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Beyond This Place by Slide
Chapter 18 : Save the Day O'Clock
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 2

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It was the second time in as many weeks that she'd been in this pub, after over six months of nothing. But she'd still calculated correctly.

It was a music night.

The chairs and tables had been rearranged, pushed back to be that bit closer together, elbows to elbows, and the slightly elevated area had been cleared to become a makeshift stage. It was just as she remembered it; a mish-mash of technology and musical instruments and plenty of things she didn’t understand and never would.

And she didn’t care to understand them tonight. That wasn’t why she was there.

She slunk up to the bar, the far end of it furthest away from the stage, and slid onto a stool. The music had already started, one of the live acts already up there, and in the gloom and in the tight gathering of the crowd, she couldn’t recognise anyone, any of the regulars she would pray wouldn’t give her a second glance.

The bartender certainly didn’t when he passed her the whiskey.

Tanith couldn’t even tell if it was good music tonight. It was just sound to her, like how everything had been just noise, like how everything in front of her eyes had been cast into black and white. Since longer than just the day’s shocks, since -

Since Tobias.

She slammed the whiskey back and ordered another.

The look in Jen Riley’s eyes - right before she’d punched her - was likely to be one of those images that stayed with her ‘til the day she died.

Then again, so was the look in Nick Wilson’s eyes right before she’d executed him.

It was only right. Only right that her sins be remembered, that the people she’d hurt be remembered.

She couldn't conceive of Riley taking this quietly, letting the injunction lie, letting her get away with it. There'd be a leak, there'd be something, there would be public attention or some sort of reprisal.

At the least, she didn't think she'd be invited round for dinner again.

Despite herself, Tanith snorted in a deeply un-lady-like fashion into her drink - and then almost choked on it as the next act came up, guitar in hand.

It was David.

Of course he was here. That was why she'd come here, she knew - even if she liked to tell herself she was just here because nobody would find her here, look for her here, so she'd be away from the magical world, there was a small piece of her which had come because...

...because that was still a part of her instincts of where to run when hurt. And she couldn't run to Tobias.

When she couldn't run to Tobias, she'd always run to him.

And he was up there, just like he'd been a year ago the second time they'd met, charming the crowd, launching into his mellow music, like no time at all had passed.

It was probably like it hadn’t, for him. His life was probably much the same as it had been before she’d walked into that pub last year. The same work, the same people. He wouldn’t remember the world behind the one he knew, the one she’d shown him.

She’d stood on his roof and told him everything. And then she’d kissed him.

She ordered another whiskey.

He was singing, now, in full swing, and the audience were lapping it up like they always did, the conversation at a low murmur, most eyes in the place locked on him more than they were on any of the other acts. She was no exception, though she didn’t recognise this song.

It hit all the notes that she expected of these kinds of songs, the lover asking for forgiveness, though at least this one had a bit more spine and wasn’t taking all the responsibility, and she had to resist the urge to throw her glass at the stage. Even Obliviated, that man knew how to carve straight through to her heart and find the pain, and either soothe it or bring it into the light and make it not that bad.

Then his eyes met hers across the pub, and she almost dropped her glass.

He remembers.

Perhaps the Obliviation had been botched, perhaps it had worn off, perhaps, perhaps - something had happened. There was that glint in his eye, like there had always been when he looked at her knowingly, and though their gaze only locked for half a second it was enough.

And maybe it wasn't so coincidental that he sang this song.

She ordered another whiskey, and her hand shook when he finished the song, finished the set, gave his thanks to the audience, and stepped down from the stage to go towards the bar.

To go towards her.

She had to put her glass down when he stopped beside her at the bar, and for a few moments she couldn't look up, could only stare at the bartender, before she drew a deep breath and lifted her gaze.

He caught her out of the corner of his eye, and for another moment she froze, unsure of what she could say, unsure of where she could even begin, how she could start to explain.

Then he gave an awkward smile and said, 'Hey,' and her heart sank.

