Chapter 38 : The Fly in the Ointment
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'Thank you all for coming. Please sit down.' The briefing room down at Canary Wharf was filled to the brim with the Detectors of Thanatos Brynmor and Bacchus Drake's anti-dissident operations, and so it was impossible for everyone to find a chair. The burliest and most important of the wizards jostled to the front and sat down, while Tanith just leant languidly against the wall and quirked an eyebrow at Jacob, who chuckled and shook his head.
'I know we don't often meet in here.' Bacchus Drake was a strange mixture of haughty and slightly scatter-brained, and spoke as if he was discussing matters of gigantic import but had forgotten several key facts, knew this, and was trying to hide it. 'But what has happened recently is of an import that affects everyone.'
'Or, rather, this is stuff which you're going to need to know about to do your jobs properly. And it's not hitting the press, you hear me?' Brynmor growled from his side. 'There's a reason you're not reading about it in the papers, and if this gets out I will personally hunt down them responsible and have their balls.'
Then he glared at Tanith, which she thought was wholly unreasonable.
'This has got to be pretty big,' Jacob murmured once he'd looked away, 'if they can't just tell the Daily Prophet to not publish it.'
'They control the editors,' she said quietly. 'But if the average journo gets his hands on something, sometimes that control's not enough. They reprinted a couple of reworded stories from the Midnight Press.'
He smirked. 'And how would you know what's in the Midnight Press?'
'Heard it from a friend.'
'Hope you reported them.'
'This afternoon,' Drake continued after pointedly clearing his throat, 'the European Magical Conference met, as regularly arranged. As we know, diplomatic pressure from Russia, France, and Greece has resulted in our ambassador's credentials to attend said conference to be... rejected.' He wrinkled his nose disapprovingly. 'Normally this would not be of concern to us, as we have no desire to embroil ourselves in Europe's affairs, and even less desire for Europe to embroil itself in ours.
'But that may not be a liberty we will be granted. Someone addressed the Conference, someone you should all know well, because if you so much as get a glimpse or sniff of him, you should be arresting him immediately. Gentlemen, let me reintroduce you to Undesirable Number Two.'
Jacob made a noise of disapproval, before palming Tanith a sickle. She smirked. 'Told you Shacklebolt wouldn't displace him just yet.'
'Give him time.'
Brynmor had placed one of the Recording Orbs on the briefing table, and the air above it shimmered in that familiar way before the orb sputtered dust upwards. This went as high as to fill the ceiling, and when it came sinking down it formed into the shapes of a miniature display of a large, round conference chamber, the benches lined with individuals in an array of cultural wizarding garb, a chairperson seated in the centre. There was only one person in the room standing, in the middle of the floor before the delegation, and even in miniaturised form she could recognise Tobias Grey.
'...for letting me speak here today. I shall be brief. For those of you who do not know me, my name is Tobias Grey, Editor-in-Chief of the Midnight Press, a paper deemed an illegal publication by the British Ministry of Magic. Since last October I have publicly circulated stories about activities perpetrated by the British government that they have wished to quash; I have reported on the illegal and immoral actions they have taken, and I have broadened public awareness of the successes by those who seek to overthrow this illegitimate government propped up by Dark Magic and convicted criminals.
'It has been impossible for me to return to my home country, for I will surely be arrested and likely executed the moment that I do, simply because I voice truths that they do not wish voiced. As such I have been forced to rely upon the hospitality of the international community, which I have been most grateful and fortunate to receive. I am perhaps the best-informed individual outside of Britain regarding the political and social situation there, and so I am uniquely placed to inform you all, and to make a request of you.
'The Ministry of Magic is corrupt. It is headed by a man in league with the Dark Magic practitioner known as Lord V-Voldemort -' The stumble was audible, '- and manned by individuals who have sweepingly and immorally been pardoned for crimes of blackmail, coercion of government officials, abduction, torture, and murder, and then been abruptly recruited. Overnight. Despite that the Ministry of Magic has denied to the international community that those responsible for the murder of Minister Scrimgeour are now those in power, this is a lie which the international community has, as a whole, rejected. Many of you have taken stances against the British government, refusing them trade agreements, limiting migration, and welcoming within your borders refugees whom they have deemed to be wanted criminals.
