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Chapter 27 : Road of Sweat and Tears
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The spell rocketed out of the end of the stolen wand and struck its owner straight on - or so it seemed, but then Tobias blinked and everything changed. Katie wasn’t hit with the spell cast from her own wand, there was no blood like he’d expected, just the shimmer of a Shield Charm he hadn’t seen anyone cast, that she couldn’t cast without a wand.
But Tanith’s Scindo didn’t absorb itself on the shield - it bounced.
Everard hadn’t been ready for the spell to deflect at him from Katie’s direction, not when he’d been shielding himself against a possible attack or trick from Tanith. So all he had time to do was throw himself and his hostage to the side, out of the way.
Tobias knew that, once Everard got his senses back, it’d be time to kill the hostage - so as the two men hit the floor he jerked his elbow to drive it into Everard’s gut. The bigger man grunted, air driven from his stomach, but his hold was strong, and he still had his wand in hand and wasn’t letting go -
Then there was a figure looming over him, and another thump and a grunt from Everard, and Tobias realised that, while Tanith might not have been prepared to shoot a spell at them when they were two indistinct shapes on the floor, she had absolutely no qualms about closing the distance and feeling which one of them was which by her fist.
She’d figured out which was Everard, as Tobias felt the burlier man dragged off him. He struggled to sit up to see Tanith grabbing Everard by the front of his shirt before she slammed him against the floor, hard, his head cracking against the laminate surface.
‘You try to force me into that? Again?’ Her fist came thudding down into Everard’s face and there was a crunch as his nose exploded with a shattering of blood. ‘As if that makes me the villain? As if that doesn’t make you as bad as Brynmor?’
Everard was flailing back now, but he wasn’t as practiced as her in hand-to-hand, wasn’t as downright furious. He clawed at her face, but she had a knee on his chest now and batted his arm to one side as if it was nothing before slamming her fist down again.
This time there was a crack and Tobias thought he saw broken teeth in the deluge of blood that was now streaming from Everard’s nose and mouth. ‘You think you can hold my fiancé hostage, threaten him to my face and I will just let you, I will not make you fucking beg for me to stop before I’m done with you -?’
Katie was moving before Tobias could, before he could get his limbs - sluggish at the best of times, unresponsive after the spells Everard had pumped him full of - to cooperate enough to let him stand. Another sickening punch was planted in the middle of Everard’s face, then Katie had a hand on Tanith’s shoulder, trying to pull her back.
But Tanith shoved Katie away without even looking at her, returning to the rain of furious, bloodied blows, and Tobias honestly wondered where it would have ended - if Katie would have fought back, if she’d have gone for Tanith’s wand on the floor, if Tanith would have been stopped from beating Tom Everard to death - if the door hadn’t then burst open to let in Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and a host of other reinforcements.
Between the lot of them they managed to drag Tanith off Everard and pin him down, though he himself wasn’t doing anything but lying there writhing, his features impossible to make out under the mask of blood that covered his face.
Tobias managed to clamber to his feet at last, halfway up by the time Ron was at his side, lugging him up the past few inches. ‘Up you come, mate. You all right? We’ve got some Portkeys for Saint Mungo’s...’
‘I’m fine,’ he said, managing a sincere, if rather wan smile. ‘Just a bit creaky, I can walk it off.’ Limp it off.
Tanith was finally shaking off Harry’s grip, finally calming down, her chest heaving, and finally her gaze met Tobias. ‘Get him to Saint Mungo’s if he needs it, drag him there by his ankles if he needs it...’
Harry and Ron hesitated, exchanging glances, and Tobias limped past Ron towards Tanith, hands raised. ‘I’m okay. I’m okay -’
Then she’d closed the gap between them to throw her arms around him, and he staggered onto his bad leg and had to lean on her so they didn’t both fall over. There was blood spattered across her face, across the front of her shirt, encrusting on knuckles he knew would bruise. Her voice was hoarse, desperate. ‘You don’t get to have anything happen to you, not again, I don’t lose you again, you hear me -?’
