The trial of Bernard Lackardy was a quiet affair. Once it had come out that he wasn’t being charged with the murder of Jacob Van Roden, interest had decidedly faded in his case of petty association with Garrett Avery, and misdeeds from during the war. Such criminals were ten a penny to the media, and even his indirect association with the vigilante striking at wizarding Britain wasn't enough to summon the press. And nobody went to these dismal affairs for their own entertainment.
He was brought into the courtroom only once the Wizengamot had been seated, but before lawyers, witnesses, or official observers were allowed in. So he passed Tanith as he was escorted down the long corridor to the courtroom, and the glare he threw her would have been enough to curdle her blood had she not faced down more terrifying men than he.
But his words, loud enough for most of the corridor to hear, were not as easily dismissed.
‘It should be you in here.’
Then he was pushed inside, and Jen and Tom escorted her around to the seating area for the witnesses so they could be summoned with ease. ‘You’ll be up third,’ Jen told her. ‘I want to ease the Wizengamot in with some of his indisputable war-time offences first, then we’ll move onto you corroborating what we talked about - and his Avery associations. But I’ll be putting him on the stand afterwards.’
It wasn't the first time she'd sat in court. She'd given evidence in several trials, both for the war-time offences and the Death Eaters she'd arrested since. There was nothing about Bernard Lackardy's case which had cause to give her pause except for the circumstances surrounding Jacob's death, and Jen had assured her she didn't want to muddy the waters by bringing that up. The night of Lackardy's arrest wasn't even something that needed to be discussed before the Wizengamot; it had been the investigation and surveillance before that which was more important in presenting a case.
In some ways, that made it worse. If she'd been worried, she could have concentrated on that. But because she wasn't, it made it very hard to ignore Tobias.
He was sat up with the Wizengamot, in the official seat reserved for a Ministry Observer and traditionally where the Minister themselves would sit if they wished to watch a trial. With no Shacklebolt present it was not unusual that it fell to him, but it did indicate some official interest in the proceedings.
She'd not seen him since he'd left Vaughn's office a week earlier. And although she’d had to work hard to keep herself in good physical condition, not allowed the liberty of eating or sleeping badly, it didn’t look like he’d held himself to similar standards. But he looked, infuriatingly, not the worst she’d seen him. Tired, but determined. Worn, but still going on. And for some reason which defied her reasoning, he was back to carrying his staff with him.
She wished she could ignore him. And, at the same time, wished she wouldn’t. It wasn’t even the heartache that was proving hard, but just missing
him. When she sat down at home with the issues of the case before her and felt her thoughts going round and round in circles, she missed him. When she saw something that gave her a moment’s amusement, she missed him. Missed sharing these things with him, missed asking for his opinion, missed him just being there in the parts of her life. As her oldest and dearest friend, just as much as the man she loved.
She couldn't ignore him.
But she could concentrate on the trial. There would be several days of this, no doubt, but Jen wanted to bring out her big guns first, and had determined she'd put Lackardy on the stand because his defence lawyer wouldn’t. He was, Jen had said, a singularly uninspired man who was just waiting around to lose. It wouldn’t be fair
, apparently, if Lackardy at no point took the stand.
Jen Riley was no less strange than she’d ever been, evidently.
Yet she was good at her job. Knew how to build an argument, knew how to use her witnesses to tell the story she was trying to tell without leading them by the nose. Even if it was child’s play, after all this time, to demonstrate Lackardy had committed war-crimes when a member of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, she still did it calmly and methodically.
When summoned to the stand, Tanith could match her calm in answering the questions. Was perfectly fine retelling what she remembered of Lackardy during the war. And when it got to one of the highest profile charges laid at his door - that being the murder of the Wilson family - they remained calm.
She was the only eyewitness to the event being summoned to the stand, though this wasn't the first occasion she'd had to for this particular crime; several of Lestrange's flunkeys had gone to court over it. But Jen hadn't handled those cases.
So Tanith didn't quite look at her as she retold what she'd seen that day, and she did her best to keep it succinct and to the point. Only when it was over - only when she had properly described the torture and murder of Nick Wilson's parents, the rape and murder of his sister - and Jen asked her several simple, calm questions, did Tanith look at Nick Wilson's former lover.
'Can you name the individuals who were present at the scene when you arrived?'
She did. Lestrange, Mulready, others. And Lackardy.
'Do you know which individuals perpetrated which acts?'
She didn't; it had all been over by the time she'd got there. But it was a formality of a question. Nobody got away with "only following orders" on horrors of that magnitude.