'These actions have been great indeed for those they have helped, and it has allowed the resistance forces within Britain to continue their fight for justice. However, that fight is faltering. So I have come here today to ask you for more. To stop simply refusing Britain's requests, and to begin to take action. To place international pressure upon the Ministry to offer a fair and free election for a new Minister, to place international pressure for justice in the justice system, to demand the fair treatment of all citizens, and to demand a free press.
'We stand in an age where this barbarity has been frowned upon for a hundred years, and now we have the opportunity to take our principles of truth and justice and fairness, principles each country here fought to preserve in Grindelwald's War, and bring them to those who have no hope. I am no politician. I do not ask you to raise armies. For those of you thinking that it is not your place to interfere with a nation's sovereign right to govern, I put to you that the British Ministry of Magic has no sovereign right - that right lies with the people of Britain, and they have been denied it!'
Tiny as the little dust figure of Tobias was, his recorded voice had grown in volume at this point to even echo around the small briefing room.
'For those of you still undecided as to the morality of my plea, allow me to shed some light onto the actions of this government. A list I have gathered, from legitimate sources, and which I will certainly allow you all to cross-examine at your leisure. A list of so-called "dissidents" against the British establishment who have been summarily executed, or we could call it murdered, without trial.'
Then he broke into the recitation of a list, and though he held a roll of parchment he left it unfurled as he reeled off names, ages, and alleged crimes, apparently by memory. Some of the names Tanith recognised, some of them she didn't. Once, this would have shocked and horrified her, especially as children were listed, but now there was nothing more than the dull sense of inevitability in her gut.
The figure of Tobias didn't get far before Brynmor leant forwards to shut the Recording Orb off with a grunt. 'And there you have it. He's trying to trigger international war against us.'
There was a hush in the room, though Tanith doubted it was for the same feelings she felt. Eventually, Mulready leant forwards, clasping his hands on the table. 'He was limping,' he observed.
'We believe Grey suffered an injury at the hands of Idaeus Robb when he murdered him,' said Drake, and Tanith fought to bite back an incredulous snort at describing Robb's death as murder. 'Reports from the Conference indicate he has been using the aid of a staff to walk.'
Inexplicably, of all the feelings to be assailing her right then and even though she'd just seen a recording only a few hours old of Tobias, hale and hearty, Tanith couldn't suppress the stab of worry in her chest at the thought of his being injured.
'We have shown you this,' said Brynmor, 'so you understand how serious this has got. This man is not simply rabble-rousing, he is committing treasonand threatens the legitimacy of our government and our justice system. Considering reports from the Lions of Britain have been significantly decreased since the executions of McLaggen and Wilson, the DDD will be refocusing its efforts upon Tobias Grey once again.'
'I hate to sound maudlin,' said Jacob, and didn't sound like he hated it at all, 'but Robb, and then Lestrange, and occasionally this whole team, have been chasing Grey for months. We caught up with him in Moscow, but now he's slipped through the net entirely. I understand he has made himself a greater priority to be arrested, but what's changed to make that even remotely more feasible?'
Brynmor and Drake exchanged a look, and Tanith didn't like the grins she saw crossing their face, nor the feral smile that Brynmor turned on them as he straightened to address the room. 'Good question, Van Roden,' he said. 'We have been at a loose end. But we got more than just a recording of his treasonous gibberish from the European Conference. We know where he is.'
'I don't like this,' said Tom as he and Cal looked around the empty pier. 'It's too quiet.'
Cal had been leaning over the edge, using his wand to play with the lapping sea underneath absent-mindedly. 'No such thing as too quiet. They might not even show, you know. They're going to be sat pretty comfortably if they don't get any kind of mission go-ahead.'
'Are you sure this is the right place?'
'That's what Tobias' intel told us.'
'The last time we listened to Tobias' intel, two of us got killed.'
Cal looked up, glaring. 'First, that's not true. We've done jobs since Gullsmere from Toby's information which went fine. And secondly, it wasn't bad intel.'
