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Beyond This Place by Slide
Chapter 19 : Looking Right Back
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 2

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There was only darkness outside. The rain pounded on the skylight above the bedroom and the wind howled at the windows, but no weather could break inside and shatter the cocoon against all the chaos.

They were there. Finally. Together.

When Tanith had sat in Tobias’ flat, surrounded by dozens of magical candles and feeling a complete idiot as she waited for him, she’d managed to steel herself. It had been nerves as much as discomfort, and so every time she’d told herself she was stupid, that she should put some clothes on - ideally baggy and shapeless - and they shouldn’t do anything more than pig out on the couch with Chinese food when he came in, she had persevered. Reminded herself of how she’d felt as the news of the day had come in of the attack on the Minister, reminded herself of how she’d felt when she’d thought him dead, reminded herself of every time when she’d begged whatever almighty power might exist to give her just another second with him. And told herself she wasn’t going to waste this opportunity.

And the look on his face when he’d pushed open the door had been beyond worth it. To make Tobias Grey speechless just at the sight of her was an intoxicating sensation in and of itself, and she’d revelled in it, played the part, teased and taunted him and had, above all, remained in control. Even when his self-control had cracked and she’d been left helpless in his arms, it was a submission of her own choosing.

This was different. She’d spent the whole day on edge, spent the whole evening on edge, felt like every nerve and feeling had been rubbed raw. She’d been up and down so much that it had been impossible for her to feel even one iota as in control - as secure.

Euphoria had reigned supreme when Tobias had slipped that ring on her finger and kissed her, and that had been heady and intoxicating, and for long moments all she’d wanted to do was cling to him, melt into him. The moments lasted long enough for them to take stumbling, feverish steps through the door into her bedroom, to fall onto the bed in a thrilled tangle.

They’d been here before, of course. And never at the right time, always when one or both of them was stressed or exhausted and she’d taken any opportunity to deflect the issue, or he’d been the one to hold back - she suspected being overly cautious on her behalf, and she’d never wanted to stop him from doing that.

But again, this was different. She’d just agreed to spend the rest of her life with this man. How could she do that and still shy away from physical intimacy? It was ridiculous. It was illogical.

So when the euphoria had started to fade away, when she’d managed to think, as ever, she panicked - and this time ignored the warning signs, ignored the tension within herself, ignored it all and just willed herself to persevere -

When Tobias broke the embrace, when he pulled back to prop his weight on his elbows and look down at her, it was like fresh air rushing in at the edges - and then she looked up at him, up at this man who loved her and adored her and cared for her, and could only feel shame.

His eyes were dark, skin flushed, breathing ragged, but still he met her gaze unwaveringly. ‘Are you all right?’

His voice was rough, like finding words had been difficult, but when she nodded wordlessly, willing him to believe, willing herself to believe, he just frowned. ‘You’re not, you -’

‘I’m fine -’

‘You’re tense.’ He relaxed, and a hand came up to her cheek. ‘It’s okay. It’s okay to be tense. Please, please don’t bottle it up.’

‘It’s silly.’

‘It doesn’t have to be logical.’ He lowered his head to kiss her jaw, just under her ear, his lips gentle and careful, and the clenched fist in her gut loosened. He was delicate, reassuring, not pushing. ‘This is me. This is us.’

She swallowed, a lump in her throat. ‘So it has to be right.’

‘You kidding yourself doesn’t make this right.’ He brushed his nose against hers. ‘We don’t have to do anything tonight. I remember you telling me about... about Miles. I don’t want us to be like that. I want to listen to you. Make you feel good. Be trusted by you.’

Tanith met his gaze. ‘I do trust you,’ she breathed, and just the words were like a gunshot in her head, a blow to crack through a wall inside her, and impulsively her grip on him tightened, like he might slip away again.

Even if she knew he wouldn’t.

And that was it. That was what had made her so calm, and keen, and thrilled when she’d put herself in that ridiculous get-up of Ariane’s and smirked to see the look on his face. Not discipline and perseverance, as if this intimacy was a trial to be endured, but a simple reminder of him and all he meant to her.

