand. She didn’t hear him utter a spell - but she did feel the impact across her left hand, the sickening crunch and popping explosion of pain and breaking bones.
‘Let’s try some exercises in concentration, then, if you’re so keen for a challenge,’ hissed Robb, moving to stand over her. ‘Fight me through that.’
And he was there, again, an intruder in her mind. She’d practiced this in training, but the limited consent that came from an instructor doing it, someone she trusted and respected, against the utter violation that was this man who sickened her to her core rooting his way merrily through every private thought and feeling she’d ever had made theory go right out the window.
So she clung, instead, to faith, trust, and love. If she cracked, she wouldn’t just suffer - Tobias would suffer, and then hundreds more, crunched down under the Death Eaters’ boots. If she let them get through to Tobias... Tobias...
But he stopped as she spoke, froze for just a fraction of a second before turning on the spot and storming back towards her. For the hint of a moment she thought he was angry that she’d called him, angry that she’d stopped him – then he grabbed her by the wrist, pulled her to him sharply, and kissed her fiercely.
Time stopped. Her breath caught in her throat, and for what felt like years she was frozen in place, shocked out of all concept of action, all sense of anything apart from his warmth, the strength of his grip, his lips on hers.
Then suddenly she could move again, and her hands snaked around his shoulders as his slid around her back to pull her closer to him. Her fingers were in the hair at the nape of his neck, the breathing of them both was coming raggedly, and though it felt like they had been standing there for an eternity it was too soon, far too soon that he finally pulled back...
This next scream tore her throat and echoed around the room until it was like she was trapped in a chamber of her own pain, agony the only thing she felt or heard as Robb brought his boot crashing down on her broken hand. But within seconds he was in her mind again, and then all she could do was cling to one moment in her mind, fight him with no finesse or cleverness but just blind stubbornness and love.
I love you. IloveyouIloveyouIloveyou...
Close. The feeling, the memory was so close that if he just eked to the left he’d have that whole conversation, and the whole thing would be blown open...
So she dug her heels in, she refused to budge - not shift him forwards or backwards, or down a tangential train of thought, she just stayed there in her mind, clinging to that one moment, that one feeling, drawing all strength from the kernel of hope and happiness within it.
‘Tobias, this is ridiculous.’
‘You must think, my friend, there is nothing that you can do!’
‘Anything is better than nothing,’ spat Tobias as he stormed about his small room, gathering clothes and equipment, holding onto his wand so hard his knuckles were turning white.
‘That’s also ridiculous,’ said Will. ‘If you go back, they will capture you, it is as simple as that!’
He whirled around to face the older man, anger and frustration surging in him, and despite Will’s greater experience, he took a step back. Dimitri hesitated, looking between the two, but said nothing. ‘It has been three days!’ Tobias barked. ‘And nothing! No news!’
‘No news is good news,’ said Will.
‘Or it means she’s dead but they’ve determined they can’t do it publicly. Why the hell would they hold her for three days without a public arrest or a release? Why haven’t we heard anything?’
‘Maybe, they are questioning her...’ Dimitri’s voice trailed off as Tobias brought his baleful glare round to him.
‘If after three days they don’t have what they want and haven’t given up, then there’s no way they’re just going to shrug and let her go!’
Will straightened. ‘If you go to Britain,’ he said, forcing as much authority into his voice as he could, though most of it just washed over Tobias in his fear and fury, ‘the Death Eaters will catch you. This is what they want.’
Tobias took a deep breath to answer angrily, but then the door swung open and he turned to see Aurora enter, hand on her hip. He frowned. ‘I thought you had a meeting with the Director?’
‘Will got in touch. I cancelled. Now I’m here.’ Her eyes went from him, to his wand, to the meagre belongings being shoved into a bag on his bed. She gave Will and Dimitri a jerking nod. ‘How about you two let me handle this?’
‘Handle?’ Tobias’ eyes darkened. ‘I don’t need handling,’ he said as the other two gratefully bolted for the door, closing it firmly behind them. ‘I know what I’m doing.’