It wasn't an off-beat, casual greeting after months of not seeing one another. There was no knowing glint in his eye. The awkwardness wasn't sheepishness - it was poor politeness at the woman sat next to him at the bar who'd been looking at him for a few seconds too long.

And Tanith then realised he'd come to stand next to her at the bar because it was too busy to stand anywhere else.

She lifted her drink half an inch. 'Good set,' she managed to say.

'Thanks,' he said. And then he looked away to order his drink.

He didn't remember.

Her heart bunched up even tighter when, waiting for his pint to pour, he glanced back at her and gave his usual welcoming, charming smile - the one he gave to everyone. 'Is this your first time here?'

'No,' Tanith said, and her legs propelled her to her feet, forced her to finish off the latest glass of whiskey even though she wasn't sure she wouldn't be sick. 'But I really must be going.' She hesitated. 'It really was a very good set.'

Then she left before he could say anything, or at least anything she could hear; turned and pushed her way through the crowd towards the door, tugging her coat tightly around her shoulders, and stepped into the cold winter night beyond.


She'd only had a few whiskeys, but the night seemed darker and more monstrous as she shoved her hands in her pockets and slouched down the street. A part of her screamed in her mind to turn around, to go back to him, screamed at her that maybe she could undo the spell, or maybe she could just talk to him and make everything the way it had been.

And then what? How does that change anything? How does that make anything any less impossible than it was before?

She didn't know how to change it. She just wanted to hide again. And Tanith knew her own instincts of running down the most damaging roads whenever she was in doubt. Somehow, outright pain was something she could control better than swirling anguish. Somehow, it was better to know you were fucked than be caught in the uncertainty.

She was pretty good at making sure she was fucked.

On an impulse she cut down an alleyway which would cut across streets to take her to the same road as the Leaky Cauldron. They'd taken it before, when she'd been out with her trainees, though somehow she doubted that this evening would end with more drinks and singing at the Cauldron.

It had been bizarre. She'd been beaten and broken and in one of the lowest points of her life, and yet somehow she'd managed to laugh, somehow she'd managed to enjoy herself, somehow she'd managed to throw herself in the revelry and not feel like she wanted to curl up into a ball and die.

She supposed, dimly, that was what it was like to have your friends beside you when you were in your darkest of times. She could barely remember. She'd faced all of the truly dark times on her own.

Or with David.

Then something landed in the dark alleyway behind her.

Tanith turned, sluggish from her thoughtfulness and her whiskey - and had to throw herself to one side as a curse lit up the darkness and hurtled towards her. Her shoulder hit the wall, hard, and she scrabbled at her coat for her own wand.

But even as she grabbed it a looming figure, indistinct in the dark, closed the gap between then and delivered a heavy, vicious punch to the side of her face.

There was something strangely familiar about it all as she was spun around and hit the ground, wand dropping from her grasp, but she didn’t stop to reflect upon it. Distraction in a fight meant death.

So did being drunk in a fight, but she couldn’t really control that.

She reached out to grab the metal dustbin next to her, swinging it around as she rolled onto her back, and hurled it in the direction of her attacker. It was a clumsy throw, but it was a big bin, and even if she scattered rubbish everywhere, her assailant was forced to step to one side to avoid it.

Then another spell flew over Tanith’s head, only this one came from the other direction, and missed her shadowy attacker by inches. They looked up, straightened - then turned and bolted in the opposite direction.

Tanith flopped onto her back, head still spinning, as heavy footsteps pounded straight past her and in pursuit - then lighter ones reached her, and suddenly it wasn’t the cloudy night sky that filled her vision, it was Katie Bell’s face.

It had started to rain.

‘Easy, there, Chief. You okay?’

‘Fell over,’ she slurred, though it was more from not having shaken off the effect of the punch than the alcohol. ‘You got the bastard?’

Katie tried to help her into a sitting up position. ‘Harry and Ron have -’

‘Stupid bastard’s apparated!’

‘I think that makes him pretty bright, actually, Ron...’

