The funeral of Jacob Van Roden was a quiet sort of affair. The wizarding world had seen so many funerals in the past six months that one more, even of an Auror, was not considered a reason to make a public fuss. So the only people down at the pier near the Canary Wharf HQ, thoroughly enchanted up to keep Muggles away, were other Aurors, friends, and family.
His parents had agreed, in the end, to hold the funeral according to the traditions of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Long ago confronted with the potential for a funeral with no body, or no body in a good condition, the department had adapted. It was expected now that any recovered remains would be cremated.
Those ashes would then be spread into the Thames. Although the head office of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement sat in the Ministry of Magic, the training, the everyday operations, the processing and imprisonment and interrogation of suspects and criminals went down here in Canary Wharf. Only the purely administrative staff of the MLE could spend their career in the department without working down in the riverside office. It was the beating heart of the department, and the beating heart of law enforcement in the country.
So it made sense that its sons and daughters would become a part of the river it sat next to upon their deaths.
As Jacob's partner, it had been up to Tanith to break out from the main congregation, to conduct the long walk down the pier as the eulogies were recited around her and, at the end, to open the urn and see the ashes scattered into the river. The wind picked them up almost immediately, seeing them dance and fly across the surface, before finally they came to rest - and were lost.
She'd hardly heard the eulogies. This wasn't the first funeral of an Auror she'd been to; there'd been a slew after the Battle of Hogwarts, and Jacob hadn't been the first death since then. Although they were sincere, they all said the same thing, more or less.
Because these were all good, hard-working, self-sacrificing people, who put their lives on the line for the protection of others.
She just didn't need to hear it umpteen times. And she didn't need to hear how empty it sounded when uttered for the umpteenth time about her partner.
Once it was over, Tanith didn't linger. She first joined the main bulk of the attending who left promptly, heading down the long road back to Canary Wharf itself, before allowing herself to slow down and drop back. At the pier itself would be Jacob's family, whom she had no desire to be face-to-face with more than necessary - back ahead would be work, and normality.
Staving that off a few moments more seemed advisable, if she wanted to walk in with her head held high.
She almost didn't notice the figure walking the other way until it was too late - and when she did, she stopped, heart lunging into her throat. 'Toby.'
His long coat held off the drizzle of early winter in London, and he leant more lightly on the cane in his hand than he had when she'd last seen him a week ago. His expression was sombre, quiet. 'I'm sorry I wasn't there for the ceremony.'
Tanith hesitated. The last thing she was in the mood for right then was a fight. 'You couldn't make the time for it?'
That clearly didn't mean a fight wasn't going to happen, though.
He flinched. 'I guess I deserved that. No, we didn't want this to become a high profile event. I had to talk the Minister from coming down here himself.' Shacklebolt had made a point of attending as many Auror funerals as had been possible - and with him always came a slew of press and attention. 'It didn't then seem fair that I come, too.'
'You were his friend,' she said, gently more than accusingly. 'You had the right to be here.'
'Perhaps.' Tobias tapped his cane on the pavement self-consciously. 'I wasn't sure if you'd want me to be here, though.'
'So you decided to come five minutes later?'
'So I decided to not suddenly appear in public.' He straightened, still wearing a pained frown. 'I meant to get in touch with you. I mean, I tried to get in touch with you...'
'I was in Dad's house in Tuscany. I've not been home yet, if you sent letters to the flat.'
'Just the one. I didn't want to push. But I... wanted to be here, today. If you wanted me to be.'
She did, and feeling like that made her feel a traitor to herself. The week in Tuscany had been good - warm, pleasant, a chance to clear her mind, a chance to be alone. And so it had left her with unpleasant thoughts and tough choices and nobody to help her with them or to take her mind off things. And no conclusions had been forthcoming.
Even if she had reached some conclusions, though, just being in front of him was enough to turn everything upside-down. Every resolution that she was sick of the situation was dismissed by the sheer comfort his presence brought, and every resolution that she would forgive and forget was stirred up by lingering bitterness and pain at the sight of him.
Still, she took a step forward, and he reached out to touch her elbow gingerly. 'Thank you for coming,' said Tanith quietly, and she meant it. 'I didn't mean to leave you in the dark for a week - that wasn't my intention -'
'It would have been your right. I wanted you to have the time you needed.' He shifted his bad foot, always a sign of nerves, and his gaze dropped. 'I missed you, though.'
'I missed you, too.' Even when they'd been failing to meet for more than a drink, a conversation; even when they'd been so busy, month after month, that getting so much as dinner together had been impossible, or any date had been only interrupted, they'd still not been apart this long since the end of the war. It had been one of her reasons for leaving - being in the flat and missing him would have just brought back too many confusing memories.