'You weren't there. It was going fine 'til your - 'til Brynmor showed up.'
Tom's slip of the tongue hung in the evening air between them, thick and heavy, and the wider man shuffled his feet and looked down. 'I'm sorry,' he said at last. 'That wasn't meant to be a dig. I just mean - what do I call him?'
'"That bastard" usually suffices,' said Cal gloomily, getting to his feet. 'But never attribute to conspiracy what can be put down to just plain bad luck. You - we - have been lucky so many times that eventually our luck was going to run out. It just took one day for more people to be at a location than anticipated.'
'And for the head of the DDD to drop by with a bunch of Detectors at his back means all the bad luck we were due stored up for one day.'
'Am I shooting the sacred cow to point out that if McLaggen and Wilson had listened to Gabriel, this wouldn't have happened?'
Tom scratched his chin. 'I think they did listen to him,' he sighed. 'I just don't think they cared. I saw them out there, fighting. They were throwing themselves into it. Not just to get Lestrange - when Brynmor showed up, they scarpered, yes, but later than the rest. Wilson especially. Stood his ground to keep them back so the rest of us could go. I think they knew they were going to die. They just accepted it.'
A brief silence met his words, before Cal made a face. 'What selfish idiots.'
He couldn't look at Tom Everard and not remember the plump eleven year-old who'd trotted after Wilson and McLaggen with dogged hero-worship, only to be ignored as he could never keep up. Even as the boys had grown up, and Tom had found himself with better friends, more like-minded friends in his fellow Gryffindors, had gone on to become a far more respected member of the House - prefect, marks beaten only by Jen Riley herself, even Head Boy after Tobias - it had been clear that his childish awe of his housemates hadn't faded.
As such, Cal had expected at least a glare, and more likely a harsh word of denial, at his observation. Instead, Tom just sighed. '...I know. The fight goes on.'
'Even when family's involved.'
Tom gave him a lopsided glance. 'Isn't that your reason for being here?'
'Yeah, well. My excuse makes for a handy, non-crazy motivator. And it's not my reason to be here.' Cal swished the water beneath them again before he stood up. 'I've got things to make up for.'
Tom made a face. 'I know we were pricks,' he said, 'at school. About your father. But you know nobody actually cares about -'
Whatever he was going to say was lost in the wind, however, as they heard the creaking of a door and ducked back down behind the crates on the pier they had been using as shelter. In the gloomy twilight they could just make out a group of figures leaving the shack that they had identified as the Enforcers' waiting point.
'That's it,' whispered Tom. 'They'll be making for the Portkey either back to London or off to -'
But the half-dozen wizards didn't turn left, towards where they thought they'd been able to detect the magical signature of the Portkey, even if they didn't know for sure which object it was. Instead they turned right, shifting into a patrol formation, and went to circle the shack.
Cal scowled. 'What are they doing?'
'...maybe we were wrong about the Portkey? Oh, bollocks.'
Cal rose enough to peer over the crates and examine the surroundings of their abandoned corner of Grimsby harbour, squinting at the movements. 'They're not moving out. They're ready for something. They're...'
Ice gripped his gut, but Tom seemed to have realised at the same time. 'If they go round that way, they're going to stumble onto Katie and Richard...'
'Not stumble,' Cal corrected. 'Hunt. We've been made; they must have detected Katie's charms...'
'What makes you say that?'
'Because we're closer, cut off, and they're not coming for us. We've got to warn them.'
'How?' Tom hissed. 'We can't even see them. And if we alert them, the Enforcers will know, too.'
'Yeah,' Cal confirmed. 'But the difference is, we know they're coming. Katie and Richard won't stand a chance.'
Tom hesitated. But then it was he, not Cal, who pointed his wand up and sent red sparks shooting skywards, blazing in the dark night even if they were only a few metres up in the air. It would still be enough for them to be noticed by Katie and Richard, at their vantage point closer to the supposed Portkey.
And it was more than enough to alert the Enforcers.
Shouts came, and curses, and heavy footsteps, and Cal rested his elbow on the crate. 'Apparate,' he instructed curtly. 'I'll cover you.' Twirling on the spot did nobody any favours when it came to defending themselves, which was why it was almost useless in a crisis unless you had a few seconds of breathing room to concentrate and spin around, especially if you didn't want to end up splinched.