‘...let him get away,’ Katie finished, and Tanith clung to her for support as she staggered to stand. With her feet under her she felt a little better, felt the world stop oozing from left to right, and she shook her head to clear it.

'What the hell are you three doing here?'

Ron, hair coated in fine droplets of rain, made a face. ‘Saving you?’

‘You left Canary Wharf in a bit of a state, Chief,’ said Katie. ‘Nobody was sure where you were. We did what admin we could do, but we’re waiting on some analysis team results still, so we went to check up on you.’

‘Checked your home. Checked the pubs.’ Harry shrugged. ‘We thought you might have come to that Muggle place.'

'And wasn't our timing excellent?' said Ron, pointedly but good-naturedly.

'It was Save-the-Day o' clock, and we were seriously on time,’ Katie agreed.

Tanith gave a small, wry smile, and looked at her three trainees. 'Thanks.'

Katie gave her shoulder a quick squeeze, then let go just as quickly. ‘It’s all right, Chief,’ she said. ‘We’re your partners. It’s what we do.’

And yet again she felt miserable but grinned at them, even if moving her face muscles was starting to hurt. Then Harry - to her eternal relief - completely broke the moment by frowning and pushing past her. ‘What’s that?’

She turned to see a huge gouge in the masonry, and her brow furrowed. ‘That’d be...’ She turned, looked up and down the alleyway, and drew a deep breath. ‘Where the first spell he threw at me hit.’

Harry fingered the stonework. 'I'd want to get these bricks back to the analysis teams,' he said grimly, 'but I think this is the Scindo curse.'

'Harry, you might be jumping at -'

'That was a wizard. Who attacked you, down a dark alleyway.' He turned to face her, gaze serious. ‘And used the Scindo curse, same as our vigilante.’

‘Yeah,’ said Ron, ‘but our vigilante’s been targeting criminals from the war.’

And, we suspect, Jacob Van Roden,’ said Harry. ‘Who was a member in the MLE during the war.’ He nodded at Tanith. ‘Just like you were.’

Tanith lifted a hand to her temples. ‘This can’t be a coincidence,’ she breathed.

‘See?’ said Harry. ‘This guy’s gone nuts and is going after -’

'That's not what I mean,' said Tanith, and drew a deep breath. ‘I’m only telling you this,’ she said carefully, ‘because it’s pertinent to the case. Otherwise, there’s an injunction against me discussing what happened in the courtroom today.’

‘We assumed it wasn’t cheerful,’ said Ron.

‘Lackardy spouted a lot on the stand. Tried to do damage before he went down. He... made public some of the things which had happened in the war. Things which I had done - Vaughn knows about them, I was cleared in the June Inquiries, same as anyone else who served in the war who’s still in uniform.’ Tanith hesitated, and met Katie’s gaze. ‘On Thanatos Brynmor’s orders, under threat of harm falling to my family, especially my father who was already in Azkaban at the time, I executed Nick Wilson.’

Katie’s face went a peculiar shade of green. 'Oh, sweet zombie Merlin, Jen was -'

'There. Yes.’

Harry and Ron exchanged glances. They did that a lot, she knew; spoke in a secret, silent code she couldn't begin to understand, and she often suspected that was part of the point. Then Harry looked back. 'And that night you're attacked by a wizard whose signature curse is the same as that of a vigilante who’s been targeting war criminals who’ve not been brought to justice.’

‘Like I said,’ said Tanith weakly. ‘Likely not a coincidence.’

‘Right.’ All of a sudden Harry seemed taller as he looked across at the three of them. 'Ron, I want you to get back to Canary Wharf. Let them know what’s happened, let them know Auror Cole’s going to need a protection detail, and tell Vaughn. Katie, start running what spells you can on this masonry to confirm what we can about this Scindo spell, and get to work on tracing this apparition while the trail's still warm.'

Tanith nodded, cursing her spinning head. 'Right, we're going to need an analysis team to -'

Harry turned to her. 'You're going home.'