She took a deep breath. 'I'm sorry I... lashed out. I did read the news this week, I saw how the Nott trial went. I get that it would have been... a bad time for you to go.' Tanith hesitated. 'I'm still not happy about it...'
'No, I'm sorry. I don't... know what else I could have done, the timing just sucked, but...' Tobias pulled his hand back to reach into his coat. 'That's part of why I'm here. I can't make up for before, and I can't change the fact that I'm going to be practically tied to my desk until the election, but I can make... some better promises.'
And there it was. That light at the end of the tunnel, the reason she could push the hurt and pain to one side. This, too, shall end. If they held strong. If they persevered just a few weeks more...
'I know we said we'd go away at Christmas. The four of us, I mean,' Tobias stammered, still not pulling his hand out. 'But I imagine that Gabriel and Jen have plans, and Cal's... God knows what he's doing these days, and besides, they'll understand. So, well. Here.' He pulled out an envelope and handed it to her.
Tanith opened it up and blinked. 'Tickets from TerrorTours. To Guatemala. What?'
'To the PetÚn Basin. I thought we could go to Tikal, see some of the old Mayan magical archaeological sites, you know, somewhere warm, somewhere interesting...' He was getting that spark in his eyes she loved so much, that little surge of excitement at not just the idea of going away, but going somewhere he could read about.
Her lips twitched. 'You're such a nerd, Grey,' she said, but she said it with such affection and nostalgia that he couldn't help but grin.
'That's not the best part,' he said, looking beyond pleased at her reaction. 'Look in the top-right corner.'
She lifted the tickets, brow furrowing. 'What...'
'"Non-Refundable",' he said, smile only broadening. 'So I can't back out of it. Neither can you. We book the time off. And we go. No excuses. No interruptions. No catastrophes.'
Tanith quirked an eyebrow at him. 'And what if I say "no"?'
He hesitated, clearly not sure now if she was teasing, the pleased smile freezing. 'Well... then... I would be considerably out of pocket and looking like an idiot and would have to go on a romantic holiday to Guatemala on my own or perhaps with Cal and watch him pick up women while I mooned around pathetically...'
She failed to not laugh, and stepped in closer to silence him with a gentle kiss. 'I was kidding,' she reassured him. 'Thank you. This is... it's a lovely idea.'
His frozen smiled turned bashful, and he rubbed the back of his neck. 'I really am sorry. I hate it when we argue like that, I hate it when we get this... divided, and there's nothing I can do about it...'
And just like that, the world felt right again. She rested her hand on the one that held his cane, and squeezed it reassuringly. 'So do I. But you're right, it's just a few more weeks, then everything will calm down. If we can manage to not lose our heads in that time...'
'I don't know, I am very good at losing my head,' he mumbled, but nodded a little awkwardly. 'Soon. We'll have all the time in the world, soon. But in the meantime, can I try to make up for my abject failure to be here for you over the last week and take you out for dinner?'
Her expression shifted wistfully. 'I'd love to, but I've got a whole lot of paperwork to catch up on... How's tomorrow?'
Tobias grimaced. 'Meeting with the Italian Minister. Wednesday?'
'Night shift on the front desk. I've no idea if my shifts are going to change, though, I've got to go meet Vaughn in half an hour...'
He covered her hand with his, smile lopsided. 'This. This is why we don't manage dinner. I'm busy on Thursday; we're doing prep work for the opening of the new hospital in Manchester Friday afternoon. But let me know what your schedule is. Even if we only get lunch.'
'It's a date in potentia.' Her lips twitched. 'I should get back to the office.'
'Me too; I'll see you... when I see you.' But when she went to walk past him he reached out to catch her at the elbow, turning her around as he twisted, ungainly on his bad leg, to face her. 'I love you.'
Even after all these months the words still turned her stomach inside-out. In the good way. She faltered for half a heartbeat, then stepped forward to kiss him again, this embrace more lingering, deeper. The touch of his lips was always enough to push back the shadows, even on the day of a funeral. 'I love you.'
Then she left, not quite daring to turn back, her head awhirl with a cocktail of grief and contentment, satisfaction and apprehension, and a smattering of guilt that she was letting her relationship woes get to her when she'd just spread Jacob's ashes.
Like he'd want you to linger and grieve. He was getting sick of you two dancing around these issues.
Most of the contentment faded at that thought, at the notion that she'd never again get to sit around the office and chat with him, discuss their problems, their lives, their plans, or just what they heard on the wireless the other evening, and she set about her usual process of packing up the feelings and pushing them away.
She was headed back to the office. She was headed back to work.
She was headed out of her grief and back into her life. It was a daunting path.
It was still disconcerting to go to the office of Cassius Vaughn. Although the Head of the Auror Office was still expected to keep a room at the Ministry, to be on-hand for the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Vaughn found himself needing to stay more hands-on than his predecessors in these days of limited numbers. As such he had moved into the office that had previously been held by Bacchus Drake. And before him, Rodolphus Lestrange.