Then Jen went to Tom, sat at their counsellors’ desk, and he handed her a fresh roll of parchment. She moved on to the investigation of Lackardy after the war, and Tanith relaxed as she ran through the pursuit she and Jacob had engaged in. This was a matter of simple facts and evidence, and more about his collaborating with Garrett Avery than horrors perpetrated, and within minutes it was over and Tanith was sitting back down.
There was some back and forth with the Wizengamot which Tanith mostly tuned out, and then Jen summoned up Bernard Lackardy himself.
He had never been a physically impressive man, and time living poorly after the war, then being incarcerated, had not done him any good. He was tall, but wiry and weak, his cheeks gaunt, and moved with a furtive, squirrelly air.
Jen went back and forth with him over some of the details of his accused collaboration with Avery in a manner Tanith thought was a bit wishy-washy - and then demonstrated exactly why when she turned and, in a deceptively casual voice, said, 'Can you tell us, in your own words, what happened at the Wilson address on February 12th?'
Lackardy flinched. 'I was there. On the orders of Rodolphus Lestrange, who was my superior officer in the MLE.'
'But not everyone from the Detector Division was there,' Jen noted. 'Only half a dozen of you. Why were all of you chosen?'
Lackardy licked his lips. 'We were on shift at the time.'
'Detectors Williamson, Cole, and Proudfoot were on shift at the time. Lestrange didn't summon them.'
'They worked more with Mister Brynmor.'
'So you worked closely with Lestrange.' Jen cocked her head slightly. 'He knew he could trust you to do a good job.'
Lackardy fell silent for a few moments, then rolled his shoulders. 'Yes,' he said at last. 'And yes, I was there. But I didn't kill any of those people. I didn't rape the girl.'
'Did you partake in the torture and murder of Emilia Wilson?’
‘Lestrange burnt her. There wasn’t much participation.’
'Did you beat Andrew Wilson?'
Lackardy swallowed. 'Yes.'
‘How?’ Tanith saw a muscle twitch in the corner of Jen’s jaw. ‘How did you beat him?’
there enough of a crime to condemn me?’ Lackardy snapped at last, sitting up in the chair. ‘A lot
of people currently in the Magical Law Enforcement Department were present
for an awful lot of things. If being
there is enough to condemn them, then you’d better get yourself a lot more court dates, counsellor!’
Jen opened her hands. 'I'm not talking about these other people or these other incidents, Mister Lackardy. Answer the question.'
'Do you want to ask me about Gullsmere next?'
Tanith's hands clenched her armrest, and she saw Tom sit bolt upright in his chair. No. I saved your life that day, Lackardy, you little shit -
'I'm not interested in talking about Gullsmere,' said Jen, with supreme control and disinterest. 'My records indicate you weren't present for any criminal activity that day -'
'That doesn't mean I don't know what happened. We could have an interesting conversation on the topic,' Lackardy spat, venomous in his panic.
'I am asking you,' said Jen, 'about the deaths of the Wilson family -'
'Nick Wilson died at Gullsmere. Don't you want his murderer -'
'Thanatos Brynmor is serving a life sentence in Azkaban -'
'Tanith Cole is not!'
There was the briefest moment of silence that fell across the courtroom in utter shock and Lackardy, victory gleaming in his eyes, sat up. ‘She
performed the Killing Curse, and now she’s not just not
on trial, not just still
an Auror, but giving evidence against
me? You all pick and choose
who you want to condemn -’
It took that long before the room exploded into chaos as the Wizengamot, official observers, and Lackardy’s lawyer broke into hubbub and and muttering and shocked exclamations. Some stood, some went to leave, and in the chaos Tanith slipped out of her seat and made for the door.
She wasn't the only one. She could see, high above, Tobias getting out of his chair and limping with purpose out, though he'd be leaving by a different door.
Of course he's leaving. He's not going to want to spend more than a heartbeat in the same room as you.
She walked through the door to the noise of the gavel of the Supreme Mugwump being crashed into his desk to re-establish order and, sounding as if she was speaking from a long way away, the voice of Jennifer Riley asking for a recess. Tanith didn’t stop.
But the corridor was long, and the lift doors were shut, and even as Tanith stormed towards them it didn’t take long before there was a shaking, angry call from behind her, from the courtroom doors.
Instinct screamed at her to not stop, to carry on to the lift, to get away
, but if nothing else the lift wasn't there
, and if there was a single person in the world she owed answers to, it was her. Tanith stopped and turned.
