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Beyond This Place by Slide
Chapter 26 : Ashes in Your Mouth
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 3

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What happened? Why’s your prime murder suspect out of her cell?’

Tanith pressed Jen down into the chair behind her own desk and ignored the senior Auror who stood in the entranceway to the team’s corner of the bullpen. ‘Stay out of the way, Savage; not your problem.’

‘What ha-’

‘Gabe, make yourself useful and go get a cup of water or something - Savage, will you let Bell through?’

Jen’s eyes had rolled into the back of her head by now, and Katie wriggled past Savage into the enclosure to put a hand to her shoulder, helping Tanith keep their prime suspect, who looked now on the verge of passing out, upright in the chair.

‘Now, seriously, what did happen?’ said Katie, her wand already pressed against Jen’s temple.

‘I showed her the photograph Gabe brought in. I mean, she’d seen it, but shoved it in her face -’ Tanith stopped herself, and looked over at Katie, whose brow was furrowed. ‘Check for memory spells. She was so adamant that she’d never been to Everard’s that night...’

‘She’s got a good poker face,’ said Gabriel, appearing at the entrance in the place of Savage, who had mercifully left.

‘Not as good as yours and I can see through yours. She wasn’t cheating on you, Gabe, something weird’s going on.’

‘Definitely,’ said Katie, looking up; Jen’s head lolled forward and Tanith wondered if she was supposed to do something about that. ‘There’s some pretty clear signs of residual magic of memory tampering here -’

‘Can you remove it?’

Gabriel scowled, putting the pointless glass of water on the desk. ‘It’s a hell of a thing to undo memory tampering; should we be getting some Obliviators in?’

Katie shook her head. ‘No, it’s already begun to crack apart - if it’s that night that’s been tampered with and she doesn’t think she was lying, then it’s possible proof like the photograph that she was wrong is what’s triggered this -’

‘Enough babble, Bell,’ Tanith snapped. ‘Can you remove it or not?’

‘Is this dangerous?’ Gabriel interrupted.

‘It’s fine, I know what I’m - you know what, can you two just shut up and let me get on with this?’

Both Tanith and Gabriel drew back as Katie glared at them, but without another word the trainee Auror turned back to her housemate and began muttering under her breath. Gabriel closed the gap between him and Tanith, eyes blazing, voice low. ‘She better know what she’s doing.’

‘You put your life in her hands over and over in the Lions; relax, Gabe, she knows what she’s doing.’ Tanith put a hand on his shoulder. ‘I don’t know what’s going on, but Riley’s going to be fine.’

Gabriel looked at the photograph he’d brought in that had been key to it all - a picture from Muggle CCTV inside the corridor outside Tom Everard’s flat showing him letting Jen in thirty minutes before the attack on Tanith. ‘...I don’t know if I should be relieved or not that she’s had her memory altered - she should be in Saint Mungo’s -’

‘I need to get to the bottom of this case and you know she’d agree,’ said Tanith. ‘We just -’

Then Jen jerked in the chair and Tanith stopped, the three of them that were still conscious whirling around. Katie got to her feet, wand in hand, eyes wide and surprised. ‘I think it -’

Jen’s eyes flashed open. Her skin was pale, shining with sweat, but there was alertness in her gaze, consciousness of what was going on around her, and as she wildly looked around the enclosed office space, a single, choked word made it past her lips. ‘Tom.’

‘Everard -’ Tanith frowned. ‘What about him, what did he do?’

‘I went to see him the first night of the Lackardy trial,’ she said, voice sluggish and tired. ‘After we -’ Jen glanced up at Gabriel, who had moved to her side, and winced. ‘After we rowed. With the injunction I didn’t think there was anyone else I could talk to. So I went to his flat.

‘He answered the door and, looking back, I think he was trying to fob me off, but quite frankly I just burst into tears and pushed past him and he didn’t stop me...’ She rubbed her temples. ‘He looked like he was about to go out. But he was dressed like he used to dress in the Lions; all those dark clothes. And that’s about all I remember, because he shut the door once I was inside and Stunned me.’

Katie’s jaw dropped. ‘This is crazy.’

‘No,’ said Tanith, voice tense. ‘You know how all the protections at Stacey Whitman’s office were ones you knew exactly how to break through, because they were done exactly the way you’d do them? And how the Scindo curse might have been popular amongst Death Eaters, but then the Lions picked up using it?’