Tom looked like he was going to argue, then a spell flew over the pile of crates at them, and he ducked to one side. Cal flung up a Shield Charm desperately, and Tom only hesitated for long enough to see a spell deflect off it, judging it secure, before he turned on the spot.
The crack that filled the air at his disapparition was particularly loud, and enough to have Cal glance at where Tom had been in case something had gone wrong - but his comrade was gone, nothing but thin air beside him.
Then he looked back at the Enforcers for four spells at once to thud into his Shield Charm. They weren't running in his direction, they were almost on top of him, and the next spell crashed right through his protections. He barely ducked in time to avoid the curse which came spitting overhead.
Hunkered down, he couldn't do much to shoot back, to defend himself, and certainly couldn't disapparate, and from the shouts he definitely had the bulk of the team on top of him. This wasn't going to be a fight he could win. It was time to exercise the better part of valour.
Cal crawled to where the crates were higher, where he could clamber to his feet and still be in cover against the oncoming curses, and lifted his wand -
Just as the next spell thrown in his direction hit. Not him - but the crate, which exploded into splinters and its unknown contents. The impact not only knocked him flying again onto his back but also left him without cover.
Ears ringing, head spinning, Cal writhed on his back and tightened his grip on his wand, going to snap it back up to let loose whatever spells he could think of - to, if he couldn't get away, go down fighting. But he barely raised it an inch before a heavy, booted foot landed on his wrist, and suddenly the only wand which mattered was an Enforcer's, shoved in his face.
'Easy, sunshine,' came the casual, comfortable drawl. 'Don't do nothing you'll regret. I think it's time you and our boss had a little chat.'
'How the hell did they find us...'
'We've got to figure out how to get in there. Do you think we can bypass their Apparition defences?'
'...possibly they detected just some background magical signature; we might have got unlucky if they were doing a perimeter check while you were casting...'
'Those defences are as old as the building itself; they've had the best security minds in the country for the past hundred years working on them...'
'Did I do a charm wrong?'
'Then we find an arrest team with the runes to get into the Apparition Chamber or the cells themselves, intercept them, and get the runes.'
'We've never managed to take down one of those teams, Tom; they're sent out at such short notice and in such heavy numbers that it's never been worth it!'
'Well, now it is!'
'No.' Gabriel's voice came loud and clear across the makeshift encampment that was the Lions' new, emergency bolthole since Tom, Richard, and Katie had made it back from Grimsby without Cal. 'It's not worth it.'
Silence fell upon the team, gathered together while the others finished setting up camp, and all eyes fell on their Seer, standing in front of the campfire with his arms folded across his chest.
Jen cleared her throat hesitantly. 'What do you mean?'
Gabriel lifted his gaze, grey eyes weary. 'I mean that we have never successfully raided the cells of Canary Wharf and we're not about to compromise the team now. We can search for opportunities, certainly, but risking our necks to get the access runes? We'll be exposing ourselves horrendously just trying. And even if we get them, then we have to raid, what, Canary Wharf? We've never done that before.'
'There's always a first time,' said Tom stubbornly.
'He's probably not in Canary Wharf anyway,' said Gabriel. 'This is Cal Brynmor, son of Thanatos Brynmor. He's not going to get the same attention as other prisoners. We can't begin to anticipate where he's been taken or what kind of security he's been given.'
Tom folded his arms across his chest. 'He got captured,' he said, 'letting me escape. And I won't just stand here idly because it's inconvenient!'
I gotta admit, thought Gabriel darkly, I didn't think you had the stones, Everard. But I did think you had more sense.
'Yes,' said Jen quietly. 'You will.' All eyes fell on her, and the leader of the Lions lifted her head, jaw tilted firmly. 'This group, this cause, is bigger than one man. We will send out the feelers we always do, send word to Grey, monitor the movements of the MLE. And if we find an opportunity, we will re-evaluate. But we cannot compromise everything just for the one person.'