But before he could return the embrace, just as suddenly as she’d thrown herself at him, she pulled back, and he could see the professional mask sinking back down over her fear. ‘Kennedy, Colquhoun, can you get Mister Grey back to Canary Wharf?’
Tobias frowned. ‘I can wait -’
‘I need to make sure Everard’s secure and go through every inch of this office, his flat, and his affairs at the Prosecution Office before the press get a sniff of this, I am not letting him slip through my fingers...’
And beyond her the Enforcers were hefting up Everard, securing him with magic bindings, while the three Auror trainees gathered around their bloodied Training Officer.
‘I have just one question,’ said Tobias, blinking. ‘What the hell happened?’
Katie, who had retrieved her discarded wand, extended Tanith’s towards her. ‘I was wearing a Shield Cloak. She activated it while we were scuffling.’ She smirked at Tanith. ‘You know, for a second there, Chief, I didn’t realise what you’d done and thought you were actually going to shoot me.’
Tanith took the wand, expression impassive - but it was the impassive expression Tobias knew well, the one which was all about keeping up appearances instead of being legitimately cold, and it just made Katie grin as Tanith said, ‘I did think about it. It would have been a pretty good deal.’
He felt a sudden surge of emotion, of relief at this all being over, of their both being safe - of affection, and utter admiration for how she had, yet again, pulled through the odds in ways he’d have never thought of, but knew now was not the time. Anything to say and feel could come later.
Now was the time he let her put her work first.
‘I’ll be back at the Wharf,’ he assured her.
‘This might take a while,’ Tanith said. ‘Don’t wait up.’
Colquhoun was waiting for him by the office door, and extended an arm as he saw him limping. ‘You just look in a worse and worse state every time I see you, boy.’
There weren’t many people Tobias was prepared to lean on, and even fewer he would accept to call him “boy”. His old mentor from the Enforcers was perhaps the one and only, and he took the arm with a grateful grimace of a smile. ‘I just did two rounds with a serial killer, give me a break.’
‘It looks like you lost - didn’t I teach you not to lose?’
‘I’m still here, so that counts as a win to me. I tried losing, once. I didn’t care much for it.’
As I recall, Tanith had to save me then as well.
Colquhoun just laughed, but he had a Portkey on hand back to Canary Wharf, and before Tobias could over-think it he was being brought down to the bullpen, to the enclosed corner where Tanith’s team had conducted the investigation he supposed was now in its epilogue, with a cup of tea in his hand.
Gabriel and Jen were sat around the desks, and looked up with tired eyes as he limped in. ‘What happened -’
‘It’s over,’ Tobias said, and slumped into the nearest chair, his leg screaming from the beating and from his leaning on it more than he should have done with his staff abandoned when he’d been attacked at the flat. ‘They’ve got him. Everyone’s okay. It’s done.’
Jen winced, looking him over. ‘It was Tom?’
‘I’m afraid so.’
Jen let out a deep breath, expression dropping, and she slouched in the chair. Gabriel’s hands came to rest at her shoulders, touch reassuring but also a little possessive. ‘I never would have thought...’
‘None of us did,’ said Tobias. ‘That it could be one of us? Someone we thought shared our ideals, shared our experiences? Our risks?’
‘I always thought he was just letting off steam when he got angry about this plea-bargain, or that deal to get charges dropped for information. I knew he didn’t like it, but nobody liked it, I thought it was like...’
‘Like he used to get in the Lions,’ Gabriel rumbled. ‘When he wanted to do stupid things on some moral principle but knew you’d stop him.’
Jen nodded, and silence fell for a few seconds before she drew a deep breath. ‘Have we really managed to mess everything up so badly if someone like Tom is -’
‘Tom made his own choices,’ said Gabriel.