She leant up to tease her lips against his, tugging back as he went to reciprocate, the taste all the sweeter for how tantalising it was. ‘I trust you. I trust you to listen to me, I trust you to make me feel good, and wanted. And I want you.’ The words tumbled from her, honest but awkward and clumsy, and Tanith felt a surge as she realised words were not enough, not nearly enough.

Tobias looked hesitant for a moment, his features silhouetted against the gloom of the bedroom, and before he could doubt himself, doubt her, she kissed him. Her fingers buried in his hair to pull him close, and though he faltered for half a heartbeat, in the next he was kissing her back, pinning her under his weight and making her feel like the whole world had faded to be nothing but his needy embrace.

‘If you want me to stop,’ he managed to gasp, though it was hard work as neither of them could much tolerate their lips being apart, ‘just say.’

‘I’ll say, I promise,’ she said. And though she meant it, when he kissed her again she was so lost to the swirling tumble of raw need and feeling that within seconds she was barely capable of saying anything at all.

And she didn’t need to.

* *

He’d shut himself in the bedroom. Jen kept a desk in there, somewhere she could do work at home without intruding in the living space or inviting interruption from him and Katie. It was a good place to sit, by the window with a view of the city, and he could turn the lights off and be out of the way. If Katie came back, he had no desire to see her, to get her accusing looks as she inevitably took Jen’s side.

Not that he thought Jen wrong, but that was a discussion for the two of them, and the two of them alone. It was nobody else’s business.

He might have slept. Gabriel wasn’t sure; sat in the dark for what felt like hours in a stiff-backed chair, he might have nodded off. If so, dreams had been no more comfortable than thoughts, dark and ominous.

And lonely.

So when the door finally creaked open and he jerked around to see Jen, hair wet from the rain, standing in the gloom, it was like someone had turned the lights back on.

He got to his feet with a start, trying to not wince. ‘...hey.’

She hesitated, wrapping her arms around herself. ‘...hey.’

Then they stood there for long moments, staring across the gap, apprehensive and silent. Gabriel ran a hand through his hair and took a deep breath. ‘I’m... I’m sorry.’

Her gaze dropped. ‘So am I.’

‘I’m sorry for... losing my temper. I’m sorry for saying what I did. It was crass and it was cruel and I... I’m sorry.’ Gabriel tensed. ‘I’m not sorry for not telling you.’

‘...I know.’

‘I thought it wouldn’t come out. I thought it would bring you only pain.’ He, too, looked down at his feet. ‘And I didn’t do it entirely for you. I did keep it secret for Tanith. Because she... she was there. Years ago. When I was terrified out of my wits about what was happening to me. She was there, and she helped me figure it out, and she didn’t judge me or condemn me and that was one of the best things anyone has ever done for me.’

He chanced a look at her, found her staring out the window, and he pressed on. ‘And without her, the one vision I managed to change would have come to pass. Because she trusted me and because... because I could rely on her.’ Gabriel took a deep, shaky breath. ‘I hid what happened at Gullsmere from you because I didn’t think any good would come of the truth. Because I wanted to protect you. But I can’t deny that I did it most of all because I wanted to protect Tanith.’

Jen stayed by the window, arms still wrapped around herself. ‘I could have really done without having this blurted out at me in front of the full Wizengamot.’

Gabriel made a face. ‘I didn’t see that coming.’

‘But you’re a Seer.’ And she was smiling, sad and tired but smiling, and the knot in his stomach unwound a little. ‘Come here.’

He crossed the space between them, footsteps ginger, but once he was close enough she reached out to grab his hand skittishly. ‘I’m sorry I lost my temper like that. I’m sorry I...’ Her gaze flickered to his cheek. ‘I’m sorry I hit you.’ She flinched as she spoke, as if to put it in words made it worse.

‘I think I deserved that one.’ He grimaced. ‘And I - I never meant to get angry, I really -’

‘It’s okay. You stopped yourself. And I’d just said some pretty reprehensible things.’

‘As had I.’ Gabriel’s eyes searched her face, ardent, worried. ‘I wrote to Daedalus Cole.’

Jen blinked. ‘Why?’