‘Oh, Christ, he was in the courtroom with you, he has access from his job and all sorts of friends to files down here in the MLE and the power to get an apparition rune like the one in the cell...’ Katie rubbed her temples.

‘Stop. Breathe. And here’s what we’re going to do.’ Something surged in Tanith’s chest, a sense of movement after weeks of feeling like she’d been going in circles through mud, slowly going absolutely nowhere. ‘Gabe, Jen, you two stay right here, and if Harry and Ron come back, you tell them what happened and tell them to come after us.’

Gabriel quirked an eyebrow. ‘To where, exactly?’

‘To Everard’s flat. Where -’ Then realisation hit her, as heavy as a punch to the gut, and she swore, loudly.

Katie frowned. ‘What?’

‘Tobias. He’s gone to see Everard, right now.’ Tanith crossed over to her desk and reached under it, rummaging for a few seconds before she dragged out a thick, heavy trunk.

‘And you keep an emergency portkey to his location locked in there at all times?’ said Katie hopefully.

‘Not quite.’ Tanith pulled out two thick bundles of cloth. ‘This just got serious. Most of the MLE are out conducting security for the election, it’ll take time for a message to get to Harry and Ron, and we might be inches away from a hostage situation.’

‘A hostage situation with your nearest and dearest.’ Katie caught the bundle as it was thrown to her. ‘What the hell is this?’

‘Shield Cloak. One of Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes’ finest products. Don’t laugh, it’s not a toy, one of those things saved my life before.’ Tanith unrolled hers with a flick of the wrist. ‘Twist the clasp to activate it. If it’s up and your Shield Spell isn’t quick enough, you don’t die.’

‘Chief - you sure this is a good idea?’

Tanith stopped, finding herself halfway through a gear check. Without thinking about it she’d been shoving products from the trunk into the pouches on her belt; Peruvian Darkness Powder, Shocking Orbs, Decoy Detonators. She’d pawed through this trunk once before for anything and everything that could help her when Tobias had got himself in mortal peril. And they’d both walked away alive.

Annie MacKenzie hadn’t.

Tanith drew a deep breath and didn’t look at Jen. ‘I know what I’m doing,’ she lied, and kicked Altair’s old trunk shut.

* *

The world spun. Except spinning implied speed; it was more like it was swirling around weakly in front of Tobias’ eyes. And, dark and shadowy as it was, it was difficult to make out anything other than indistinct shapes, corners of a darkened room -

A figure stood over him.

‘I really am very sorry,’ said the huge, looming shape of Tom Everard, sounding about as polite as if he’d just held Tobias up for dinner. ‘You weren’t someone I wanted to drag into all of this.’

Tobias sat up slowly, creakily; partly because his body was aching, his leg throbbing in the usual way and his shoulder throbbing in a whole new way. Partly because he wasn’t sure if Everard was going to Stun him again if he moved too quickly.

With reality crawling back in at the edges, he could begin to piece together where he was: an empty room, the windows hidden by shutters, only moonlight streaming in from beyond. This was neither helpful nor reassuring.

‘What is “all of this”?’ he asked, rubbing his temples.

‘If you know to jump at the name Stacey Whitman, then clearly the Auror Office is doing better than I’d thought.’ Tom hunkered down a few feet away from him, his broad face calm, earnest. ‘I didn’t realise they’d got that close to me. And that’s just what they told you.’

‘Tanith... mentioned the name... said it could be the key to unravelling everything.’ Tobias frowned, thoughts coming sluggishly. ‘It’s you? You’re Stacey Whitman?’

Everard gave a one-shouldered shrug. ‘Sort of. Not quite. Good enough for the Auror Office.’ He sighed. ‘Look, I’d have liked very much to just Stun you and then wipe your memory of having ever seen anything that might incriminate me, but if they’re chasing Stacey Whitman they’re hot on my heels anyway, even if they don’t know it.’

‘Wipe my...’

‘I already had to do it to Jen. You, her - you’re not my enemies. I know the system is flawed and difficult and that you, her, me... we’re all subject to it sometimes. I know you want justice.’

‘Wait.’ Tobias lifted a hand sluggishly. ‘You’re the murderer.’

‘Vigilante. I’ve not gone after anyone the system shouldn’t be going after anyway.’

Tobias tried to blink back the muggy feeling from around his eyes. He suspected Everard had hit him with more than one Stun; it didn’t normally feel like this to recover. ‘Was it you? Who went after Tanith that night?’

