‘The responses have been positive,’ said Dimitri, leaning over the table as Tobias shovelled salad into his mouth. A healthy diet wasn’t something a wizard usually needed to be too concerned with, but one of the advantages of being exiled to a Greek island was tasty healthy food, and he fancied he needed every edge he could get with his injured leg. ‘France is positing further trade sanctions. Even Spain is talking about strenuous diplomatic involvement, to properly engage the British Government and have them explain their actions. And there are... rumblings... Germany is considering proposing peacekeeping.’
‘Peacekeeping?’ Tobias’ eyebrows went almost to his hairline. ‘That’s better than we’d hoped for.’
‘What kind of rumblings?’ Will checked.
‘Things I hear from a friend of a friend in the Regierungzauber. It is all discussion. But that they are discussing options so extreme is good, no?’
Will frowned. ‘It’s nothing yet.’
‘It’s a start. I’ll take a start.’ Tobias gave a thin smile as he set his fork down. ‘We’re going to make a difference.’
‘We’ve made a lot of difference. I just don’t want us... getting our hopes up.’
‘What’s the problem, Will?’ Tobias grinned at him more. ‘Afraid we might get optimistic?’
‘Something is bothering you?’ Dimitri cocked his head.
Will sighed, leaning back. ‘No, nothing. I think. There’s just been a lot of chatter coming out this morning about something going on in the MLE.’
Tobias raised an eyebrow. ‘“Something”?’
‘I know, helpful.’ He scowled. ‘But I can’t get more than that. I’ve sent a message to the Lions asking for more, but they’ve not got back to me yet.’
‘Do you think maybe something has happened to them?’ said Dimitri.
‘It’s not unusual for them to not answer these messages instantly, especially if they’re on the move or have gone to ground,’ said Tobias reassuringly. ‘The hubbub from the MLE might be nothing bad, but it might be forcing them quiet.’
‘Or, they’re all dead.’ Will threw his hands in the air. ‘I know. I know. There’s just no way this goes down that I don’t worry about it.’
‘You should worry,’ said a voice from across the terrace, and Tobias almost fell out of his chair, so fast did he twist around in astonishment and recognition.
Because there, her dark hair shining in the bright Greek sunlight falling down upon her as she reached the top of the steps and headed towards them, walked Tanith Cole.
Will was the first to react of all of them, as Tobias reached clumsily for his walking stick and Dimitri gaped. The older wizard was on his feet in a flash, wand extended, pointed straight at her. ‘Don’t move. Just - don’t move.’
Tanith gave an irritated frown, but did so, lifting her hands. Her wand remained snug in his holster at her side, almost hidden from sight by the dark grey coat that hung off her, a little too large, and yet not out discarded even in this warm weather. ‘It’s nice to see you too, Will. All right, all right.’
Will jerked his head at Tobias as he got to his feet. ‘Sorry,’ he said, though it was unclear which of them he was apologising to. ‘You should check her.’
Tobias closed his mouth, which he hadn’t realised was open, and he took a few stumbling steps towards her, leaning heavily on his cane. ‘It’s... really you?’
‘That’s not a very good security question, Grey,’ she said, eyes flickering over him, and landing at last on his leg. ‘Are you... all right?’
‘Still not a security question,’ Will prompted.
‘Right, right.’ Tobias’ mind raced - and there was only one place it could possibly go, try as he might not. Just by the way you say my name... But he spoke anyway. ‘Where was - where did we last meet?’ he asked, and his breath caught, tips of his ears going red. ‘And. What was the last thing I said to you?’
Her eyes met his, dark and tense, but they didn’t waver. ‘It was in my flat,’ she said, her voice careful, level - diplomatic. ‘And you... you told me you loved me.’
The heat had reached his cheeks now, but he gave Will a brief nod. ‘Um, it’s her.’ He shifted his weight awkwardly, not really sure what to do, not sure if he wanted to move from this spot and pull her into the biggest hug, or just stand there like an idiot.
‘They could have taken all sorts of information from her head, lad,’ said Will tensely.
‘They didn’t find out I’d been helping you before, when they locked me up, did they,’ she pointed out. ‘They didn’t get that out of my head.’ Will hesitated, but he did, slowly, lower his wand, and Tanith sighed. ‘I think I’ll pass on asking you in return.’ She blinked at Dimitri. ‘It’s good to see you again, too.’