And before him, Idaeus Robb.
So she wrung her hands as she ducked inside and nudged the door shut behind her. 'You wanted to see me, Boss?'
Vaughn looked up from his paperwork, scratching his greying whiskers. 'Cole. Come in. Sit down. How're you feeling?'
'Like I just had a funeral.' Tanith hesitated. 'I'm doing okay, Boss. The time off was good. I tried to use it... properly.'
'I don't know what "proper" use of bereavement time is. But it's good to see you again.' Vaughn nodded a little stiffly as she sat down. 'You're feeling ready to get back on the job again?'
'Ready and able. Though... look, Boss, I know it's routine for you to not send people out alone, and I appreciate that I have to fit in the department rather than the department fitting me. But I'm really, really... not sure about just being thrown in with another partner right away.'
'I agree,' said Vaughn, much to her surprise. 'What? The bond's important. I don't want to stick you with someone you're smarting about being partnered up with. That's no good for nobody involved - not you, not them, and not the Auror Office. No, I had a different kind of notion for you.'
Tanith made a face and tried not to. 'You're not tying me to a desk, are you, Boss?'
He snorted. 'Always got to have it your own way, Cole, don't you? But no. I'm putting you on a team assignment. Giving you a team, in fact. There's a new case up which I want you to handle.'
'A team.' Tanith cocked her head. 'We only put those together if there's a lot of leg-work to be done. What's happened?'
'A body turned up dead this morning - like they do - in their own house. Definitely not natural causes. Someone you know, someone I reckon you'd have a motivation in finding the killer of. And with people like Proudfoot on the Avery case, you're the best I've got for this.'
Tanith's brow wrinkled, her gut tensing. 'Who's the victim?'
Now her nose crinkled. 'Mulready's dead?' She paused. 'Good.'
'Nasty case of a slashing charm to the chest. Attacked in his own home. It got called in this morning by a neighbour who popped round to get some milk. I thought this would be your cup of tea.' Vaughn reached for a folder on the desk and passed it across to her.
'There was never any sign Mulready was cooperating with Avery and the others; we kept an eye on him and he seemed to be taking his demobbing with pretty good grace and went to ground,' said Tanith thoughtfully. 'Who could be striking against him?'
'Perhaps some of Avery's lot branding him a traitor. Perhaps he didn't have any milk and the neighbour was pissed off. If I could answer those questions sat here and now, I wouldn't need to send you off on the case, now, would I?'
Tanith eyed him suspiciously. 'This could be nothing more complex than a domestic incident,' she said. 'Why does this need a team? If not for policy I could chase this one on my own.'
'Ah. That.' Vaughn shifted his weight. 'I said there would be a job for you when you came back. Obviously I didn't mean this one, 'cos Mulready wasn't dead then.'
She narrowed her eyes. 'Yeah...'
'This was going to be a job I was going to foist on you and Van Roden. Or, really, foist on Van Roden and you were going to be collateral. I knew you weren't going to like it, but I meant to split the two of you up.'
'Spit it out, Boss.'
'The kids are coming out of their basic training. And I frankly need as many Aurors on the streets as I can get. Some of them are going to keep in training for a while, some of them are going to be partnered up with the more experienced buggers I can spare. But there are three who are really very promising. Veterans in their own right before they even came here. I want them to be in a team under someone I can trust to help them with the protocol, help them get some experience under their belts, so I can mobilise them to be fully-fledged Aurors ASAP once the rough edges have been worn off.'
'What three?' Tanith's voice was low, suspicious.
Vaughn made a face and ran a hand through his hair. 'You know one of them. In your year at school, lots of experience as a major face in the Lions of Britain resistance group. Katherine Bell. Dab hand with communication and protection spells. Excellent at small-unit combat. Can do mass-apparition with the flick of a wrist. Hell of a thing.'
'I know Bell,' said Tanith, without much enthusiasm as she remembered Hogwarts fights. Tobias might have been Mister Inter-House Relationships at school, and Cal might have joined the Lions of Britain, and Gabriel might have been cohabiting with Jen Riley and Bell herself these days, but she had been given little reason to shed tense past relationships.
'Figured you two might work well together. As for the other two - well, that's why I wanted Van Roden for the job. It's going to be tough to keep these ones in line. I've got a mind to partner them up once they can be trusted on their own instead of splitting them up, all things considered. But I wanted them to have a mentor who can teach them the ropes - and a mentor who's not going to get over-awed. I guess you can do that,' conceded Vaughn, 'but Jacob would have done it with more diplomacy.'
'You're probably right,' said Tanith dryly. 'I wasn't the diplomatic one. So which much-vaunted children are you bringing in for me to babysit?'