‘I’ll have nothing more to do with his project.’ He hesitated. ‘I know that’s not what we argued about. But it was, a bit, about secrets. And keeping them. And you weren’t wrong, I - I have bad habits. Bad traits. And this would bring out the worst in me.’ He met her gaze. ‘The parts of me you don’t like.’

She bit her lip. ‘ you’re going to go back to travelling? Go to Rio, go to -’

‘Not just yet. I’ll... have a think about what’s next.’ He took her other hand, squeezing it gently. ‘I’m going nowhere unless you want me to.’

‘I don’t want you to. Go anywhere, I mean.’ Again, shame tugged at her expression.

‘I’m fine, it didn’t really sting, love, I -’

‘That’s not why - I mean, I am sorry, I won’t... I’m sorry.’ Jen tensed. ‘Nick and I used to argue about you. Did you know that?’

Gabriel shrugged, nonplussed. ‘I know he wasn’t thrilled with me around -’

‘I mean about you.’ Her breath caught. ‘And me. It wasn’t so bad, it wasn’t like he didn’t trust me, but... I don’t think he trusted you.’

‘All things considered, it would be a bit silly for me to take offence at that.’

‘But once, when upset... after what happened to his family, when he was tired, and worn, and bitter, he did accuse me of...’ She closed her eyes and gave a short, bitter laugh of recollection. ‘He said you used to look at me like... “that”. And he said that, sometimes, when you were looking at me like that, I was looking right back at you.’

Gabriel hesitated, not sure what he was supposed to say. ‘I can’t say I noticed.’

‘He was afraid, I know. Of losing me. But even though I didn’t do anything wrong, because he’s dead, it feels like more of a betrayal.’

Gabriel frowned. ‘Being with me?’

Her hand slid up his arm, her touch cold from the outside. ‘Falling for you. Even when he was alive, when he and I were together, even though I didn’t act on it, didn’t do a thing wrong... looking back, it feels like more of a betrayal than it would have been if we’d just broken up.’ The words caught in her throat. ‘Like it was convenient.’

‘You know that’s a load of crap, right?’ he said as gently as one could say such words.

She nodded. ‘I know.’

His expression twisted. ‘I didn’t even know you felt like that... before...’

‘I did.’ And even though the anguish didn’t leave her expression, her hands ran up his arms, across his shoulders, his chest. ‘In the meetings together, the debriefs together, when it was just us, those were the only times I didn’t feel... alone. Those were the times I wished you’d kissed me sooner.’ The mixture of guilt and want and wistfulness in her voice was almost palpable.

His breath caught. ‘Those were the times I wanted to. When nobody was around, it felt like the whole world had gone away and it was just us, and I could almost... reach out...’ He leant in, and felt her tense with eager apprehension, and then his recollection of the evening kicked in and he stopped, their lips memories apart. ‘...I guess that makes what I said even more spectacularly jerky. I’m sorry.’

‘I can forgive you,’ Jen said, a sad smile at the tip of her lips, ‘if you kiss me.’

He did, and though she was cold and wet from the outdoors she was still enough to again melt the walls of ice that had crystallised over the hours - days, years? - since she’d stormed out the door. So this time, he wasn’t going to release his hold on her.

* *

‘I never thought I’d be a Mrs.’

Tobias shifted lazily under the bedsheets. ‘You thought you’d be a spinster all your life?’

‘Perhaps.’ Tanith rested her chin on his bare chest, looking up at him. ‘But even if I got married, I didn’t think I’d be a Mrs. I didn’t think I’d change my name. It’s so traditional.’

He shrugged, one hand playing with a stray lock of her hair, head propped up by the pillows. ‘You don’t have to. I mean, you know you don’t have to, it’s not as if I could make you do something if you didn’t want to...’

She didn’t seem to be entirely listening. ‘Tanith Grey.’ The name came out like she was trying it on for size. ‘That’s not so bad.’

Tobias flopped back, grinning up at the skylight. ‘I don’t mind the sound of it.’

‘You’ll have to talk to my father.’

He froze, then lifted his head slowly. ‘What?’