Her eyes narrowed. 'No, I'm -'

'Yes. That's not up for debate.'

Tanith straightened. 'You don't give me orders, Potter -'

'You've been drinking. By regulation, you're not fit for duty.' Harry's expression shifted apologetically. 'It's legwork tonight, Cole. Unless we're shockingly lucky with the apparition trace, we're not going to have any answers by morning, and if we are lucky with the trace, we don't want a tipsy Auror on any kind of pursuit team. I don't need to give you orders on this one; the rulebook dictates you're not on duty.'

Ron shifted his feet awkwardly to break the silence. 'What're you going to do?' he asked Harry.

'Take her home,' he said, and Tanith went back to nursing the small seed of resentment towards Harry Potter she'd thought she'd left by the wayside. 'And wait for the protection detail from Canary Wharf.'

She protested. She argued. She cursed. She sulked. But he still apparated her out of there and into her front room, still sat her down and made her a cup of coffee which he forced her to drink, and still sat with her and was infuriatingly nice until there was a knock at the door and Sergeant Colquhoun of the Magical Law Enforcement Patrol confirmed he was here to watch and secure her flat. Then, apologetic, he left.

Leaving her alone in the gloom, with the Enforcers out by the front door, and Cal a few hundred miles away playing a match in Norway.

The ceiling of the flat was high and slanted, at the top of the building, and as she sat in the darkness for long moments - hours? - she could hear the rain get worse. It thudded on the tiles, it lashed against the windows, and it pattered on the skylights above like a rolling beat, enveloping in the darkness. She finished the coffee. She got to her feet. She crossed the living room to Cal’s bar, and dug into it until she found the whiskey.

It was rather good whiskey. Cal wasn’t a man to skimp now he was making a hefty salary and his living expenses had hardly gone up since he’d got this job; he knew his drink and he liked his drink. And right now, she liked to benefit from his taste. He wouldn’t complain, and if he did, she could fork out to replace the one bottle.

Or two. Maybe two.

She’d only just poured a glass when there was a knock at the door. It would be the Enforcers, or the Auror Office at last getting back to her, and so with a scowl - not wanting to give Harry bloody Potter the satisfaction of knowing he’d been right to keep her off duty - she set the drink down and glowered across the flat. ‘Come in!’

It wasn’t Colquhoun, or one of her trainees, or even Vaughn.

It was Tobias.

Tanith reached into herself to find the indignation to override the shock as he closed the door behind him, leaning on his staff to limp into the room. ‘What the hell are you doing here?’

Tobias winced. He’d clearly walked most of the way, as he was sopping wet, his hair plastered down across his forehead. ‘I came to see -’

‘How’d you get in? So much for the bloody protection detail.’ She reached for the whiskey glass.

‘Colquhoun was my TO in the Patrol,’ said Tobias, head cocked a little. ‘He knew it was me.’

Her lip curled, and she couldn’t look at him. ‘So why are you here now? You couldn’t get out of that courtroom quick enough today. And don’t think we can talk about what happened in there - there’s an injunction, you know, it’d be illegal to -’

‘I know there’s an injunction.’

There was something in his voice, something careful and deliberate, that made her look up with a start. He had propped his staff up against the back of the armchair and was limping towards her - moving with difficulty, but better than she’d seen him walk unaided in a year.

‘You.’ Her brow furrowed. ‘You got the injunction -’

‘I left quickly so I could get to the Minister before anything could happen, before the press could...’ Tobias sounded like his throat was dry, and he coughed. ‘I wasn’t running, I was trying to shut it down.’

Tanith’s eyes narrowed, unable to fight suspicion. ‘Why?’

Officially so as to not undermine the Auror Office during a key investigation. The Office cleared you; it’s not up to the press to get to judge each and every individual or what they did in a time of war. The court of public opinion could be better described as a mob. You got a fair inquiry, and you were cleared. It was for justice, and yes, it was for the political expediency of not opening up this can of worms. Or that, at least, is what I told the Minister when I had him sign it.’ Tobias took an awkward step closer. ‘But why I really did it? Do you even have to ask?’

