Chapter 7 : Breathe When It's Over
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Even though there was hardly anyone in the office, even though he knew the Minister couldn't be doing anything that couldn't be interrupted, even though it was a late night and he was working at his behest, Tobias still knocked and waited before entering Kingsley Shacklebolt's office.
'I don't think anyone stands on ceremony around here as much as you do, Tobias,' said Shacklebolt, looking up from his desk as his Communications Director stepped in. The office of the Minister of Magic was particularly nice - opulent, comfortable, decorated sparsely in what Shacklebolt had taken the time to pick out but was still pleasantly tasteful, and with the windows beyond the desk showing the magical projection of the wide night-time London cityscape.
'It's just polite, Minister,' said Tobias as he closed the door behind him. 'And respectful.'
'I'm not sure how comfortable I feel with quite that level of formality.' Shacklebolt lifted a hand. 'I know. I know. It's all part of making people take me seriously as the real Minister, rather than as just some caretaker.'
'It's not just a ploy, sir.' Tobias squared his shoulders. 'I do respect you.'
Shacklebolt gave a small smile. 'How's it going out there?'
The younger man scowled abruptly. 'Someone's leaked the whole ceremony details to the press,' he grumbled. 'We got an advance copy of the article the Prophet's running; it's going to completely ruin the surprise and we'll have to change things.'
Shacklebolt looked at the clock by the wall. 'Tobias, it's eight o' clock. It'll hardly be a disaster for the opening of a hospital to not be a surprise or an extravaganza.'
Tobias looked pained. 'This is your best opportunity to fight back, Minister. We might have closed the gap in the polls with the Nott trial, but Harrigan is already starting to deploy the old favourites. About how you're feeding off a culture of fear -'
'We know that's rubbish. We can't rebuild properly until we put the past to rest.'
'I know that, Minister, but the public like to think the war and all of its worries are over, and Harrigan's pandering to them.' Tobias shoved a hand in his pocket. 'Opening a new hospital? That's progress. That's a sign of rebuilding, of positivity, of help. I want it to be successful.'
Shacklebolt leant forwards. 'Toby. It'll be successful. Leave the arrangements as they are, and if the Prophet want to ruin our party, they can do that. And please, please do something for me.'
Tobias gave a wan smile. 'You're neck-and-neck in the polls and the election's weeks away, Minister. I'll breathe when it's over.'
Shacklebolt returned the smile. 'I know. And I do appreciate all the work you've been doing. I must admit, I didn't think being on this side of government would agree with you.'
'I didn't think it would, either,' Tobias confessed. 'But I need to be somewhere I can make a difference.'
There was a pause as Shacklebolt watched him, before giving a slow nod. 'We're going to win this thing, Tobias.'
Tobias relaxed a little, like he always did when the Minister told him something as a fact. 'I know, sir. And I'm going to help make it happen.'
'But I'm going to head home. Get some sleep.' Shacklebolt stood, and went to fetch his coat. 'You should think about the same for once.'
'You know me, sir,' said Tobias.
'I expect you to at least look like you slept in a bed when I see you tomorrow, then,' Shacklebolt warned. 'And after the ceremony we'll reconvene here; I want to go over some policy announcements with you. We picked up momentum and if tomorrow goes well I reckon we can use it to outstrip Harrigan. He's not the only one who can talk about kissing babies while I make sure the world's a safer place.'
Tobias smiled, this time more firmly, more proudly. 'Yes, Minister. Good night, Minister.'
When he was gone, Tobias shut the office down for him, putting everything away and killing the lights. He didn't mind doing such menial tasks; when they made the Minister's life easier so he could focus on something more important, even on keeping himself sane by getting a proper night's sleep, they didn't feel menial.
Out of the office he lingered at the edge of the conference room where the rest of the Minister's staff hovered, going over the plans for the next day's ceremony, before a flicker of movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention, and he looked towards his office.
By the door, dressed in sharp, tidy robes, stood Gabriel Doyle.
'Gabe! What're you doing here?' Tobias crossed the distance to shake his old friend's hand firmly, grinning. 'And who let you in?'
'I was arguing with the receptionist when the Minister came out. He waved me in,' said Gabriel with a wry smile. 'I suppose he remembered me from that Magical Beast Care Fundraiser I went to with Jen.'