Tanith grinned impishly at him in the gloom. He wasn’t used to seeing her smile like that. It almost made up for what she’d just said. ‘That’s tradition -’

‘What’s he going to do, refuse permission? You’ll ignore him!’ Tobias hesitated. ‘Won’t you?’

‘I would.’ She shifted up to kiss him, hands sliding across his chest. ‘And he won’t.’

Tobias didn’t look convinced. ‘I am a half-blood...’

‘It doesn’t matter to him. And I’d...’ Tanith paused, brow furrowing thoughtfully. ‘I’ve spent a lot of time dodging my family. And I kind of wish I hadn’t. Or, at least, I don’t have to any more. So you don’t have to go ask my Dad for permission, but I’d like this to be done... properly.’

His eyes searched her face. ‘Do you think it’d make life easier if I did him the courtesy of asking?’

She smiled self-consciously. ‘I think it’d appease his ego.’

Tobias’ hands slid down to her hips, pinning her against him as he smirked up at her. ‘Then I’ll do it. And if he doesn’t like it, I guess we’re just going to have to elope.’

Her grin broadened and she kissed him again, but halfway through a thought struck her and she made a small noise of protest, breaking the embrace. ‘Oh, Merlin, there’s going to be lots to do...’

‘There’s no rush. We can discuss it.’

‘Big, small, which traditions - are we going to live together now? Are we going to find a place while you’re working on the election and I’m doing this case? Can we even -’

He pulled her to him again for another kiss, cutting her off, and met her gaze when he let her go. ‘Tanith. You’re freaking out. We don’t have to decide a damn thing right now.’

Her gaze softened, and she relaxed in his arms. ‘I know. I just... don’t want this to be a meaningless gesture.’

His hold on her tightened reassuringly, and he brushed his nose against hers. ‘It won’t be. But... how about we hold off on decision-making until the election’s over?’

‘I think I’m going to start having an allergic reaction to those words,’ Tanith murmured with a gentle smirk. ‘But, you’re right. It’ll be easier if your responsibilities have changed.’ She drew a deep breath. ‘And mine will. I’ll... get myself something easier once this case is over. Some patrol work, if I keep the trainees, get them some experience of normal work. Low effort, for a couple of months, so we can get everything... in order.’

Tobias grinned, a satisfied, toothy grin. ‘See? We can do this.’

Her expression flickered guiltily. ‘I’m sorry I didn’t... before -’

Yet again he cut her off with a kiss, this one softer, more lingering. ‘I think we should ban apologies,’ he murmured. ‘And just look to... moving on. Making a change.’

‘You’re right.’ Then she pulled away, escaping his grasp and rolling onto her back to stare at the ceiling for a second. ‘Which means... if we’re getting better... there are some things I should tell you.’

His hand came to her hip, possessive, reassuring. ‘I’m listening.’

She winced. ‘You might not like it.’ But his gaze didn’t flicker, and Tanith nodded, rolling in closer to him so he could wrap his arms around her again, and she took a deep breath. ‘During the war... while you were away... I met someone...’

* *

International Portkeys were a bugger, in Cal’s opinion. Strict immigration and travel laws, especially ones put upon Britain over the last year which had only been partially lifted, meant that all international travel had to go through the various appropriate magical departments. These were almost always over-burdened, so one had to schedule their trip weeks in advance and take whatever time-slot they were given for an appropriate Portkey to be enchanted and provided.

Which was why, after a long night of celebrating Puddlemere’s victory in Trondheim and only a couple of hours’ sleep, he was staggering back to his flat at seven-thirty in the morning, bleary-eyed and pretty sure he hadn’t properly sobered up yet.

There had been MLE Enforcers in the street. That had been weird. They’d stopped him as he’d been going in, they’d asked him who he was, then one of them had said they’d recognised him from the paper, and they’d just grinned and let him go on his way.

Likely George Weasley had blown up something in the shop. That had probably made for a hell of a night.