Dimitri grinned, getting to his feet. ‘It has been a while. But what are you doing here?’
‘That’s a sort of long story,’ she said, heading for the table. ‘So I don’t suppose I could get a drink? I’ve been in transit a while.’
They were all sat down again by the time Tanith talked, after she’d had a good mouthful of water. ‘They came for me this morning. Aurors. I wasn’t sure why, I’m still not entirely sure why they came for me. But I managed to elude them.’ She spoke in a slow, measured way, and as Tobias watched her - still not quite believing that she was actually here, on this island, sat right there in front of him.
She looked tired, her movements a bit sluggish. He couldn’t begin to imagine what she’d been through.
‘But they’ve... they’ve got Cal.’ She didn’t quite meet Will’s gaze. ‘They caught him on a Lions raid. He’s being held in Canary Wharf, Thanatos Brynmor is - he’s furious. I don’t know what he’s going to do, I mean, he’s his father, but he’s really... really furious.’
Will’s fist clenched. ‘Do you think he’ll hurt him?’
Tanith made a face. ‘I think he might have already.’
Will made a noise of frustrated pain, getting to his feet, and Tanith looked apologetically at Tobias before she continued. ‘Maybe he told them something about me and that’s why they came for me; I don’t know. I didn’t stick around to find out. But if we don’t do something for Cal, I don’t know what’s going to happen. So I came here.’
Dimitri frowned. ‘How did you...’
‘I’m sorry to say, Dimitri, they know where you are. It was in the staff briefings. They just can’t get to you here,’ she said. ‘Yet. So your time might be running out.’
‘Never mind our time.’ Tobias leant forwards. ‘Cal. What about Cal?’
She reached into her pocket and placed down, carefully, a round stone with a rune etched into it, which glowed a gentle, light blue. ‘This is one of the access runes through the anti-apparition wards around Canary Wharf. I managed to get my hands on it before I left.’
Will turned, stern expression fading for one of surprised hope. ‘Those are seriously high security...’
‘And I managed to put a spy coal in Yaxley and Brynmor’s offices,’ Tanith said, coolly superior. ‘That’s pretty high security, too.’
‘With this we can bypass the protection in the MLE HQ?’ Tobias rubbed the back of his neck, then he looked up at Will. ‘What do you think?’
The older man drew a deep, tense breath, running a hand through his hair. ‘I’m not sure... that it should be me making this call. Else I’d demand we go in, all wands blazing, and get him the hell out of there.’
Tobias gave a thin smile. ‘That was pretty much what I was thinking.’
Tanith returned the smile, and he felt his own broaden. ‘That was exactly why I came here.’
Dimitri leant forwards. ‘I hate to, perhaps, be the responsible one, but someone ought to... raiding the headquarters of the Magical Law Enforcement Department? Is that not... how you say - crazy?’
‘Thanatos Brynmor is capable of anything,’ Will growled. ‘Especially if he’s caught Cal in defiance of him. If he’s really hurt him... if he’s really gone off the rails...’ He clenched his fists and looked down, before drawing another, calming breath. ‘I mean, then he’s definitely capable of more.’ It had sounded like it was originally a threat, or a promise, but Tobias struggled to argue with his logic.
‘Agreed; I didn’t think he would hurt him, for anything, but if he’s started then he must have really lost the plot,’ he said. ‘And if we can’t get in touch with the Lions, then we don’t have the time to send this rune to them, hope they get it, and hope they can get in and out on their own operation.’
‘There doesn’t need to be a “we”,’ said Will, going over to the table and picking up the rune. ‘I’m an Unspeakable. I’m going in there to get my son.’
Tanith straightened, indignant. ‘And he’s my friend. I didn’t come all this way to sit drinking gin and tonic on a Greek beach while you break him out of there.’
‘We drink ouzo here,’ offered Dimitri helpfully.
‘I agree. About the going with you bit, not about the ouzo or gin bit.’ Tobias met Will’s gaze. ‘You can’t go on your own. I know you’re an Unspeakable, but I worked in that building, and Tanith’s been there for the whole of the past year.’ He looked over at Dimitri. ‘I understand that if you come with us it would be... indelicate if things went wrong...’
‘Indelicate like addressing the European conference to try to make them commit to sanctions against Britain?’ Dimitri gave a broad, toothy smile. ‘Please. I have sat on the sidelines for far too long. Besides, if it goes very wrong and they capture me, they could not hurt me; I am a diplomatic representative. It would look very bad for Britain in Russia’s eyes if they did not just eject me.