Katie shifted her feet. 'Jen, I -'
'You know I'm right.' She cut her off without raising her voice. 'Besides, as Gabe's pointed out, Cal isn't your regular prisoner. He's the son of Thanatos Brynmor. That's not only going to make him harder to break out - it's going to keep him safe. I don't know if Cal considered this when he risked himself above and beyond the rest of you, but we can safely assume that Brynmor might lock up his son and throw away the key, but he won't kill him.
'We can't assume that about the treatment the rest of us would receive if we were captured.'
There was a stiff silence, before Katie lifted her head. 'Can we assume that about Cal? I mean, Brynmor is crazy...'
'He's not that crazy,' said Gabriel, and forced himself to give a grim smile at the others. 'Trust me.'
Tom bristled. 'He's your friend -'
'So if I don't get to go off hell-bent-for-leather to get him out, then you sure as hell don't, Everard,' he said, trying to bite the snap out of his voice and not quite making it.
'I don't forget what I owe people -'
'You do seem to be forgetting that this matter isn't up for debate.' Jen's voice had dropped to sub-arctic levels, and although she still spoke slowly, quietly, all eyes fell on her. This was just as well because Gabriel's patience had almost reached its end, but though he'd started with anger when Tom had spoke, he subsided at Jen's words. 'It's my call. And this is how it's going to be. Now, I suggest most of you get some sleep; we'll move on in the morning and make at least three more moves over the next week. It's going to be tough to make sure we've shaken them.'
The group did disperse, not just the debrief team but the rest of the Lions, slinking to their tents. It was the middle of the night and although tensions were high, none of them could deny being bone-tired, and within seconds the campsite had emptied into the tents to just leave Gabriel, still glaring at the fire, and Jen.
She moved to his side, touching his elbow lightly. 'Are you okay?'
'I...' Gabriel forced his expression to clear as he looked at her. 'Yeah. I will be. And he will be.' He shook his head. 'Bloody Tom, throwing his weight around like that.'
'He's just spooked.'
'He's doing that thing again. Where he pretends like he doesn't know he can't run around like an idiot until you tell him "no". I hate that.' Gabriel pinched the bridge of his nose.
Her hand came up to his forearm, then slid up to and around his shoulder, and he relaxed a little in the embrace. 'I'm sorry. I'm so sorry.'
'Cal knew the risks,' he murmured, letting his head bow as she wrapped both arms around him. 'This is what we do, this is the life we chose.'
'It doesn't make it suck any less.' Jen lifted her head, kissing him gently on the forehead, and he felt some of the knot in his back loosen - but not fade. 'It's late.'
'I know.' Gabriel tried to straighten, but she didn't let him pull back. 'You're going to have a busy day tomorrow, you should probably get some sleep.'
'I'm not leaving you out here to brood at the campfire all night,' she said stubbornly.
He gave an apologetic smile. 'I'm not going to be able to sleep.'
She softened against him, less stubborn, more coaxing. 'If you're not going to be able to sleep,' Jen said gently, 'you should at least be not getting sleep with some company.'
He met her gaze with a slight start, tense and apprehensive and even guilty all at once, and winced. 'I probably won't be the best company, either...'
But she had already reached down to take his hands, was already tugging him in the direction of the womens' tent, where her infirmary had remained an office, command centre, and private quarters; there weren't enough people in the Lions to need both bunk rooms of both tents on any kind of regular basis. He couldn't find it within him to resist her, and discreetly they stepped through the gloom, let the flap to her room fall shut behind them, and when she tugged him onto the bunk beside her, he could only flop down with a fatigue he hadn't realised had sunk into his bones.
There, in the dark, she just nestled up close and warm against him. But it was still warmth greater than the campfire could have offered, still a warmth which nestled in his belly and began to melt barriers within him he'd had for so long he hadn't even known they were there.
Then when she spoke, he realised that this giving of warmth was mutual as he heard the note of fear in her voice. 'Do you know he's going to be okay?'
She didn't mean faith. She meant fact.
His breath caught in his throat, and when he took her hand it was with a grip so strong it was like she was a lifeline tethering him down. 'I'm pretty sure he'll live,' he said, 'but I can't guarantee he'll be okay.'
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