But he still did his best to shut the door delicately behind him. If Tanith was in, she’d be asleep, and the last thing he wanted was to incur the wrath of his increasingly erratic roommate. Not that she didn’t have the right to be erratic, he thought as he put his bag down by the door as quietly as possible and padded towards the kitchen, considering all she’d been -

His feet had been moving of their own accord, navigating by memory, and he wasn’t awake or sober enough to cope with a difference in his surroundings. So when his toes hit the staff propped up against the back of the sofa he didn’t just stagger, he went flying with a colourful curse and landed with a tremendous clatter.

For a few seconds Cal just lay there, face planted against the floor, and drew deep, cleansing breaths.

Their carpet really was hideous.


That was Tanith, and he clawed his way up to be visible over the sofa to see her standing in her bedroom door, a white shirt around her like a tent. He gave an apologetic, apprehensive, and yet gleeful grin.

‘Hey. Sorry. Didn’t mean to wake you. We won!’ Cal gave a little fist-pump, and frowned at the offending staff he’d tripped over. ‘I didn’t see that -’ Then he paused. ‘When did this get here?’

‘Uh. About the same time I did.’

And when Cal looked up again he realised why Tanith was wearing a man’s shirt. Because it was Tobias’. And because Tobias was stood in the doorway next to Tanith, looking really a bit ridiculous in her dressing gown.

Cal beamed.

‘Oh, ho, look at you. Now what are you doing - actually, I don’t want to know.’ He cut himself off mid-gibe, and his enormous smile faltered for a minute. ‘Wait. If this is just some sort of unhealthy one night stand, tell me now, so I can get the hell out of here...’

It probably wasn’t the best way to broach the subject of their delicate relationship status, but he was definitely still a little drunk.

‘It’s not,’ said Tobias, and wrapped an arm around Tanith’s shoulders. They, too, had rather ridiculously broad smiles on their faces, and as Cal watched they exchanged glances, speaking in the silent code they’d always communicated in for years and which had only become more sophisticated as time had gone by.

She gave a small nod, and looked back at Cal, still beaming. ‘I’m glad you’re back. And that you’re the first to know - well, I guess I was the first to - never mind. We’re engaged.’

Cal’s jaw dropped - and then he gave a short bark of delighted laughter, staggering around the sofa towards them. ‘No. Oh, you two silly, silly kids, you’ve finally got your heads out of your arses, hey?’ He pulled Tanith away from Tobias to wrap her in a bear hug which she had very little choice about.

‘About this at least,’ said Tobias wryly, and Cal let Tanith go to turn on him.

Then he stopped. ‘Yeah, you don’t get hugged until you go put some clothes on.’

Tobias snorted and looked at Tanith. ‘I guess it’s the walk of shame for me this morning.’

‘It might have been a bit presumptuous if you’d shown up last night with an overnight bag.’

‘Women like confidence.’ Cal clapped Tobias on the shoulder as his friend turned back into the bedroom. ‘You go help him, Tanith, he’ll need his shirt back; I’ll put the kettle on.’

Miraculously, for Cal at least, by the time he was pouring the tea they had both emerged. Tobias was a bit rumpled, Tanith in her rather plain, rough, practical Auror gear, but, still grinning from ear to ear, to Cal they had never looked better.

But he still couldn’t help but get a dig in, and turned a mock-accusing eye on Tanith. ‘So, you’re going to be abandoning me, huh?’

She looked bashful. ‘Sorry. But it’s not like you can’t make rent on your own...’

Cal waved a dismissive hand, already unable to keep up the tease. ‘You’ll find somewhere new, I guess, since Tobias lives in a cupboard.’

‘Hey, I like my flat -’

‘I’m not living there, Grey.’

Cal snorted as normalcy reasserted itself, then tilted his head. ‘You know, if you left, I’d probably go looking for a new place myself. Somewhere more suited to my expensive bachelor lifestyle. I’m really only still here because I’ve liked us living together.’ He ran a hand through his hair. ‘So, I mean, if you want, it would make the most sense for Toby to move in.’

Tanith made a face. ‘I don’t want to kick you out...’

‘Like I said. You leave, I’ll find somewhere better for just me, or maybe find a place with Jack and Saul.’ Cal shrugged. ‘It’s not kicking me out, it’s circumstances changing. And you’re allowed to kick me out, God!’