‘Really.’ Aurora folded her arms across his chest. ‘What are you doing?’
‘Going to England,’ he said defiantly. ‘Going to Canary Wharf, finding where she is, and getting her the hell out of there.’
‘That’s a masterful plan, Tobias.’ She looked like she was trying to not roll her eyes. ‘If it’s so easy, why haven’t you asked the Lions to break her out, since we know she’s at Canary Wharf?’
‘I... did.’ He faltered, for the first time, remembering the scribbled letter he’d received in Riley’s hand that he’d burned, for security and out of frustration. ‘They say they can’t break into Canary Wharf.’
‘Really. They’ve been very successful in the past. Incredibly resourceful.’ Aurora stepped over. ‘Did it occur to you that if a gang of successful resistance fighters can’t break into Canary Wharf and get a prisoner out, then you on your own aren’t going to have a good deal more success?’
‘I was an Enforcer there,’ said Tobias stubbornly. ‘I know the building -’
‘While Jennifer Riley, former Ministry-appointed defence lawyer, has of course never stepped foot in the place.’ Aurora shook her head. ‘This is madness.’
He frowned, but would not be stopped. ‘Then I’ll go to England. I’ll meet up with the Lions. And we can work together to get Tanith out.’
‘Really,’ Aurora said again. ‘And who’ll work on the Midnight Press while you conduct an unprecedented raid on the Headquarters of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement?’
‘You! Will!’ He waved his hands. ‘The Easter Bunny! Merlin! I don’t care!’
‘Yes, you do,’ she snapped. ‘And Will and I are not writers! We can put it together all we like, Tobias, but it is your words, your works that are getting out there, that are reaching people and giving them hope as well as information and so saving more than one life.’ Her voice softened, taking on a tight, pleading tone, and this did begin to cut through to him.
‘I don’t care about all those lives of people I’ve never met!’ Tobias snapped, and he meant it until he heard how the words sounded to his own ears, stark and ringing out across the room. Then his anger began to fade around the edges for shame, and guilt, and fear, and he faltered, lowering his hands. ‘This life is... it’s the one that matters.’
She, too, hesitated, and for the first time silence hung between them. ‘...I know.’
He turned away, running his hand through his hair desperately. ‘She - the bigger picture, great, the greater good, great, I do care, I do, but in those... those moments of doubt, when I’m so terrified we’ll lose, we’ll fail, when I worry I’m doing more harm than good, when I worry I’m not reaching anyone at all, it’s her I think of to keep... keep going...’
Tobias took a deep, shaky breath, closing his eyes. ‘She’d do it for me.’ And she has. She’s gone above and beyond, risked her own life against impossible odds to save mine. And it’s not even her own stupid, pig-headed fault...
‘But she wouldn’t want you to get yourself killed for her,’ said Aurora gently, stepping over to rest a hand on his arm.
‘You know that’s the most annoying argument ever, right?’ he muttered, his venom not entirely false.
‘Because it works.’
His eyes flashed open, and he whirled to face her. ‘Would it have worked on you if someone had given you a chance to save my father, only all you had to do was fight a team of Death Eaters single-handed?’
Aurora flinched like he’d struck her, and he saw anger rising in her eyes before she fought it back. ‘It probably wouldn’t have,’ she said, voice low, quiet, and hard, and he realised he’d crossed a line. He didn’t especially care. ‘And I would have probably died. So trust my emotional clarity in this situation and stay here.’
Tobias clenched his jaw. ‘What the hell am I supposed to do?’
‘Keep on writing. Keep on producing the Press. Keep on making a difference. We’ve got a new edition in just a few days and you’ve not put together a word.’
‘Of course not, it’s been three days of...’
‘Did it occur to you that they’re keeping her for so long specifically to lure you out? We’ve not heard a whiff of her being actually charged - maybe they don’t even know it’s her, they just know the information from Brynmor’s office is getting to you, and they picked her up on false pretenses so you’d come charging off to the rescue?’ Aurora shrugged. ‘Anyone who’s known you for five minutes could guess that would be your reaction if you didn’t have us sitting on you. It’ll be a trap.’