‘Look.’ Everard drew a deep breath. ‘I know you two have had your messed up little thing for years, and I know that can be... difficult. It’s difficult to see how people have changed. But the war happened, and people are different. Things you thought they could never do, would never do - suddenly, they’re entirely capable of them. And she’s not the person you thought she was. She killed Nick.’

Tobias’ gut twisted. ‘On the orders of Thanatos Brynmor; she had no choice.’

Only following orders? Do you believe that, Toby, do you really believe that when it applies to anyone other than your fiancée?’ Everard’s expression screwed up. ‘I know you know so much of that is bullshit. And that’s why we’re here.’

Tobias looked around. ‘Where is this?’

‘I mean, we’re here talking.’ Everard ran a hand through his hair. ‘They’re going to find me. Maybe not today, but soon, days, if they’re as good as they seem to be. And I could run, but then I’d just... disappear. Even if you all know it’s me, I can leave you trussed up here and by the time anyone knows to look for me I’ll be on the other side of the world. And then Britain will just know me as a crack-pot murderer.’

‘I don’t get what this has to do with talking to me.’

Everard sighed. ‘You wrote The Midnight Press. You know all about what good the message can do, even if physical deeds have done all they can. And you sit in the Minister’s Office.’

‘Actually, that might be due to change tonight,’ Tobias sniffed wryly.

‘My point,’ said Everard, ‘is that you can make sure, when the Auror Office finds me, when they try to convict me, that this doesn’t get swept under the rug. That people hear about what I’ve done, and why. That they understand.’

‘Understand. Why you’ve murdered four people, including an Auror, and tried to kill another?’ Tobias drew a deep breath. ‘I’m pretty sure I don’t understand.’

Everard drummed his fingers on the floor, frowning. ‘I can rectify tha -’ Then he stopped, stiffening, and all of a sudden he wasn’t sat cross-legged on the floor as if they were just having a polite chat, he was on his feet, grabbing Tobias by the scruff of his collar and hauling him up.

‘What’re you -’

‘Wards. Broken. I thought we’d have more time -’

Then he was pulling Tobias to him, wrapping one muscular arm around his chest and jabbing his wand into the soft flesh under his jaw, whirling to face the door as it crashed open and in burst the two familiar shapes of Aurors Tanith Cole and Katie Bell.

* *

She’d been here before.

Only it had been in a woodland, not in the run-down office hired by Stacey Whitman. And it hadn’t been Tom Everard she’d been confronting - Tom Everard had got away after punching her square in the face and apparating away. But it was otherwise remarkably similar. An enemy she couldn’t quite bring herself to hate. A human shield she couldn’t afford to lose.

This time, at least, she had backup.

The backup swore the moment they were in the room and, through the gloom, they could make out the figures before them. ‘Shit, Tom, I was hoping we were wrong.’

Tom Everard dragged Tobias, who was struggling aimlessly against the much stronger grip, back a few inches. It was enough to stop his hostage from getting purchase on the floor, his bad leg keeping him off-balance. Everard grimaced. ‘Sorry, Katie. You were better than I thought.’

‘You know, I don’t care about whatever feelings you two have about this turn of events,’ snapped Tanith, her wand pointed straight at Everard’s head, though she knew just a breath would mean it was Tobias’ skull in the way of her wand. ‘Let him go.’

‘I really don’t think so,’ said Everard with a scowl. ‘I don’t want to hurt him. Or Katie. You, I have less qualms about. How’d you find me, out of curiosity?’

‘Jen - you know Jen, our friend, our leader? Shook off your Memory Charm. Remembered you attacked her. The pieces came together.’ Katie ground her teeth together. ‘Nobody was at your flat. The surveillance team outside could only watch the damn letterbox downstairs for another drop, not inside this office. We checked here.’

‘So there’s reinforcements downstairs. Good to know.’

‘Merlin’s sake, Bell, shut up,’ Tanith growled. ‘But yes, the area’s being secured, and there’ll be more backup coming. How do you think this is going to end, Everard? You think you walk away from this?’

‘I’d pretty much assumed, at this point, that I wouldn’t,’ Everard conceded. ‘But I do still have standards, and those standards include not being brought in by you, Cole. Katie, sure. Potter and Weasley, great. You? Hell, no. You don’t get to have your face plastered all over the front page as the person who stopped me.’

Tanith’s eyes flickered to Tobias. He’d stopped struggling so badly, seemed to be focused on staying very, very still, and was looking right back at her. She didn’t dare talk to him, give him an expression, give him anything Everard could possibly use right then, but when she met his gaze, she knew he understood that she was going to do anything to get him out of this situation.