Into Jen's closed fist slamming into her jaw.
What was I supposed to say?
Tanith crashed into the wall, clutching her cheek, but didn't move to defend herself, didn't try to straighten or fight back. Brynmor made me? Only following orders?
'You gave us the information that day!' Jen was screaming, looking like she expected Tanith to fight back, fists clenched. Back in the doorway to the courtroom stood Tom, looking like he’d tried to stop her but obviously not very hard - and now, stern-faced, staying far, far out of trouble. 'You sent them to Gullsmere! And then - then you stand like one of the good guys
I don't. I really don't.
But there was nothing she could say. Nothing which wasn't just an empty, empty excuse.
'You knew. All this time, you knew! Because you did it! You -'
Then something changed in Jen's expression. The hate didn't fade, the sheer rage and hurt, but she rocked as if struck, as if some thought had occurred, the impact of which was enough to stagger her.
And just as suddenly as she'd come tearing down at her, Jen turned on her heel and left. But not without the tense, angry parting words of, 'Stay away from me.'
None the wiser, but not about to look a gift horse in the mouth as to why she'd left, why she'd not tried to beat her to death in front of the Wizengamot - when Tanith wasn't sure she'd have tried to stop her - Tanith straightened and made for the lift.
She had to get out of there.
By then most of the observers, Wizengamot, and witnesses were being called back into the courtroom, ushered in by the Wizengamot security, but Tanith ignored them and they didn't stop her from getting into the lift.
The trip to Canary Wharf passed in a whirl of thoughts enough to make her nauseous, and when she entered the lobby, for a second it felt like she wasn't in this new world, this time of peace and justice, but like she was entering it under the shadow of Yaxley and Brynmor and the others. As she had a hundred times before.
Deep down, Tanith knew she never felt like she wasn't still living in those times. It was more like the rules had changed, but there was still something waiting around behind every corner, still someone waiting to lunge on her, take advantage of any weakness, any chink in the armour.
The trick wasn't just avoidance. The trick was to preempt them.
She ignored everyone as she came in - everyone who clearly hadn't heard yet what had happened, everyone who was acting like the day was completely normal. From Savage, who managed to spare her a sarcastic smile that was about as nice as he ever got, to her three trainees, sat in the Auror bullpen with a pile of paperwork around them.
She had only one destination in mind: Vaughn's office.
She stepped in and closed the door behind her without even waiting to knock, and fortunately the Head of the Auror Office wasn't engaged in anything more important than some paperwork. He wore a frown of consternation which only deepened when she reached into her robes and pulled out her badge.
And set it down on the desk.
'Give me some paper and I'll write my resignation.'
Vaughn didn't look surprised, she noticed, just looked down at the badge, then slowly up at her. 'What's your reasoning?' he asked in a slow and mellow voice.
Tanith drew a deep, shaking breath. 'It's going to be all over the press soon enough,' she said quietly. 'It's going to bring the wrath of God down on the Auror Office, and I can't...'
'What's going to?' Vaughn sounded like he was making a point rather than speaking from ignorance, though, and lifted a hand. 'Don't answer that. If you answer that, I'm going to have to arrest you.'
She frowned. 'What?'
'Then again, I'm
one of the few people allowed to know, being the Head of the Auror Office, and considering I knew all about it anyway
because of the June Inquiries...' Vaughn scratched his whiskers pensively, before he shrugged. 'There's been an injunction. Classifying the occurrences of Lackardy's Wizengamot case. Nobody who was in that room is allowed to talk to anyone about it.'
'From the Office of the Minister. Guess he moves fast.' Vaughn was looking pointedly at her, but she couldn't understand why. 'So, you can't give that as your official reason for your resignation. So, I'm not under any obligation to accept your resignation. So, there's not going to be any public outcry over the Gullsmere incident and you don't need to protect the Auror Office.'
Tanith sat down shakily, realising the skin on the back of her hand was crawling again. 'I still, I - Riley's right, I shouldn't be wearing the uniform...'
'Not only is Jennifer Riley not
an Auror, but right now I don’t think she’s going to be thinking clearly enough to give any kind of input about any kind of action that should be taken over the Gullsmere issue.’ Vaughn shrugged. ‘So I wouldn’t take her opinion about your professionalism to heart. We discussed this in June, remember? We went over it with you, with Van Roden, with Savage, Proudfoot, Williamson. All of you who stayed in uniform for the year. We were thorough. You were honest. We
made the decision to keep you in the uniform. To trust you. To know you were in an impossible situation where you couldn't do anything else.'