'Oh - yes. Come on in; I'm sorry my office is a bit of a state...' Tobias led him through the door and his office did, indeed, look a bit like a bomb had hit it. Papers were scattered everywhere in the sort of organised mess anyone who knew Tobias would have been astonished to see, though he knew exactly what was where and what he needed it for. He just didn't have enough room.
Gabriel was polite enough to not comment, and instead let his gaze drift to the far wall, where a variety of press clippings had been attached, depicting particular triumphs and achievements of the six months of the Shacklebolt administration. 'I can't stay long,' he said. 'I have dinner with my family.'
Tobias looked him up and down. 'You're looking a bit smart for dinner at home.'
'It's not home,' was all Gabriel said. 'But I don't want to keep Jen waiting.'
Tobias raised an eyebrow as he sat down. 'Dinner with the parents, hm? This hasn't happened before.'
'No,' said Gabriel. 'It hasn't.' He sat down also, clasping his hands. 'I'm coming to you as a friend, Grey,' he said, abruptly.
Tobias looked at him, and realised he wasn't going to say more right away. 'Um. Okay?'
'But this isn't business of a personal nature. It's just easier if it's handled through the unofficial channels. It might be best for you to tell anyone that we're talking about dinner the day after tomorrow.'
Tobias frowned. 'Dinner the day after...'
'Tanith didn't tell you?'
He hesitated. 'I've not seen her in a couple of days.'
Gabriel scowled, his patter thrown off. 'Jen would like the two of you to have dinner with us. At our flat. The day after tomorrow. There, that's the official story dealt with.'
'What's the unofficial story?'
'I'm getting to that.'
Tobias watched him dubiously. He couldn't help but remember that Gabriel had always been closest to Cal, and that there had clearly been shared experiences between him and Tanith in their last year at school, but it had only been on fleeting occasions that the two of them - ostensibly friends - had spent much time together alone.
To his immense surprise, Gabriel wrung his hands together a little tensely. 'You're going to get a press ambush tomorrow. At the hospital opening ceremony.'
Tobias quirked an eyebrow. 'An ambush.'
'You'll be Portkeying in at the West Street and then taking Tindleham Alley to get to the main square,' Gabriel said promptly. 'But now half the press knows your route, they're going to be at Tindleham Alley to intercept you.'
'We can push through them.'
'But not without answering some questions.' Gabriel leant forwards. 'And the Prophet is going to ask you about the memo that's floated around this office of returning the Dementors to Azkaban.'
Tobias' eyes widened. 'That's just a memo, the Minister has no intentions of actually doing it! He's even announcing the MLE recruitment drive to get wardens for Azkaban tomorrow... at the ceremony...'
Gabriel's face was impassive. 'But now that'll be after he's been asked about it. And now Dementors will be the first thing on everyone's mind throughout the ceremony. Not the new hospital. And words to the effect of "we'll get more men" are going to sound very hollow as a response.'
'How do you know this?'
He shrugged. 'I know people. In the Prophet. You know the editor wants to see Harrigan win...'
'Boy, do I know.' Tobias scrubbed his face with his hands. 'We'll need to take a different route in,' he mumbled, more to himself than to Gabriel. 'Avoid the press entirely before the Minister makes it onto that stairway. And rewrite the language of the announcement to make it clear this is a permanent security measure in Azkaban. So by the time the press get questions it's not a smoking gun any more.'
Gabriel nodded mildly. 'And you have a leak.'
'And we have a leak,' Tobias agreed morosely. 'Thanks, Gabe. This could have been - not a disaster, but it's important the ceremony goes well. Of all things to disrupt it, the press getting a bit between their teeth about an unpopular non-policy and twisting the story until it's all about that...'
'Quite,' said Gabriel, though he didn't look particularly perturbed. 'I thought it would be important to you.'
'It is.' Tobias got to his feet, for once not using his cane - as he sometimes found himself not needing it, after all these months of care and rest, for short bursts if he was particularly distracted. He usually paid for it later. 'I'm going to need to get word to the Minister, and make sure the press don't come near him until the event. And then the staff are going to have to dodge journalists like they're Death Eaters; nobody makes so much as an official sneeze until the opening... and I need to find who I'm going to fire...'