‘Well...’ Tobias leant forwards. ‘I don’t have that much stuff, still. There’s easily enough space for me to get my things in here. So, I could propose the radical notion of how I move in here, and Cal can figure out what to do whenever Cal fancies it.’

Cal frowned, though his heart had leapt. ‘I don’t want to be a third wheel.’

‘We’re not deciding anything until after the election,’ said Tobias with a nod. ‘As I might, you know, have an awful lot of time on my hands all of a sudden. So we can think about it. Talk about it. But I like this idea.’ He reached into his jacket and pulled out his scratched pocketwatch. Cal had always noticed he smirked to himself every time he did this, but now he positively beamed, and turned the smile on Tanith. ‘I’d better get going.’


‘I have to get home to shower and change; I have a meeting with the Minister to make sure I didn’t horribly abuse my authority to get this injunction and so I should try to look as unbiased as possible. And by “unbiased” I mean, “didn’t just spend the night with the person who benefited from this”.’ Despite his words, Tobias still grinned as he got to his feet.

Tanith’s expression twisted. ‘I didn’t mean to make life difficult for you at work. I’m sorry.’

‘Don’t be.’ He leant down to give her a kiss that was probably meant to be brief, but lingered a bit longer. ‘I love you.’

Tanith’s ears turned slightly pink. ‘Love you.’

Cal waggled his fingers as Tobias headed for the door. ‘Love you too, sweetheart,’ he called, and laughed as Tobias just stuck up a middle finger before he left. Once the door was shut Cal turned his smirk on Tanith and waved a hand. ‘Get up.’

‘What?’ She blinked as he stood.

‘Stand up. I want to hug you now you’re fully dressed and it doesn’t feel vaguely inappropriate.’ He flapped his hands at her and she got to her feet so he could pull her into another huge, close hug.

At first he was just enthusiastic and so was she, but after a few seconds he relaxed and kissed the top of her head. ‘You’re okay. Aren’t you? Tell me you’re okay.’

Her hold on him tightened. ‘I am, Cal. Really. Why wouldn’t I be?’

‘Because I know you. Though I’ve never seen you smile like this before. I just wanted to check this was real. That you’re not hiding something.’

‘I’m not hiding anything.’ Tanith lifted her gaze to meet his, steady, reassuring. ‘And, thank you.’

Cal frowned. ‘For what?’

‘For helping me out this past week. Both being supportive and kicking my ass.’

‘I thought it was time I returned the favour. Just be glad I didn’t beat you up to make a point. Though you’d probably kick my ass.’

Tanith chuckled, and pulled back. ‘I forgot to say. Congratulations on the win. I admit, I didn’t catch the news, I was a bit... distracted.’

‘Two-thirty to ninety. We were neck-and-neck for hours until Saul got the snitch. Just how a good Quidditch game ought to be.’ He grinned toothily. ‘Got him his first Man of the Match.’

‘Good for Harper. I guess he’s not going back to Hogwarts once it’s finished.’

‘Nah, him and Urquhart will be happy, well-paid, superstar dropouts.’ Cal clapped her on the shoulder. ‘I imagine you need to be in the office.’

‘Yeah. You missed a hell of a day yesterday.’ Tanith wrinkled her nose, and went to finish her tea. ‘Though Potter did send me home. I’m going to have to get him back for that one.’

Cal smirked. ‘Do try to not kill him.’

‘Don’t worry.’ Tanith gave him a superior smile. ‘Today, there is nothing which could put me in a bad mood.’

* *

‘That’s a ridiculous idea.’ Tanith got to her feet with a start, eyes blazing. ‘Are you out of your mind, Potter?’

Harry shifted his weight awkwardly. ‘I know it’s unpleasant. But we have to consider the possibility.’

Katie pushed her chair back and tilted her head towards Ron. ‘Uh oh. Mummy and Daddy are fighting.’

‘Don’t joke, Bell, you have to agree this is ridiculous. It’s not a possibility, it’s downright impossible.’

‘You’re not listening to me.’ Harry lifted his hands. ‘I’m not saying we arrest her. I’m saying that we have to properly investigate.’