‘And if they did hurt me, I am sure that Russia would have strenuous words with them. Perhaps including wands.’
Tobias grinned, then looked back at Will. ‘You do realise that when I wanted to charge off back to Britain on a rescue mission, you said it was stupid, doomed, foolhardy, and stopped me?’
Will’s smile didn’t reach his eyes. ‘I did. But it’s different this time. After all,’ he nodded at the stone, ‘we have this.’
‘And this time,’ said Tobias smoothly, ‘we all happen to agree.’
He wondered what Aurora would think and say. She’d probably try to stop them, if she were alive, if she were here. And she probably wouldn’t even be wrong...
He tried to not think about it.
Too long on the sidelines. I won’t report Cal’s death from a cozy Mediterranean island. That’s one too many.
‘Then it’s decided,’ said Will, folding his arms across his chest. ‘I’ll go arrange the Portkeys. We can be gone by nightfall.’
Then he left, and Dimitri took one look at the two of them and went into the cottage, mumbling something about international relations, and then it was just the two of them, bathed in the sunlight, the warmth, and the awkward silence.
Tanith broke it first, shifting her weight in the chair. ‘How’s... how’s your leg?’
He grimaced. ‘You heard, huh?’ He moved it and, still as it had been for the last few minutes, the small twitch sent a slight jolt of pain up his thigh. ‘It’s getting better. But the Healers say a Dark Magic curse like that will probably never heal up properly. You never know. “Not properly” might just mean a scar, instead of not being able to walk.’ He leant forwards, gaze locked on her. ‘Are you okay? You seem a bit... out of it.’
‘I’ve been...’ She rubbed her eye. ‘Awake. For a while. They came for me at the end of a night shift. I’ve been on the run since. Getting out of the country was - a pain. I’m all right.’ She met his gaze, and there was suddenly something lighter there, something more relaxed about her expression despite the tension that hung around her. ‘I’ve been more worried about you.’
It was strange, sitting there. Like they were in limbo, like there were a thousand and one things to talk about, all so important, but now was not the time. Within hours they’d be racing across the continent to save their friend - stopping to debate the finer points of emotional complexities several years old seemed... unwise.
He had to keep his head clear.
‘I’m all right,’ he reassured her. ‘I’ve been out here on a Mediterranean island; what’s not to like?’ He gestured expansively and grinned, but the smile faded slowly. ‘I didn’t want to ask in front of Will. But did you see Cal? Is he... okay?’
‘I didn’t see him,’ she said, and for a horrible moment he thought she was lying to spare him a truth he didn’t want to hear. But no - he could tell when she was lying, he was sure he could, there were facial ticks and other techniques she used she’d never thought he could see through. She just had to be tense and tired - and he, too, felt like jumping at every shadow. ‘I just heard about what had happened. And got out.’
He nodded, slowing his breathing, and looked down at his hands. They were real, at least - really there, really in front of him. Just that morning he’d been expecting to spend his day doing nothing more than going over incoming reports and drafting up an outline of necessary articles for the next release. Now he was looking at going home.
Now she was sat right in front of him.
‘I’m glad,’ he said softly, and when he lifted his gaze to meet hers she seemed nervous, apprehensive. He couldn’t blame her, and licked his suddenly dry lips. ‘It’s been... weird out here. Watching everything. Hearing everything, and not doing anything. I can’t imagine how it’s been for you. I’ve just wanted to... help, in whatever way I could.’
He leant forwards, and her chin tilted up a little, perhaps nervous, perhaps defensive. ‘I know everything’s been crazy, and all, but -’
Then the door to the cottage swung open heavily, he jumped, and Tanith looked infinitely relieved as Will stepped out into the sunshine, waving a roll of parchment.
‘ETA on our secure international Portkey to Surrey is two hours,’ he said. ‘We’ll go to your old house, Toby, it should be safe, to get our bearings and so I can check some of the information drops, make sure we’re going in with our eyes open.’
He looked between them, and if he realised he’d been interrupting he certainly didn’t seem to care. ‘I suggest we get our gear ready.’
‘I don’t like this,’ said Jen as she watched the little lights dance and move about the enchanted map.