He was just a couple of feet away now, the bar in between them like a protective barrier, one she almost wanted to hide behind. Instead, she fussed over screwing the lid back on the whiskey bottle, putting it away in its proper place, so she didn’t have to look at him. ‘I don’t need you to protect me.’

‘Why didn’t you tell me about Nick?’

It wasn’t the question she’d expected him to ask, and she took her time closing the cupboard, straightening up, and letting him see her expression. When she did, she’d found her poker face. ‘What was there to say? I fought the Lions, I helped capture McLaggen to save Jacob’s life, Wilson was caught too. Brynmor said they were to be executed, and he turned to me, and -’

Her voice caught and she looked down, scowling at the bar as her body, her feelings, betrayed her. ‘...and he said he’d punish my family if I didn’t do it. My father was in Azkaban; they could do anything to him. That doesn’t even count my mother, my sister, her daughter...’

Then he was by her side, one hand coming gently to her cheek, tilting her face up to his, and for once she didn’t fight him, didn’t pull away. Again she was trapped, hovering between two urges - the desire to flee, to hide, to protect herself, and the burning need to throw herself into him.

But if she did that, then he’d see everything.

When he spoke, his voice was gentle, unaccusing. ‘Why didn’t you tell me?’

‘It was over.’ Her voice shook. ‘It was done. It was my misdeed, my burden to bear, my soul that’s tainted by murder -’

‘I could have helped.’ His touch at her cheek was gentle, so achingly gentle, and she felt him thumb away a tear she hadn’t even known she’d shed.

‘And then what?’ Tanith tensed. ‘Then it could have been better? Then I could have just carried on living my life with a smile and a spring in my step? Like Nick Wilson never will?’

Tobias’ eyes widened. ‘You don’t have to carry this with you forever.’ She knew he had put two and two together, had realised why there had been so many late nights, so few refused cases, such a constant, steady stream of work that had done her part in digging the gulf between them.

‘But I have to make amends. And I cannot forget. Else, what does that make me? If I do something like that, and let myself forget, what the hell am I?’ She pulled back at last, rubbing fiercely at her cheeks with the back of her hand. ‘So, yes. So I try to make amends. So I live my work.’

‘You can’t stand there and tell me you don’t have the right to a life.’

She shrugged. ‘It doesn’t matter anyway. Tomorrow I’ll go back to the office, I’ll get back on this case, I’ll get back to work, and that’s what my life will be.’

Tobias’ expression turned pained. ‘It doesn’t have to -’

Yes, it does.’ An edge crept into her voice. ‘Because this is how it is. Because this is my life. My world.’ She turned away, storming to the nearest window, knowing again she was unfairly using his leg against him, putting distance between them before he could stop her. But she didn’t care, just watched the rain thudding against the window, watched the river run along the outside of the glass.

‘I thought my world had ended when you died. I thought the sky would fall in and that everything would come to a stop.’ She took a deep, shaking breath. ‘It didn’t. The world kept on turning. I think that was more terrifying than losing you - that I lost you, and the world didn’t end. And I was going to have to learn to live with it. To live on, without you. That is the darkest, bleakest thing I have ever faced.’ Tanith scrubbed her face with her hand. ‘It didn’t come to pass, but I still faced it.’

‘It didn’t come to pass. I’m right here -’

‘Nothing’s changed, Tobias. Nothing between us has changed.’ She looked over at him, finding him surprisingly tall and resolute in the darkness - but as if he’d been struck, as if he was still reeling. ‘You can come in here all you like, and try to comfort me and reassure me, but it’s hollow, because my life isn’t going to change - because nothing has changed with us.’

‘Something has,’ said Tobias, but he sounded lost, forlorn. ‘Because now I know what lay between us.’ He gestured across to her, as if the physical space was something broader, deeper. ‘I know, now, why I couldn’t quite reach you.’