But for her part, looking at him just reminded her of how much she had to lose.

She looked back at Everard. ‘So, you’re baby-cooking crazy.’

Everard gave a lopsided grimace. ‘That’d be convenient, wouldn’t it? If I were just a loon? But you know better than that, Cole, you really do. You know someone doesn’t need to be crazy to want you dead. And you really know someone doesn’t need to be crazy to want Phelps dead, to want Lackardy dead, and definitely not to want Mulready dead.’

Tanith swallowed hard. ‘I used to sympathise with you. I used to think that if I was face to face with the man who killed Bart Mulready, I wouldn’t cuff him, I’d shake his hand. But then I learnt that it wasn’t Lackardy who killed my partner.’

‘He was just an opportunity. I was going after Lackardy that night, but he ran - right into you and Van Roden. I saw it all through the window, I thought I wasn’t going to get a chance... and then I did. For Van Roden. Not for Lackardy.’

Tanith’s gut tightened into a Gordian knot. ‘You’re right. I wouldn’t judge someone too badly for killing Lackardy, Phelps, and Mulready. I’m not sure I’d even judge someone too badly for trying to kill me. But Jacob? Jacob was -’

‘Present at the murder of the Kelly family, ran escort operations on a multitude of prisoner transfers, conducted several key arrests -’

‘He had no choice,’ Tanith snapped. ‘You know we’d have been killed if we’d -’

‘And even you, Cole, you, who killed Nick, at least did something. I don’t think it tips the scales, I don’t think the information you gave out is as good as a life, but you did something.’ Everard’s expression twisted. ‘What did Van Roden do? What information did he give out? When did he ever risk his neck to try to minimise the damage, when did he ever do anything but keep his head down?’

Her breath caught in her throat as Everard’s words hit her like gut punches. ‘The June Inquiries cleared -’

‘Even at the June Inquiries he had nothing to say except that he wasn’t that bad. But he had nothing to say that he was that good. Do you think he was a good man?’

There was something remarkably honest about the question, but Tanith gave a stiff nod. ‘He was. He -’

‘“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Edmund Burke, on the subject of the French Revolution.’

‘Actually,’ Tobias gurgled through the wand pressed against his throat. ‘Burke never said -’

‘Grey, I love you, but if you antagonise the man holding you hostage I will kick your arse when this is all over,’ Tanith growled, cutting him off before Everard could, then she looked back at the man himself. ‘We can debate this all we want, but it’s beside the point -’

‘It is exactly the point,’ Everard thundered. ‘Jacob Van Roden might not have been a villain, but he was a passive man who was present for plenty of travesties of the Occupation and did nothing to stop them. He didn’t fight against the Thicknesse regime and didn’t even have the strength of character to remove himself and actually do nothing. I think that you, Cole, are fucked up and cowardly and deluding yourself as to how good and evil really balance, but I think he was weak and exactly the sort of man who was the reason Thicknesse’s regime succeeded where it did, and I think that there were no consequences.’

‘So you murdered him.’

‘Like I said,’ Everard growled. ‘He was an opportunity. I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to hunt him down. But I don’t regret it.’

Tanith knew she needed to delay. The word was going out from the two Enforcers who’d been on surveillance outside to the rest of the MLE for backup. But they were scattered to the four winds with the election security, and there was no telling how long it would take before they were here.

But every one of her instincts was screaming at her to just Stun Everard, and only fear for Tobias’ life held her in check.

‘And do I really need to account for myself with Mulready? You were there, Cole, you saw what happened at the Wilson home -’

‘Justice was going to find Mulready -’

When?’ Everard thundered, and Tobias gurgled as the wand pressed deeper under his chin. ‘He was dismissed after the June Inquiries, as was Lackardy, and not a single charge was brought against them. Even if old man Vaughn wants to claim Lackardy was leading the Aurors to Avery, nobody was chasing Mulready, nobody was bringing charges against him -’

‘You’re in the Prosecution Office, Everard, you were bringing cases against Yaxley, Dolohov, Brynmor, Nott, all of the inner circle, all of the major offenders!’ Tanith snapped.

‘Yes, I saw those cases. And I saw how anyone but the inner circle got to make deals and get their sentences cut, I saw how old man Vaughn was happy to let little fish go if it meant he would get bigger fish. That wasn’t about justice, it was about results, and half the time the bigger fish were either stitched up already, or they’re in the Remnant, and I don’t see the Remnant on the inside of a cell yet!’