‘Me neither,’ said Tom. ‘Especially since it’s so obvious. We’re tracing these Apparitions and Portkeys with no problem; they’re not taking the time to make any of it secure.’ As he spoke a rather large light disappeared from Nottingham and reappeared on top of London, which was positively glowing by now.
‘That’s another team back to the Ministry,’ said Gabriel. He looked nervous, apprehensive, even beyond what the situation warranted. ‘What are they doing?’
‘Converging.’ Jen frowned. ‘In one night, the bulk of the brigades of MLE members most loyal to the administration are being summoned back to London.’
‘Look.’ Tom pointed to an array of lights near Manchester. ‘The Salford Irregulars haven’t moved.’
‘The Salford Irregulars are certainly not loyal to the administration. That’s why they’ve been stuck in Salford for the past six months. But you’re right.’ She nodded. ‘Some people are being left out in the cold.’
‘They’re moving.’ Gabriel blinked as some of the lights disappeared. ‘Where... they’re disappearing, where are they going?’
Their eyes roved over Britain, across the most urbanised areas, from city to city, south to north. Not to Birmingham, not to Liverpool, not to Newcastle. Not even, across the border, to Edinburgh.
Then they spotted the lights, growing larger and brighter, on one spot in the middle of Scotland. Tom drew a sharp breath. ‘Bugger.’
‘Guys!’ The tent canvas was thrown back as Katie burst in, out of breath and not caring she’d interrupted a command meeting. ‘Something’s happening!’
Jen whirled around, going for her wand, but Katie lifted a hand to stop her - then lifted the other, in which she clutched a fat golden galleon. It was glowing, and as Gabriel squinted in the gloom he could see the lettering wasn’t that of a normal coin - and it was changing repeatedly in front of his eyes.
‘No! Not here. At Hogwarts. Something’s going on at Hogwarts.’
Tom grimaced at the map. ‘We know, I’m afraid -’
‘It’s Harry.’ Katie straightened, and brushed some hair back from her face.
His jaw flapped. ‘Potter?’
‘No, Harry bloody Houdini.’ she snapped. A brief silence met her words as the three Pureblooded wizards before her remained completely nonplussed, and she made a noise of irritation. ‘Of course Harry Potter. He’s back, he’s at Hogwarts, and he’s summoning for help.’
Jen glared at the galleon. ‘You never did tell me what the hell that thing is.’
‘We had them in Dumbledore’s Army. It’s how we communicated without that toad Umbridge finding us.’ Katie twisted it in her hand to read it. ‘It’s been silent all year, but I held onto it because... I don’t even know. Seriously, they wouldn’t summon the DA to Hogwarts if it weren’t serious.’
Jen hesitated, but it was a pause to think and gather her thoughts - not a pause to debate her course of action. The course was clear. ‘I think,’ she said slowly, deliberately, ‘that it’s time the DA waived its membership requirements at their meetings.’
Tom frowned. ‘How’re we going to get into Hogwarts?’
‘Don’t know,’ said Katie helpfully. ‘But the galleon says to meet at the Hog’s Head. This is going to get to more than me, Jen, it’s going to get to Fred, George, Angelina, all the others, and God knows what they’ve been up to... we’ve got to -’
They all stopped, bewildered, as Gabriel spoke, for the first time since Katie had come in, and all eyes turned on him. The thoughtful frown which had deepened during the conversation finally gave way for a sheepish smile. ‘I know. I know. It’s great. Chaos is breaking out. Half of the MLE is leaving London for Hogwarts, and the half staying behind are the ones we think are on our side. Harry Potter’s back. It’s going to hell in a handbasket, and that means, if we can pull this off... well, who knows where we’ll be by the end of the night.’
Katie folded her arms across her chest. ‘Then why aren’t we going to Hogwarts?’
‘I won’t stop you,’ said Gabriel slowly. ‘But I am going to ask for some of you to come with me. Somewhere else. It won’t take half an hour, I promise you, and then you can answer the call, go join Potter’s Army. I might even come with you there.’ His gaze swept across the three of them. ‘I... can’t tell you where we’re going, or why. But I will assure you that it’s important. And... I’m going to ask you to trust me.’
Tom and Katie watched him for a moment, confused and bewildered - then as one they turned to look at Jen, whose eyes hadn’t left Gabriel.
Her lips twitched softly. ‘Of course we trust you,’ she said quietly. ‘Where are we going?’