Her expression twisted. ‘I’ve made my mistakes, Grey, but are you going to act like you’ve not made your share of lies of omission?’

‘No - I did. I was wrong. I’ve been wrong, and you are not... wrong to stand your ground.’ He looked down, hands shoved into his pockets, shoulders slumped, and he seemed so adrift, broken in that moment that she almost went to him.

But she didn’t.

‘I love you,’ he said at last, speaking as if from a long way away, and though he sounded sincere and pained he also sounded thoughtful, careful. Whatever he was saying was something he had considered before, tumbled over and over in his mind. She knew that voice, that expression, well. ‘But you’re not wrong.’ Tobias drew a deep breath. ‘I love you, and I do - do - desperately want to be with you. To make amends. To make all the suffering, of us both, worth it. To start to move on, and to start to heal. I want to overcome all of these challenges between us, of work, and pain.’

He ran a hand through his hair, and she stayed quiet, hearing the “but” before he even said it - and then he did. ‘But there’s one thing I can’t do.’

For some reason that flashed in her gut, and she turned to him, eyes narrowing. ‘One thing? Merlin, Toby.’ Tanith gave a short, humourless laugh. ‘This is so typically you. You come here to help me, reassure me - but then twist the knife in a little further while you’re about it? All right, then.’ She took a few steps towards him, slumped, defeated. ‘What’s this one thing you can’t do?’

I thought there had always been a thousand.

Tobias straightened slowly, carefully, his expression steeling, and drew a deep breath. ‘I can’t get down on one knee.’

Then he pulled his hand from his pocket to reveal the gleam of a ring.

Tanith stared at him. ‘Oh, bloody hell.’

But her voice was flat, not angry - too astonished, too shocked, too bewildered to summon any kind of reaction except for roiling, spinning wonder.

He gave a grin - a slightly manic grin, the grin of a man who’d just thrown himself into the fire and knew the only way out was forwards. ‘Marry me.’ Her jaw dropped, and she fought and scrabbled for words - or thoughts, or feelings, or anything, and he carried on before she could find any. ‘I know. I... I know. But hear me out.

‘I managed to lose sight of myself in the past few months. I managed to get not just complacent about what I had - but complacent about why I do what I do.’ His voice had gone quieter, hoarser, like he never sounded when he was confidently speaking before a crowd, or confidently explaining something complicated he’d studied. ‘I knew, once. Six months ago, a year ago - back in the war. I wrote the Midnight Press and risked my life so I could make people’s lives better.’

Tobias drew a careful, cautious breath as he took a step closer, like she was a skittish horse in danger of bolting if he put a foot wrong - and it didn’t feel like the worst comparison in the world right then. ‘Or that was why I did it when I was feeling idealistic. But when I was scared, or doubtful, or alone... I clung to one reason to keep on going. One reason why all of the danger and worry was worth it: You. The thought of seeing you again, the thought of making your life just a little bit better, the thought of... of finally putting to rights all that was wrong between us for so long.

‘And I failed at that last part. Because I let myself get swept away by my job - and I like my job, I’m good at my job, but I lost sight of why I care. And you paid for that. And then I paid for it. And now we’re both paying for it.’

He met her gaze, and hers flickered down to see that, although he only held the ring between thumb and forefinger, he was clutching it so tightly his knuckles were white. ‘I love you. And I want to make things right between us. I want us to build a life together, I want us to build a future together.

‘And, I know. I’ve said this kind of thing before, and I’ve made promises, and you have had no reason to believe that I’m going to make a change. A proper change.’ His manic grin returned, and anxiety swirled in her gut at the sight of it. ‘I don’t know what I’ll do if Shacklebolt loses the election. But I won’t work for Harrigan, and I’ve now told him as much. And anything I do - we’ll discuss together.

‘If Shacklebolt does win, I’ve already given him my resignation as the Head of the DIMC. He can find someone else for the Department. I’ll just stay on in his Office. No more international trips or calls. These aren’t just promises - it’s done.’