That stopped him again, and with a scowl Tobias tossed his wand down onto the bed. It landed with a rather unsatisfying thump, rather than the kind of clatter and noise his frustration demanded. ‘Right,’ he growled. ‘Fine. But the next headline is just going to be a giant “Fuck You”, covering the entire first page.’ He gestured expansively.
Aurora’s breath caught, and she sagged with some relief. ‘We can negotiate on that point.’
He turned to storm towards the door, before a thought struck him, so dark and twisting inside that he had to pause and glance over at Aurora. ‘If she dies, I’m done,’ he said, his voice a gravelly growl. ‘If she dies, fuck the paper. Fuck words. If she dies, I’m going back to England, I’m going to find the Lions, and I’m going to fight. Until every last one of them is dead... or I am.’
‘Cal.’ Melanie Larkin looked rather bewildered to open the door to the grand London house the wealth of her and her housemate’s family had bought them to see the wet and bedraggled shape of Cal Brynmor. ‘Did you not bring a coat?’
‘Damn the coat. Can I come in?’ Cal growled, running his hand across short, bristly, soaking wet hair.
‘You’re such a rebel. If you get the carpet wet or dirty I will do nothing. I will especially do nothing when Ariane strings you upside-down from the front door as a warning to Miles to finally make him take his boots off in the hallway.’ She stepped back to let him in, gaze wary. ‘How are you?’
He stomped into the hall, and ignored her warnings about cleanliness. ‘My door was kicked in days ago, I was magically pinned to the wall, and forced to watch while they accosted my flatmate and dragged her off to Canary Wharf on an accusation of treason. Since then I have heard absolutely nothing about her fate, present or future. How do you think I’m feeling?’
‘Enjoying having the flat to yourself?’ Melanie barely arched an eyebrow, leading him into the comfortable, perfectly presented sitting room. ‘Tea?’
‘No, Larkin, I would not like a cup of tea. Is Drake in?’ He moved to stand before the crackling fire anyway, folding his arms across his chest.
‘She’s here. Miles is here. I’m sure even you can figure that one out.’ She rolled her eyes. ‘They might be a while.’
‘Get her down here,’ Cal growled.
‘You’re the worst house-guest ever, Brynmor, you know that?’
He glowered at the flickering fire. ‘Let her know I’m here. And then tell her to get down as soon as her highness can remember to get her knees back together.’
‘Oh, no. Sex with her boyfriend. What a fucking calamity,’ said Melanie snippily, but she left the room anyway, leaving Cal alone with just his own thoughts and the crackling of the fire for company as he warmed up and dried off. In honesty, he hadn’t even looked out of the window when he’d left the flat, when inspiration had struck. Hadn’t noticed that winter had begun its inevitable march on England, and brought with it nothing but wet and cold.
At some point a House Elf came in to give him a cup of tea anyway, and though he didn’t drink it he accepted it, wrapping cold hands around warm china. He must have been waiting there perhaps fifteen minutes before there were footsteps on the stairs and the living room door swung open to allow in the aristocratic shape of Ariane Larkin and the surly figure of Miles Bletchley.
‘Now, what’s all this, Brynmor?’ said Bletchley tartly.
‘Shut up, Bletchley, I’m not here for you unless you suddenly became halfway bloody relevant to the world around you. I’m here to talk to Ariane.’
Bletchley glared but went to take one of the overstuffed armchairs, arms folded across his chest. Ariane hesitated in the doorway, before her expression set with the mask of perfect control he had for so long accepted as the default from her.
‘Cal, I’m sure you’ve had a frankly horrid few days -’
‘Let’s assume we’ve all exchanged the pleasantries about how hard it must be for me and how bloody horrid it is that a friend of ours is in jail.’ He waved a hand sharply. ‘I’m not here to chit-chat. God knows I couldn’t stand to chit-chat with you lot about the state of things. I need you to do something.’
Bletchley scoffed. ‘You’ve got a funny way of asking for a favour -’
‘I’m not asking for a favour,’ said Cal stiffly. ‘And I’m definitely not talking to you, Bletchley. I’m talking to Ariane, and I’m prompting her to do the right thing.’