He was already headed for the door, and stopped only when Gabriel got to his feet. 'I'm going to go,' Gabriel said mildly. 'But I hope this helps. And I hope I can have the chance to drop in again if I hear something.'
Finally Tobias realised this was not normal for Gabriel, and he turned awkwardly. '...of course. What kind of something?'
'I don't know,' Gabriel admitted.
'And how did you even know about this, really?'
'I'm going to have to ask you to trust me.'
'Is this to do with your visions?' asked Tobias, bewildered.
'Not quite. But... something like that.' He shrugged. 'I'm still figuring it all out. This just came across my desk.'
You have a desk? he wondered, but didn't say anything. 'You have a good evening, Gabe,' he said instead, and decided he was going to worry about Gabriel Doyle sweeping down with mysterious information after he'd dealt with the consequences of this mysterious information.
In the meantime, he had some menial office worker who'd decided to make themselves feel important by talking to the press to fire.
'Are you okay?'
The home of the Doyle family was a handsome Georgian townhouse in Kensington, tall and imposing on a street favoured by wizarding families. Warded to keep away Muggles, it was a marvel of magical architecture blended in along the classic lines, all needless decoration and a display of wealth which was still beautiful in its own right.
But Jen only had eyes for Gabriel right then, and reached out to take his hand. He twitched a little at the touch, jerked out of his reverie by her closeness, and felt his heart tighten. That ice had frozen here long ago, a protective wall. He wasn't sure how he felt about her heat thawing it when they were so close.
'I'm fine. I'll be fine,' he amended, glancing sideways at her. 'I haven't been here in a while.'
Still confused, she squeezed his hand before letting go, and they trudged up the steps to ring the bell. The door was opened by the old, familiar House Elf, tidy as ever and standing with a stiff formality.
'Master Gabriel, sir,' said Tiesen, and gave a deep bow in greeting. 'Welcome home. And Miss Riley, good evening. Please, come in.'
Jen gave him a quizzical look, but there was no time to do anything but step inside and hand over their coats, which Tiesen flicked up to the stand by the door. The hallway was the height of the first two floors, a grand chandelier hanging overhead and a handsome double stairway leading up further into the house.
'I assume my brother will not be joining us this evening.'
'No, Master Gabriel. Master Abidan is waiting for you in the dining room.'
Gabriel glanced at Jen, who looked increasingly nervous as she realised that there was more going on than she'd anticipated, and he felt a pang of guilt. He hadn't properly prepared her for this; all he'd said was they would be having dinner at his family home, and she'd suggested she come along. Since she had been invited as well, he knew that to say no would have required explanations he didn't want to give.
It looked like those explanations were going to hit her in the face instead.
'We shouldn't keep him waiting, love,' he said, extending an arm to her, and though that didn't make her look any more reassured, her mask of perfect control slipped over her face.
She'd not looked like that since the war, when she'd had to keep herself together for the sake of the group in even the grimmest of times. Clearly she knew something was wrong, and clearly she knew the best thing to do was to keep up appearances, but that dinner with his family was on a par with fighting Death Eaters did not console him.
But it was too late now.
Tiesen led them up the stairs and down the elaborate corridors to the dining hall, which was far, far too big for only three of them to dine. But it was still made ready, still laid out with all ceremony as if he wasn't family, but perhaps the Minister himself come to supper, the long, broad table dominating the room.
And at the far end, sat alone with a glass of red wine glinting in the shimmering light from the chandeliers, was his father.
He didn't stand, and Gabriel felt his back stiffen as they stopped in the doorway, Tiesen plodding a few more steps in. 'Master Gabriel and Miss Jennifer Riley, Master,' he said, ever one to observe formalities even for a returning family member.
'Thank you, Tiesen. That will be all; I shall ring the bell when we start.'
Abidan Doyle didn't look much like his son. He was taller than Gabriel, though shared the same shock of black hair, albeit now tinged with silver, and the same dark, dark eyes. Otherwise his features were more severe, more craggy, and though Gabriel was not one for a sunny disposition, he looked positively cheerful compared to his father.