Tanith finally found her voice, and he jumped a little when she spoke. ‘I haven’t even given my answer,’ she said, sounding maybe half as bewildered as she felt, ‘and you’ve already done all this?’

His crazy grin broadened a little. ‘Yes. Absolutely. Because even if you say no, I am going to stick to my guns and continue to show you that this change in me is real, and isn’t just a bargaining chip. I’m changing. I’m sticking to these job commitments, I - I have continued to take the potions for my leg and make the Saint Mungo’s appointments, I am serious about making this work.’

He took another step closer, now only inches away, and his voice dropped and softened. ‘And I’m serious about helping you. Because, once, you could trust me with anything, and I was worthy of that trust. I want us to be there again. And if you think that you don’t deserve a life, I want to show you how wrong you are, how much good you have done - show you how I see you. Because I see you as deserving of so much, and I want to give you all I can.’

As if on an impulse, Tobias reached out with his free hand to grab hers, his hold tight, and their eyes met. ‘I came to court today hoping to see you afterwards to talk, to tell you this, but everything happened and - now I’m here. So. Marry me. We’ve wasted so much time; let’s not waste any more. The war’s over; you don’t have to fight any more. Build a peace with me, build a life with me, build a future with me. Be my wife. Marry me?’

For a heartbeat, Tanith actually thought she might pass out - or that she was dreaming, or hallucinating, or that something was wrong, or would break the moment. But she blinked, and he didn’t disappear or run away and she was still conscious -

She grabbed at the hand that clutched the ring as if he was a lifeline, as if he was going to disappear at any moment. ‘Yes. I -’ She hesitated, feeling he deserved half the out-pour he’d just given her, but she couldn’t summon any words, anything remotely coherent, and she just grinned. ‘Yes.’

Then he was kissing her, and one hand was buried in his shirt, the other clinging onto his, and she was lost in the swirl of euphoria; the feel of him, the sound of her heart racing with excitement, the thoughts and memories and sensations whirling around in her mind and at her fingertips. Soon, far too soon, she was so lost for breath she had to break the embrace, but she didn’t pull away, still clutched at him, holding close as if to let go now would be to let go forever.

‘I missed you,’ she whispered desperately against his lips. ‘I missed you during the war, I missed you now, I missed you, I missed you...’ She kissed him again, fierce and needy, but now the words were coming, and she had to let them out in a frenetic tumble. ‘It’s a wasteland without you - my life is a wasteland without you, grey and dreary and empty and - I need you, I need you to bring colour into my world, or all I’m doing is fighting and struggling in this wasteland...’

Her next breath almost choked her. ‘And I’m sorry - I’m sorry for fighting you, for keeping you away. I just needed to fight, for so long, and so much has happened...’

‘I know.’ His grip on her hand tightened. ‘And I’m not going anywhere. Even if you kicked me out today, I was going to stand by this, I was going to fight for you, because we have been through far, far too much to get brought down by... by peace.’ Tobias pulled back at last, though only enough to rest his forehead against hers. His anxious, panicked smile returned. ‘That was a yes, right? You did say that, I didn’t just imagine that?’

‘No. I mean, yes.’ She giggled, a strange, gleeful sound escaping past her lips before she could stop it. ‘Yes, I’ll marry you. Of course the answer’s yes, I think the answer might have been yes since I was sixteen...’

Tobias’ breath caught, but his slow smile remained, and he took the ring and her finger in his hands. ‘This was - I spoke to my mother. This was the ring my father gave her when he proposed. If, of course, you won’t explode if I put on a ring made by a Muggle company.’

If anything, her grin broadened. ‘I think I’ll explode if you don’t put the damn thing on now, Grey -’

Then he did, and he kissed her again, and just as simply as all that, the thoughts of the courtroom, of Nick Wilson, of Jen Riley’s pain and ire, even that someone had tried to kill her that evening, couldn’t have been further away from her thoughts or her life.

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