‘But he reacted to where he was,’ said Tobias, slouching in the chair. ‘We’ve tried to make the government good, we’ve tried to bring justice -’
‘And not just justice,’ said Gabriel, looking between them. ‘I’ve heard the two of you talk about it. What do you think, does Tom think, we can do, go through every single witch and wizard in Britain and scrutinise everything they did in the Occupation? Assess and judge every decision everyone ever made to see if they reached some sort of predetermined level of morality?’
Tobias’ lips twitched despite himself. ‘You know what Muggles would call that?’ he mused. ‘A witch-hunt.’
‘But people he killed, like Phelps, like Mulready -’
‘Maybe it’s not perfect,’ said Gabriel, cutting Jen off. ‘And maybe some people have slipped through the cracks. But you know what the perfect system is, if you mean that nobody guilty ever gets off?’
Jen’s expression twisted. ‘It’s one which looks an awful lot like Thicknesse’s.’
Jen looked up at him, eyes going bright. ‘When’d you get so smart about this kind of stuff?’
Gabriel gave a lopsided smile. ‘I’m just parroting you, love. If I make sense, that’s all I’m ever doing. Just sometimes you forget what you said and I’m here to remind you of that.’
‘He’s right, though. Or, you’re right,’ said Tobias, wearing a weak smile. ‘There might be mistakes, but there will always be mistakes. We can’t forget that for every Mulready there are three Dolohovs, behind bars now and forever after a fair trial where they were brought to account. And while justice is important, we can’t get bogged down for years and years in finding who to blame for what crime - we need justice but we also have to be able to move on.’
‘But so long as there are mistakes, we have to keep on trying, and remain vigilant,’ said Jen.
Tobias turned his smile on her. ‘It’s awfully convenient you’re in a key position to keep us and the system honest, isn’t it?’
‘And you’re not?’
‘After tonight? Who knows?’
It was amazing, Tobias reflected, how being abducted by a serial killer he’d once considered, if not a friend, then a respectable acquaintance, could bring certain issues into perspective. Certainly his continuing political life was not as urgent a consideration right then as his continuing actual life.
But that was the moment Colquhoun appeared in the entranceway to their little corner, craggy features wearing a lopsided smile. ‘Speaking of which,’ he said, ‘it was just on the wireless. They think the results are almost in. They’re getting ready to make an announcement in the next fifteen minutes.’
‘Oh good,’ said Tobias amiably. ‘We can turn the wireless on.’
Jen quirked an eyebrow at him. ‘You’re not going to Shacklebolt’s party?’
Tobias grimaced. ‘I said I’d wait for Tanith -’
‘Who could be stuck in the field for the next six hours and this is election night, Toby,’ said Jen, eyes widening. ‘You’ve worked for this, you’ve slaved for this, for the past six months, and I know tonight’s been all sorts of crazy. But this is it. The end of that road of sweat and tears. Are you really going to miss it?’
He swallowed. ‘If he’s won, the Minister isn’t going to need me -’
‘No, I imagine he’d like you there, but he won’t need you. And the same if he’s lost. But really, either way... I know you, Tobias. You’re going to want to be there.’
Gabriel, next to her, shrugged. ‘I think she’s right, mate. I know politics seem a bit silly right now, but I think you’ll regret it if you’re not there to celebrate your well-earned victory after all that hard work - or if you’re not there to talk with Shacklebolt if you’ve lost.’
Tobias hesitated. ‘I told Tanith -’
‘She’ll understand,’ said Gabriel bluntly, and though Jen nodded it looked like her answer might have been more along the lines of “Bugger her”, a charitable nature not holding up too well after wrongful incarceration.
He paused, thinking, but got to his feet creakily with a nod. His expression twisted wryly. ‘I wonder if this is how it’s going to be,’ Tobias mused. ‘From now on. Me going to political parties while she’s out late at night chasing crooks.’
And a bit of him wondered if either one of them would have it any other way.
‘Fifty-seven per cent. Fifty-seven,’ crowed Dimitri. ‘You have done very well for yourself, Brain-Box Grey.’