‘I can’t believe,’ said Tanith slowly, ‘that I am going to call a serial killer naive. But that’s what you are, Everard. You know that this takes time. You know that “just because we know” is not good enough grounds to convict them, so yes, the lesser offenders get lighter sentences so the real evil definitely goes away forever. You know there’s no black or white, that we have to sift our way through the shades of grey to get to the best of a bad situation. You know there is only so much we could do at once, and then we would get to the second-rate offenders like Mulready -’

‘You can’t have stood there in the Wilson home and tell me that what he did there was second-rate. You cannot defend the decision to not so much as throw him in a cell, when for six months of so-called peace, a time of so-called justice, he was allowed to walk free!’

‘So you murdered him?’

‘You don’t even believe that’s murder, Cole! You know that’s justice!’

Everard’s words echoed around the room and through Tanith’s skull, and silence fell upon the four of them for long seconds, broken only by the ragged breathing of Tobias, who had given up struggling or arguing in exchange for trying to stay alive.

He’s right. If he hadn’t gone after Jacob you’d still be ready to turn a blind eye to the whole thing. Even for going after you, you can’t really blame him...

‘What about Jen?’ That was Katie, speaking at last, her voice small. ‘She’s been arrested for things you did, Tom. Was that okay?’

‘I knew it wouldn’t last,’ Everard said, now more quietly, now looking at Katie for the first time with an air of, at last, regret. ‘I knew there’d be no case, no real case, and I needed time. It wasn’t okay, but it was necessary. And I was going to give her justice.’


Everard looked back at Tanith. ‘You don’t think I was going to give up at just the one attempt?’

Tanith swallowed hard. ‘Yes. That’s right,’ she said slowly. ‘You were going to punish me, because I killed Nick Wilson. And now I’m walking around, not a mark on my record, not a single court hearing - nothing but a conversation in a closed room with sealed records to discuss what happened in the war.’

‘We’re meant to be in a new age of accountability,’ Everard growled. ‘And I’m not seeing much of that.’

‘Perhaps you’re not wrong there.’ Tanith looked between Katie and Tobias, and silently wondered where the hell her backup was. All the two outside were doing was watching the exit in case everything went horribly wrong.

Because, with Tobias as the hostage, if everything went horribly wrong it would have to be over her dead body. ‘But then you hold accountable the people who’ve done wrong. And the only person I see you about to punish, right now, is probably the most innocent person in this room.’ She jerked her head at Tobias. ‘He doesn’t belong on your kill-list. So let him go.’

‘And then we come back,’ said Everard slowly, ‘to you bringing me in, to you getting fortune and acclaim instead of the inside of a prison cell, which is the best you deserve.’ He shook his head tightly. ‘No, no. I have a much better idea.’

Something cold settled in Tanith’s belly, but it was Katie who next spoke. ‘Tom, I know you’re frustrated, but you’re a smart guy. You know it’s over. Nobody else needs to suffer here.’

‘They really do.’ He jerked his head at Tanith. ‘You do.’

She drew a deep breath. ‘All right. Okay.’ Tanith leant down to put her wand on the floor and skidded it across the gap between them.

‘Chief, what the fuck are you -’

‘Shut up, Bell.’ Tanith straightened, extending her arms outwards as Tobias’ eyes widened. ‘You’ve got a deal, Everard. You let him go. Then you take your best shot at me. That’s fair. The innocent go free. The guilty are punished. It’s justice.’

‘Chief, are you fucking -’

‘You’ve got a job to do, Bell, it’s to make sure he doesn’t get away -’

‘Tanith, don’t be a bloody idiot -’

‘No.’ Everard cut off the protests from Katie and Tobias with a simple shake of the head. ‘Because then you get to die a martyr. Like Nick did, like Cormac did. And you don’t deserve as good a death as they had.’

‘You don’t know how good a death they had,’ said Tanith. ‘You weren’t there.’

She never thought she’d be trying to antagonise someone into blasting her while she was defenceless, maybe even killing her. But one look at Tobias made it clear that, unless the rest of the MLE came in, the cavalry riding to the rescue, she didn’t have a lot of options.

And if someone needed to be punished by Everard here tonight, she’d be damned if it wasn’t her.

Everard’s expression did twist with anger, but he drew a sharp, careful breath. ‘I will not have you, who murdered Nick, be the woman who took me down, or the woman who sacrificed herself to take me down. If I don’t get the chance to tell the whole world what you did to Nick Wilson, then the whole world will know what else you’ve done.’