Once Tiesen was gone Abidan did stand, crossing the space between them. He ignored Gabriel, turning to Jen and extending a hand, which she gingerly gave, clearly remembering her own education of what high pureblood society expected. Abidan dipped his head, his lips stopping inches away from the back of her hand. 'Miss Riley. I welcome you to my home; I imagine my son has not properly done so.'
Gabriel's breath caught in his throat. 'This is not my home any more, sir; it seemed improper to claim the right to welcome her.'
Jen's eyes flickered between them, something in the corner of her jaw twitching as he addressed his father as "sir". 'It is a most beautiful home, Mister Doyle.'
Abidan's expression shifted; he was clearly not especially impressed. 'Its construction was commissioned by my ancestor, who was an advisor to the Earl Bentley, back when Muggle society had some proper sense of propriety amongst itself, never mind its proper regard for the ways of magic.'
'I had thought this part of Kensington had been constructed by the Lord Harlowe,' said Jen smoothly, and Gabriel felt his heart swell as she didn't back down from his father's beady gaze.
'It was.' Abidan's expression flickered. 'Lord Harlowe was a wizard and a Count of the Muggle monarch, Gabriel, and a contemporary of the Earl Bentley. They collaborated upon the construction of this estate. Miss Riley clearly has you at a disadvantage on matters of magical history, even when they regard your own household.'
Gabriel's face didn't change. 'I was never one for Magical History at Hogwarts.'
'No; it might have given you some regard for your ancestry,' Abidan sneered, and turned to sweep back to his chair; behind his back Jen looked at Gabriel, horrified her keeping pace with his father had been twisted into a blow against him. He shook his head.
She was going to have to get used to it.
'It has been some time since you were last here, boy,' Abidan said as he sat himself down, and gestured to the two laid out places flanking him, the wine already poured into the crystal glasses for them.
Gabriel faltered before he took the seat to his father's right; normally that was his brother's place. But Menelaus wasn't here. 'Easter before last, sir.'
'Ah, yes. You did not even attend upon me before departing for Brazil. And you did not attend upon me since returning to the proper side of law and order, even though you were happy to take my money all the time you were away.'
'With respect, sir, you did not provide me with money while I was... fighting against the Thicknesse administration,' said Gabriel, picking his words carefully.
Abidan glared, and Gabriel flinched as his father's eyes were turned upon him. 'You would have had me funding you all the time you were a criminal? And how would that have looked, do you think, to the Death Eaters, whose company I had to keep? I had to convince them that you were nothing but a foolish, dissident youth, whose ideals I cared nothing for and who certainly was not welcome in my home.'
I can't imagine how they might have believed you, he thought bitterly, but didn't speak. Jen cleared her throat and lifted her glass, her voice pitch perfect. 'Gabriel tells me you've returned to law since leaving the Ministry.'
It must have been a gamble for her, but fortunately it was a safe topic and, more importantly, it changed the subject. Abidan leant back, frown on his face still present, but he gave a stiff nod. 'I am surprised Gabriel told you anything at all; he does prefer to act as if he was flung into existence fully-formed, not raised and shaped by a family - though he has done his best to resist our influence.' He looked back at Jen, who kept her expression studied. 'But he informed you correctly, if inelegantly. I have restarted my old firm. Inheritance law is set to become a particularly more complicated web if Shacklebolt has his way.'
Gabriel had never cared much for how Tobias had fussed over addressing Shacklebolt as Minister Shacklebolt. Considering the press ignored his title all the time, and he barely knew the man, he didn't think he needed to repeat his job; everyone knew who he was talking about. But the sneer of disapproval on his father's face made him, finally, understand why it vexed Tobias so much.
Respect needed to be given where it was due.
'I confess I know only a little,' Jen was saying. 'I specialise in criminal law.'
'Yes, and you're seeing fit to march half of wizarding society into Azkaban,' said his father, and Gabriel leant forward, gut churning.
'Should we not begin the first course?'
His father looked briefly outraged that his son had preempted him, but it distracted him from anything he might have continued to say which could have been an insult to Jen - though Jen looked calm, controlled, not about to rise to the bait. And, mercifully, his father rang the bell.
Dinner was eaten in a mixture of silence and stiff, formal discussion. Jen seemed keen to be the one to jump on any topic of conversation his father raised so he didn't have to, and he was prepared to at least be subtle in his insults to her - and, more importantly, she seemed prepared to take them on the chin.