'I could,' Tanith mumbled, her voice coming out almost so shaky she couldn't understand herself. 'I could - I could have done anything, so many things, so...'
'If someone breaks the injunction, the Auror Office will stand firm,' said Vaughn calmly. 'I won't leave one of my own to hang out to dry. You might have misspoken to the press last week, but you were right - until they serve a day in this uniform, they don't have the right to judge.'
She lifted her gaze from her hands, awkward and not sure she could look him in the eye. ‘Why did you all keep
me? At the inquiry, why did you -’
‘Savage was present when a bunch of Snatchers executed three Muggle-borns. Twelve Snatchers. Three Muggle-borns. One Savage. Williamson took part in that raid on the the Jones residence; you know, the one where family of a member of the Order of the Phoenix
died. Four family members. Eight Ministry Loyalists. One Williamson.’ Vaughn’s expression twisted. ‘You’re not alone in these misdeeds.’
‘Proudfoot didn’t -’
‘Proudfoot was the backbone of the Salford Irregulars, and Proudfoot got lucky
. He got jobs he could afford to botch without the wrath of God falling down on his head, so they shunted him to one side and nothing more. And, yes. That means I can have Proudfoot standing front and centre in our most important op right now, because he’s experienced and
because he doesn’t have stink on him if public opinion wants to hold one of its kangaroo courts.’
went to Azkaban.’
‘In the end, as I recall, so did you
‘Only at the end -’
‘And while you weren’t
in Azkaban, what did you do?’
Tanith’s shoulders tensed. ‘Killed Nick Wilson, obviously -’
‘Fed The Midnight Press
information. Fed the Lions of Britain information. Undermined operations. You couldn’t have done that, any
of the good you did, in Azkaban.’
‘It’s the principle of the -’
the principle. Would the principle
of being in Azkaban for your morals
have you successfully planting a spying device in Yaxley’s office
? Would it have directly
led to the death of Rodolphus Lestrange?’
‘It directly led to the death of Nick Wilson.’
.’ Vaughn scowled. ‘If you hadn’t been there, then you know
full well that anyone
else would have done it. You know full well that if you had tried to save them, you would have died
, and then they’d have died too. The only reason why they wouldn’t have died if you hadn’t been there is because they’d have never had the intel to make
the attack on Gullsmere. And that takes us down a whole, stupid-ass route of “what if”s, but at the end of the day, they
saddled up to fight, and they
died. That’s between them, Thanatos Brynmor, and God, and not nobody else.’
He sighed, leaning back in the chair and tugging at his whiskers. ‘But I didn’t answer the question. I kept you on not because of the bad you’d done, but the good. I don’t know about it balancing
, but I don’t care about that cosmic hokey crap. I do
know it showed me who you are. That when shit’s bad, you will still
stand up and risk your neck to do what’s right
. Not through some stupid-ass sense of principle that gets you and people around you killed, but for what’s good, and what ought to be, and what’s right. You know what the people who I tossed out of the MLE said in their inquiries? That it was complicated.
‘It might have been difficult
. But it wasn’t complicated
. Right and wrong. Good and bad. You knew which was which and you did as much of the first as you could while minimising the worst. Like I said. “Balance” can go fuck itself. But you
didn’t kill Nick Wilson, Thanatos Brynmor did; he just used you to do it. You’re not a murderer, because I don’t employ
murderers. I employ good people.’ Vaughn winced. ‘Even if you’re a burnt out person right now.’
‘I’m okay, Boss -’
‘Will you stop
saying that?’ He sighed. ‘I’ve got half a mind to take you off this case -’
‘No.’ Tanith sat bolt upright, a spark finally firing in her eyes and belly. ‘I’m doing
this case, Boss. I’m finding the guy who killed Jacob, I’m - you don’t get
to transfer me...’
Vaughn looked like he was chewing the options over, before giving a reluctant nod. ‘I do, actually, get
to do whatever I damn well please in the Auror Office. But all right. You win.’ He jerked a finger at the door. ‘But not today. Today, let your kids pitch the ball to one another. You’re in no state to catch.’
He looked at her, and as she met his gaze she didn’t see anything but cold pity in his eyes. Not respect, not a regard for what she could do, or an understanding of what she’d been through.
Just pity. Pity at how it had broken her.
‘Go home, Cole.’
Being in a long-term relationship often grants one an insight into the feelings of the other, allows them to read the subtleties and nuances enough that at a simple glance they can tell if something’s wrong.