'Children?' Vaughn snorted. 'They're a year younger than you, I think they've got as many Death Eater takedowns as you under their belts, and even you aren't about to start adding Dark Lords to your kill sheet.'
Tanith's eyes widened. 'Oh, no -'
He lifted a hand. 'I need someone to show him the ropes. To teach him how to be an Auror. To not be overwhelmed by his fame, and to be a level-headed mentor.'
'I am not going to teach Harry bloody Potter -'
'It's great to see how you show gratitude to the man who killed Lord Voldemort. You'll also have to dodge the press to make sure they're not crawling over your arse just to get the latest story of him back in action.' Vaughn lit his pipe, leaning back in his chair. 'Of course, that's why I wanted Van Roden's self-control and diplomacy; I'm not thrilled at sending you into a PR hotspot, but these days it's the Ministry's job to tidy such things up...'
'If you're not thrilled, Boss,' said Tanith tensely, 'then you could always, I don't know, give the job to someone else.'
He glared, and she realised that she'd taken her irreverent banter a little too far. Vaughn didn't need everyone under him showing deference, but he expected them to know when it was appropriate to sit down and shut up.
Not talents she'd ever especially honed.
'The Mulready case is a nothing case, Cole. You find who killed one miserable son-of-a-bitch. The challenge here is, when you find the murderer, not shaking his hand. But it's good for you to get back into the swing of things, and it's good for the trainees. A nice, easy, paint-by-numbers case. It's only on the Auror desk and not the Enforcers' desk because of a possible connection to Avery and mostly because he used to work out of this office.' Vaughn puffed on his pipe. 'Of course, if you don't want it, I can swap you for Dawlish down in the training -'
'Don't finish that sentence, Boss, please, Merlin.' Tanith winced, lifting a hand. 'Your point's taken. I'll do the case. I'll even deal with the Boy Wonder. Just... don't send me down to training.'
'I spent ten years running the Training Department,' said Vaughn haughtily.
'And you hated it.'
'It was character-building.'
'My character's perfectly well-rounded, thanks.' Tanith scratched her nose. 'Who's the third member of the team? Which one of Potter's illusive cabal do I get to babysit?'
Please let it be Granger. I can have Tobias teach me how to nerd-speak. Granger. Granger. Go Gra-
'Ronald Weasley,' said Vaughn, and her heart sank. 'See, this is what I want from you. Potter's good, Weasley's good. Bell's fine, too, but her attitude's not the issue. I'm not saying Potter and Weasley are stuck up or anything, but they've done lots. They're liable to be of the attitude that a few months' training and now they know it all, after, you know, killing Voldemort. I wanted someone to supervise them who doesn't think they're anything special. Who isn't going to let them cut corners because of their record. I can't think of anyone better for that job than you.'
At least, you can't think of anyone better for that job than me now Jacob's dead.
'So, basically, you're giving me this job so I can be a total bitch to a war hero.'
'Pretty much. Just don't piss them off, don't destroy their spirits, and don't do anything to get this case on the front page. Fob off the press, don't Stun them or anything.'
'I don't know why you're like this, Boss,' said Tanith. 'I've had no bad run-ins with the press.'
'You've not had any run-ins with the press. But I'm sure that a calm, even-tempered girl like you will do perfectly fine with an obnoxious reporter in your face asking provocative questions about your professional talents and whether it's daunting to work alongside the Boy-Who-Lived.' Vaughn's voice took on a dark, scathing tone not specifically directed at her.
'Daunting?' she echoed, wrinkling her nose, then lifted a hand. 'Oh - okay. Point taken. I'll dodge the press, or let Bell handle them.' Tanith drew a deep breath. 'Where are they all?'
'Right now? Still in their training. Work starts bright and early tomorrow morning; you've got all the Enforcer interviews with the neighbour, with the crime scene breakdown in that file, and if you want to get the groundwork ready on the Mulready case for when they're out, be my guest. But remember this is meant to be a learning experience for these probies, too. Don't just shove them out of the way and do it yourself.'
'Are you kidding?' Tanith gave a dark smirk. 'I have flunkies I can dispatch to go get a spell analysis shot off or go question everyone on a street while I get to fuss about the important stuff. I'm not going to shove them out of the way, Boss - I'm going to delegate.'
'And so do you learn the most important talents of leadership.' Vaughn smirked sadly, puffing on his pipe. 'Take it easy, Cole. Catch up, get ready for tomorrow. It'll be busy then, and it'll be busy from here on out. You just let me know if you need time.'
Tanith's expression twitched as she stood. 'I didn't become an Auror to sit around and lick my wounds, Boss.'
'Attagirl. Now, get out of my office. Oh, and Cole?' Vaughn nodded to her as she hesitated by the doorway. 'It's good to have you back.'