They were just finishing off the last course, and Gabriel was wondering how he was going to broach the subject, when Abidan looked over at him and said, quite bluntly, 'So why are you here?'
Gabriel hesitated, but he had never done well at being frank with his father; it was his instinct to try to dodge a direct answer to a direct question, because they were so very often accusations where honesty just meant blame. 'Since you restarted the firm, I was hoping you could find a place for me.'
Abidan' gaze darkened. 'You've come crawling to me for a job?'
'Just something... small. Maybe part-time. Help out with the firm where I can.' He fought the urge to lower his gaze, forced himself to make firm eye contact.
'And what do you think you could bring that I could use?'
He flinched at the scathing tone, but forced himself to straighten. 'Myself. My name and my reputation as a member of a group hailed as heroes from the war. My connections to the Ministry, through Jen and through Tobias Grey - and through him, connections to Europe.' His voice managed to stay firm throughout as he recited the lines he'd practiced in his head since he'd realised he needed to come here.
He'd had a taste of what learning from Daedalus Cole could bring, and even though that taste had been something fleeting, something minor, being able to help Tobias like that had felt... good. Good like it had felt when he'd used his visions for good, but less confusing, less complicated. That had probably been what Daedalus had intended when he'd passed on several contact details and several of his dossiers; he'd probably meant for Gabriel to find that particular tidbit.
Dinner with his father had already been arranged as a matter of thoroughness, but he'd left the Ministry determined to do well tonight. He would need a source of his own wealth if he was to take on Daedalus' mantle - and if he was to do as Daedalus had, if he was to wander high wizarding society and eavesdrop for every little detail, barter and trade information and use knowledge as a weapon, he needed to be more than just some quirky little Seer, the boyfriend of a far more important woman.
He needed to be the son of Abidan Doyle.
And despite that his father was still sneering at him, he knew his words had struck home. He knew his father's business had struggled with his reputation to drag it down, the reputation of a man who had never been convicted of wrongdoing in the First War, whose contacts had kept him safe - but those in the know, had known what he'd done. And in the Second War Abidan Doyle had stayed in the Ministry and done all Thicknesse had asked of him, and though he had done nothing wrong that was one collaboration too many for many people to openly and happily associate with him.
So the need went both ways.
'I suppose I could find a way for you to... handle a few meetings,' his father said grudgingly. 'Keep some clients happy while I do the actual work and you, I don't know, bring them the tea.'
Jen flinched at that, the first time her mask had wavered, and Gabriel realised his father's need to insult him even when he was planning on using him had crossed a line for her - but she stayed silent. Her mask was intact but, as ever, he could see through it, see her tension and unhappiness.
'I can always put in an appearance at some of those parties you find tiresome, too, sir,' he offered, trying to sound eager and grateful, and ignoring the incredulous glance from Jen.
'Hmph. Perhaps. If you think you're capable of saying the right thing to the right person.' Abidan jerked his head at him as he looked at Jen. 'You'd best be there, too, Miss Riley. It doesn't do well for the firm to send nobody to these affairs, but I am far too busy to attend them all. But I most certainly don't want my son's presence to make matters worse; he's never had a care to do as I expected him, so I see no reason why he'd have a care to do as society expected of him.'
Jen had been taking the comments in stride so far, more inclined towards gentle deflection, but now Gabriel saw her shoulders tense. 'Your son does rather well with people,' she said. 'He has a much better head for these sorts of affairs than I do.'
Because I spent years in a house where if you said the wrong thing it ended badly, so a party is like a walk in the park, Gabriel thought, and in his bitterness he didn't see the warning sign of his father's expression going rather blank.
'If you're even worse than my son then I can't imagine you'll last long when you're expected to bring proper cases before the Wizengamot,' he sneered.
Gabriel's gut twisted. 'Sir, that's quite uncalled for.'
He was prepared to sit by for insults thrown at him; they were nothing new, but such a comment at Jen was one he'd instinctively not been able to let fly by. Though he wished he had, as his father's beady gaze swivelled around to him, and he again flinched - and hated himself for it. 'I'm expressing my opinion, boy, and I don't know what made you think you had the right to speak against it under my roof.'
His instinct now screamed at him to apologise, to duck his head, and so all he managed in response was a slightly strangled, 'Miss Riley is a guest.'