Tanith cocked her head. ‘Without Nick Wilson, my conscience is clear, Everard.’

‘Then perhaps I should say, what else you’ll do.’ Everard gave a grimace of a smile. ‘Here’s how it’s going to go. You have two options before you, Cole. In one of them, you do get to be the woman who took me down, the champion, the hero. You can have all of the adulation that you’d deserve for stopping an infamous serial killer. But it’ll be ashes in your mouth.’

Tanith narrowed her eyes. ‘You can get to the point at any time.’

‘Simple. I kill him -’ Everard twisted his wand under Tobias’ neck, and he gave another gurgle of pain, fear, and objection. ‘And then you can take me down, nice and easy.’

Cold fear flared into white-hot anger and her voice went flat. ‘If you think that you will be able to walk when this is over if you so much as bruise him, Everard, you are so mistaken -’

‘What’s option two, Tom?’ said Katie too cheerfully, clearly remembering that delaying was still their best option rather than sparking a fight here and now.

‘If you don’t want me to kill Tobias here tonight, Cole, then there’s only one thing you can do: kill Katie.’

Katie drooped. ‘Oh, Tom. And to think I hoped the Chief was wrong, but it turns out you are baby-cooking crazy,’ she said, sounding more disappointed than anything else.

Tanith squinted. ‘I don’t understand -’

‘Then I might go down, and that’s fine - but there’s no way you’ll be allowed to go free for killing your partner, there’s no way you’ll be identified by the Auror Office as anything except for an unhinged woman who needs to sit in a cell as punishment for a good long while.’ Everard inclined his head to Katie. ‘Sorry, Katie.’

‘Oh, fine, Tom, don’t mind me, I’ll just be the pawn in your little loony trip,’ Katie sneered. ‘What the hell happened to you, Tom?’

‘I saw all that we fought for get spat on by the same system we put in place to correct the injustices we suffered,’ Everard snarled. ‘I saw the murderers of our friends walk free or get slaps on the wrist. I sat in rooms with important people where we discussed that this family wouldn’t get justice or that family wouldn’t get justice because we had bigger fish to fry. And I decided it was enough.’ His eyes locked on Tanith. ‘And now’s enough for you, Cole. I know you’re waiting on your reinforcements, but no cavalry’s going to kick down the door. It’s just you two, your fiancé, and me with a wand to his neck. The choice is yours.’

Tanith met his gaze flatly. ‘No, Everard. It’s just you and me, and there’s only one way this ends.’

Tobias drew a deep, shaking breath. ‘Tanith, you don’t have to do anything stupid -’

‘I’ll count,’ Everard said calmly, twisting the wand into Tobias’ neck again. ‘Five -’

He didn’t get any further before Tanith moved. Her wand was still on the floor, still a good lunge away, and she knew she wouldn’t be fast enough to close the distance between her and her wand or her and Everard before he could think a spell to slit Tobias’ throat. And she’d seen Katie fight, knew she was good, but Tanith also knew she valued Katie more for her technical knowledge of magic than her practical. She didn’t trust her to make a shot like the one over Tobias’ shoulder.

So Tanith did the only thing she could do: tackled Katie Bell.

The trainee folded with a grunt at the impact, clearly having not expected it, and the two women went down. One of Tanith’s hands grabbed the front of her cloak, the other grabbed her wrist, and with her training and experience in hand-to-hand, and the element of surprise, the scramble didn’t last long.

Within seconds Tanith had kicked Katie back down to the floor and stood over her, her trainee’s wand in her hand, both of them panting for breath.

Katie’s gaze flickered up to her wand in her tutor’s hand, then across to Everard, and there was a pause as she fought to speak clearly. ‘Holy hell, Chief -’

‘Shut up,’ Tanith snapped, and she glanced over at Everard only briefly. ‘Let him go, Tom. Please.’

Everard blinked with apparent surprise. ‘You were awfully happy to do that, Cole. No funny moves, it doesn’t take more than a twitch for me to kill him -’

‘Tom -’

‘It’s not over, Cole.’

Tanith looked to Tobias, whose eyes were wide and unbelieving. ‘It’ll be okay, Toby. Trust me. And no matter what, I love you.’

Then she looked at Katie, who hadn’t moved from her place on the floor, frozen in apprehension, and tilted her captured wand. ‘Sorry, Bell,’ was all she said, before drawing another sharp breath. ‘Scindo.’

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