Ariane frowned, and Cal wondered if the notion in and of itself was alien to her. ‘I don’t understand.’
‘You never do. You need to help Tanith.’
She flinched, wringing her hands together. ‘Tanith made her own bed.’
‘Tanith has not been formally charged with anything,’ said Cal, taking a step forward. He saw Bletchley go to rise from his chair, and stopped. This didn’t need to end in a fight. ‘That means they don’t have anything on her, do they? If they did, then they’d have her in Azkaban quick as you please.’
‘I think it’s a bit naive to assume she’s not helping Grey,’ Bletchley said. ‘It’s not like she wouldn’t come running if he so much as whistled.’
‘Dog comparisons are going to get you put through a window, Miles,’ said Cal with forced calm. ‘You’ve been punched once in your life for talking shit about Tanith Cole - and you know damn well I hit harder than Toby does, and I’ve had a considerably more tense time of things.’
‘He’s right.’ Ariane straightened. ‘She must be guilty.’
‘She mustn’t be anything. If she were, wouldn’t they have charged her by now?’
The two exchanged glances and Cal let them, though he really didn’t want to have this conversation with Bletchley present. He had counted on being able to push Ariane around, however horrendous the idea of bullying her was as a tactic, but she was clearly drawing some strength and security from the other man’s presence. He was just going to have to use logic.
Logic had never been a great tool on his former classmates.
‘...I suppose,’ said Ariane at last. ‘Apparently the idea is just to... continue interrogation. Until something is found, or until her co-conspirators are lured out of the woodwork. Apparently they don’t have enough evidence to justify using the limited stocks of Veritaserum on her, just enough to question her, but if they find anything more, Idaeus Robb is going to request a dose immediately...’
‘Apparently,’ Cal echoed mockingly. ‘But they can’t prove a thing. So they’re either using her as bait, or abusing her until she confesses to something - and enough time in those places and anyone will confess to anything. Does that strike you as fair?’
‘What do you expect me to do about it?’
‘Your father! Talk to your father!’ he snapped. ‘That’s how you know about what’s happening, isn’t it - from him? If there is anything that he can do for her, then by God you should get him to do it!’
‘Why don’t you talk to your father?’
‘Because your father will actually listen to you,’ said Cal, approaching her. ‘And my father will try to make me sell my soul.’
‘So much for your loyalty, then,’ sneered Bletchley. ‘You won’t put your neck on the line for Cole, but you’re asking Ariane to?’
‘Loyalty! Yes, loyalty!’ snapped Cal. ‘Loyalty to each other, after all the years we spent together! I know you two might think the world’s a bloody better place under Thicknesse, but you have to see that people are going to get hurt, and we have to stick together if we want to make sure the people we care about don’t suffer! If you’re not a self-obsessed bloody fool!’
Bletchley got to his feet. ‘This is a fine way to ask for a favour, Brynmor, even by your standards of being an uncouth git -’
For a second Cal thought it was Ariane who’d spoken, but he looked up to the door to the kitchen to see Melanie standing there, arms folded across her chest. The slightly dumpy woman stepped into the room, crossing over to Ariane’s side and wrapping an arm around her. The other woman had been staring at her hands, still wringing them together, gaze a little weepy.
‘Tanith’s one of us, and so is Grey. The difference is that Grey’s made his choices, and there’s nothing we can or should do for him. But so long as they’re not charging Tanith but keeping her imprisoned, they’re treating her just like anyone else, and we’re not ‘anyone else’, are we, Ariane?’ she said gently.
Ariane took a deep, shaky breath as she looked up. ‘I did ask Daddy about her,’ she said softly. ‘And he said that if she didn’t confess he expected that Mister Robb was going to keep her in the cells until she would be happy to confess to being Harry Potter himself.’
Cal’s breath caught, and he scratched the back of his neck to hide his tense, worried reaction. ‘Is there anything you can do?’
Ariane Drake lifted her gaze apprehensively, and hesitated. ‘I don’t know.’
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