His father stood, rocking his chair, and all of a sudden Gabriel was ten years old again. 'I do not require reminding of proper etiquette in my own home, and I certainly do not require reminding by you, boy. I should not be surprised you bring up propriety only when it suits you; you never had a care for it when it came to your mother and me.'
Gabriel flinched back, finding himself shrinking in his chair despite himself, and though out of the corner of his vision he could see Jen's eyes widen, he couldn't meet her gaze, was too ashamed to, and when he spoke his voice was soft, strangled. 'I - I apologise, sir...'
Abidan scowled, but sat back down again heavily. 'It's just as well she isn't alive to see this, hasn't been alive to see what you've become; a layabout and a troublemaker. You will come to work for me, boy; I might not be able to make something decent of you, but I can at least make sure you don't bring further shame to this family -'
It was Jen's turn to stand, abrupt and angry. Her eyes flashed and for one terrible moment Gabriel thought she was going to lose her temper, but when she spoke her voice was the image of dainty control. 'If you'll forgive me, Mister Doyle, I am feeling a little light-headed. It might be best if Gabriel and I were off for the evening.'
His father looked up, unaccustomed to being interrupted, but he was mercifully too taken aback to object. 'Oh? Hm. Of course. You must come again some time, Miss Riley. I have enjoyed our conversations.'
How Abidan said that with a straight face, Gabriel didn't know, but he focused instead on standing without knocking anything over. He felt numb and unsteady on his feet, and he gave his father a nod that was almost a bow. 'I shall... see you soon, sir,' he said, and whatever the rest of the exchanged pleasantries were became lost to him in the wave of rushing air that filled his ears all the way out the dining room, down the hall, and out the door.
Even when he and Jen stood in the dark, crisp air on the street he felt light-headed, lost, and when she took his hand in hers gently he could barely squeeze back. She didn't say anything, and he felt too cowed and weak to meet her gaze.
He wasn't surprised when he heard her swish her wand lightly, when he felt the twisting and churning of apparition, which for once barely fazed him after all he'd sat through that evening. He was surprised to be pitched into the gloom of their bedroom back at home when they appeared, however - few magical homes were outright warded to prevent apparition, as that was complicated magic, but there were always spells to make it difficult enough to make a casual visitor decide to use the front door for simplicity's sake.
Jen had clearly concentrated through those protections, an effort nobody usually bothered with when they could instead arrive directly outside, but he was grateful for this exception as he felt his knees shake and realised he really didn't want to walk past Katie's curious glances.
Jen's hand slid from him and he tensed, suddenly alone in the gloom, only able to see her silhouette against the window lit up by the lights of London. But when she came back both her hands were free, and sliding up his shoulders. Her fingers buried themselves in his hair, and she tilted his head down to rest his forehead against hers.
'You're a good man,' she whispered deafeningly. 'You're a brave man. A loyal man. And I love you.'
She pressed her lips against his gently, and though his numbness hadn't faded entirely, that was when he realised he was shaking, his breathing coming raggedly, and desperately he clung to her.
'I'm sorry,' he breathed. 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry...'
He wasn't sure what he was sorry for. A little for his father having spoken to her like that, a little for having exposed her to the whole macabre affair when he should have probably just explained her being there would be a bad idea and suffered it by himself. But that would have been another lie, another evasion, another time for him to hide himself and his life from the people he cared about, as he'd been doing for almost ten years.
His breath caught as he realised that was what he was sorry for, and not just to her, but to all his friends, dismissed and distracted and diverted from truths about himself and his life until they even stopped asking, stopped expecting answers, stopped expecting to know him.
Mysterious Gabriel Doyle. That was who he'd been for years, and it had taken a world of pain and suffering before he'd realised that he was tired of it. It had taken Jen, whom he didn't want to hide from, and made him reflect on his behaviour towards his friends in all that time.
But even if he didn't want to hide so much any more, he didn't want her, or any of his friends, to have seen that - his childhood laid bare, all his doubts and fears and pains. Because he didn't want to see them himself.
She shushed him gently, and this time he could kiss her back, could feel the warmth of her embrace spreading through him and, finally, sinking into even the darkest, dimmest of places that he'd locked away for so long.