‘There is no way,’ said Tanith in a flat, level voice, ‘that our vigilante killer is Jennifer Riley.’

Harry chewed on his lip. ‘I get that you’re feeling guilty over -’

‘This has nothing to do with my guilt.’ She sat down abruptly. ‘I know you might be the Boy Who Lived, and that’s great, Potter, really great, and people would take me out back and have me shot if I suggested you needed investigating for murder. But there are more heroes out there than you, and Jen Riley is one of them. She did fighting the good fight every day while I sat in this office keeping my head down, and you were God only knows where plotting against Voldemort.’

She saw Harry flinch, and felt a sullen surge of satisfaction as her blow struck home. Good. It was meant to. He squared his shoulders. ‘I get that,’ said Harry carefully. ‘But you were the one who told me that we have to look at the evidence first, not the conclusions? And the evidence means we have to check her out.’

‘I don’t get why you think she’d have killed Mulready and Phelps.’ Except Mulready was at the Wilson home and Phelps abused everything she now stands for -

‘You’re right, there’s no more motive for her on those attacks than there is for anyone else,’ Harry said mildly. ‘But there’s definitely motive for her to attack you.’

A cold silence fell on the room, and Ron leant forward to clear his throat. ‘We were thinking about this,’ he said, a touch more diplomatically, and Tanith could see that though Harry had remained calm, there was something hard about his eyes after her dig at his work in the war. ‘All we need to do is take a look. It doesn’t mean we’re accusing her.’

‘We have to be thorough. Above reproach,’ said Harry. ‘You say it wasn’t her - great. I believe you. But that’s not how you taught us to conduct investigations, and this is the kind of hole which Riley herself just poked in the Lackardy case. When we do find who did this, we have to make sure our case is watertight, and that means eliminating all possibilities.’

‘We can’t be seen to be ignoring our friends,’ said Ron, again more delicately. ‘Especially not when Katie lives with her. So we check her out. We find she has a rock solid alibi. We cross her off the list. And then nobody can accuse us of not doing it right when this goes to trial or the press or someone tries to nit-pick at us.’

Tanith looked between them, heard the manipulation in Harry’s appeal - the reassurance that he wasn’t threatening her authority by invoking her teachings rather than blunt procedure - heard the appeasement in Ron’s tone. She hated being handled.

‘Fine. There’s an easy way to deal with this.’ She looked at Katie. ‘Where was Riley last night?’

‘Er.’ Katie wrung her hands together. ‘You know how I was there when you were attacked? I didn’t get home for another two hours, and at that point I hadn’t seen her since breakfast. I mean, then she was home, Gabriel too, but...’

Harry stood up. ‘How about,’ he said calmly, ‘we go and see if she can account for her movements last night and if she has an alibi. And then we can cross her off.’

‘Unless she had a quiet night in on her own,’ Ron pointed out.

‘It’ll be a start,’ said Harry tensely. ‘And I think it’s best Ron and I handle this one.’

Rather than her roommate and... me. Whatever I am. Tanith nodded stiffly. ‘If she invokes Gabriel Doyle as an alibi, I’ll handle it.’

Harry looked like he’d argue, but Ron nodded. ‘You got it, Chief.’

At least she was still “Chief”, even when her trainees were approaching open rebellion. Once the door shut behind Harry and Ron, Tanith sagged back, scrubbing her face with her hands. ‘And today started so well.’

‘Is that, like, a rule?’ Katie wondered. ‘We’re the Auror Office - we ruin good days?’

Tanith snorted. ‘Methinks Mister Potter isn’t taking too well to not being top dog.’

‘Yeah, he gets like that. But he does respect you. Otherwise I bet he’d be ignoring you and going off to do things himself.’ Katie shook her head. ‘Don’t worry. Of course it wasn’t Jen. Harry’s just being thorough by making sure we’re not overlooking one of our friends.’

Tanith winced. ‘I have the utmost respect for Jen Riley,’ she said delicately, ‘and I would bet all the money in my Gringotts vault that she is not the person we’re looking for. But I don’t think I can really, justifiably, fairly, refer to her right now as a friend.’

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