Or, in Gabriel’s case, he knew something was wrong because Jen slammed the door behind her loud enough to make the wall shake.
He stood from where he’d been sat on the sofa, and there was so much pain in her voice that it was his instinct to go to her, to offer comfort. But there was venom, too, so much fury and hate, that he stayed put, bewildered, hands hanging by his sides.
‘What did I -’
The bottom of Gabriel’s stomach dropped out, and he swallowed - and then, quickly, rationalised that there were all sorts of things she could think
that she knew, and that didn’t necessarily mean anything. He forced a tone of innocence into his voice. ‘What do you think happened -’
‘Don’t you dare. Don’t you dare
stand there and lie
to me,’ Jen raged, storming over to him. ‘I know you said you didn’t want to tell me, but you said that was to protect
Gabriel took a deep breath. ‘It was
to protect you -’
. You were protecting Cole. Protecting her from any
kind of consequences -’
'Consequences of something that wasn't her fault
,' Gabriel snapped. 'Brynmor made
her. He threatened her, he threatened her family. If she hadn't killed Nick, someone else would have, and innocents would have suffered.’
‘If it’s all that simple,’ Jen said, ‘then why didn’t you tell me
Because of exactly this conversation?
‘And so I got to find out in the middle of a Wizengamot case
?’ she continued furiously. ‘Does that protect me? Is that your idea of shielding me from it?'
He didn't answer, and she stood silent for a few moments, chest heaving. 'I have put up,' she said quietly, voice shaking, 'with your secrets. With your evasion. But I have always
trusted that you would tell me these things when you were ready. That these were things you didn't tell me because you couldn't tell anyone
. And I have never
kept anything secret from you.'
Something twisted in Gabriel's gut, and though he could identify and dread it, he couldn't stop it. That old instinct, the one which told him to push back when pushed, the one which his father had tried to hammer out of him and which had only been strengthened by these efforts. It was why he stood up when he couldn't win - and why he lashed out when it would only make things worse.
'So couples never keep secrets from each other,' Gabriel sneered. 'No secrets, ever. That's why you waited fifteen minutes to tell Nick his parents were being tortured and his sister was being raped.'
She stopped, staggered - but recovered with a furious glint in her eye. 'You know
why that happened. You know
what Nick was like. If I'd told him, he'd have gone -'
'And died. Didn't do him much good in the end.' He straightened as she flinched, a mixture of desperate, frustrated and irrationally, irrationally angry. 'You kept it from him to keep him safe. I did the same to you.'
'You did it to protect Cole. Precious Tanith Cole, who kept your secrets long ago and, what, now ranks higher than me?'
'It's not about ranking
,' Gabriel exclaimed. 'No good would come of it!'
'For me? Or for her?' Jen stuck her hands on her hips. 'Or for you?'
‘Were you just trying to keep me in the dark, make me think everything was all right, just so you’d stay in my good books -’
She was hurt. He knew it, in his heart of hearts. He knew she’d just had an old, painful wound which she’d never had the time or chance to properly put to bed be ripped open in a shocking and public manner. He knew, better than most, how that could make someone lash out just to regain a sense of control in their anguish.
But it didn’t mean that he could just shrug it off. It didn’t mean that his own instinct to push back didn’t flare, and up rose his finest talent. Not his wits, or his visions.
His gift for finding exactly the right thing to say to someone at exactly the right moment to hurt them in exactly the right way.
‘Kept me in your good books so you’d be happy to fuck me before Nick was cold in the ground?’
The sound of her open palm on his cheek was loud enough to echo, loud enough to ring in his ears along with the blow, which knocked his head to one side. ‘How the hell
do you dare -’
And then he wasn’t thinking when he reached out to snatch her wrist, grip firm, unforgiving. ‘You do that again and you’ll -’
Then their eyes met, and for the first time since she’d stormed in they actually saw
each other. Not the rage, not the hurt, not the defensiveness, just each other and the pain, and Gabriel heard the words coming out of his mouth and the sound made him sick to his stomach.
He let go of her hand - almost pushed it away, as if to do so forcefully would undo that he'd ever snatched at her in anger in the first place - and worked his jaw wordlessly. 'I...'
But there was nothing he could say - or should
say, and nothing she could say, and then without another sound she’d turned on her heel and torn back towards the door.
‘Jen -’ But there was still that kernel of anger bubbling in him alongside his own pain, and the stab of fear in his gut at her turning away from him, and even more he couldn’t find the words he needed to make her stop, make her come back.
And so the door slammed shut behind her before he could figure out what to say to make everything all right.