‘Aren’t you supposed to be impartial, as a representative of a foreign government?’ said Tobias, but he couldn’t help himself from smirking as the two of them stood in the middle of the swirling mass of Kingsley Shacklebolt’s celebratory Election Party.
‘And yet I find myself not caring. Budem zdorovy!’ They clinked champagne glasses together, and Dimitri poured his down his throat without seeming to notice it.
‘I think you were supposed to sip that.’
‘But now it is gone,’ he mused, and turned to grab another two glasses from the nearest passing waiter and tray.
Tobias looked at his still nearly-full glass. ‘I don’t need another.’
‘Who said it was for you?’ Dimitri grinned. ‘You are looking well, my friend.’
‘Really? Because I got beaten up and abducted tonight.’
‘You have this glow of victory about you. Or perhaps it is swelling from the beating, I do not know. If the latter, enjoy being handsome while it lasts before the bruising sets in.’ Dimitri clapped him on the shoulder and Tobias had to lean on his cane to stay upright.
He’d never dressed up more quickly in his life. He’d apparated back to his flat, brushed his hair, found his dress robes, and managed to wriggle into them without hurting his injured leg any more before grabbing his cane and making it to the party, which had been on tenterhooks just as the wireless had crackled with the beginnings of the announcement declaring the results. Tobias had only made it past a few staffers before it had been stated that Kingsley Shacklebolt had won the election, that now he could drop the ‘Acting’ title from his position as Minister, and that all of the last six months had been worth it - had been vindicated.
Dimitri had been the first person to find him and shove a celebratory drink in his hand, unsurprisingly.
Tobias tilted his glass to his friend in an amiable manner, but smiled apologetically. ‘Thanks for the drink - and the kind words, mate - but I’d better try to get to the Minister, give him my congratulations.’
‘He should be giving you the congratulations!’ Dimitri called after him, and Tobias just laughed as he limped his way through the crowd.
It felt a little unreal. The night had been going a mile a minute and half of his mind was still trapped in the fight-or-flight response from being grabbed by Everard. It was only just beginning to filter into the public awareness that the vigilante had been captured, and Tobias could only reflect with a hint of smugness that Tom Everard’s determination to be loud and public with his motivations was likely to be overshadowed by Shacklebolt’s electoral victory.
But half of his mind was still there, in the fear of the moments spent in that flat, in that office, while the other half was spinning through everything he’d worked for in the past six months and whether he could keep it up, whether he’d done right, whether he could do better. And so when he found a thick crowd surrounding the Minister, eager to shake his hand and offer congratulations even if they were people who hours ago would have made a sharp comment about this policy or that policy, he would have been happy to wait.
Then Shacklebolt saw him through the crowd, smiled, and extended a hand - and just the gesture was like parting the Red Sea as Tobias found the way clear for him to move to the Minister’s side.
The handshake was firm and enthusiastic. ‘Congratulations, Minister. Really, truly, congratulations.’
‘You ought to be congratulating yourself, Tobias, you’ve earnt it - and I couldn’t have done it without you.’ But, ever the Auror, Shacklebolt frowned as he saw the developing bruise on the side of Tobias’ face. ‘What happened to you?’
Tobias glanced around, then leant in and dropped his voice. ‘It’ll be coming out in bits and pieces, but the Auror Office have the vigilante in custody.’ He only dared mouth the name, keen to avoid any explosion of this story sooner than was necessary. ‘Tom Everard.’
Shacklebolt’s expression flickered, but he knew how to keep a poker face, had managed to react calmly to all sorts of horrendous news reaching his ears over the past six months so the public around him didn’t cotton on. ‘My congratulations to the Auror Office, then,’ he murmured. ‘And, I assume, Auror Cole. You’re both all right?’
‘Perfectly fine, Minister,’ said Tobias, and although he knew Tom Everard’s words were liable to echo in his ears for weeks, months, maybe years to come, he was surprised to find that he was speaking the truth. ‘All the more keen to get back to work.’
Shacklebolt smiled and straightened, a hand on his shoulder. ‘Speaking of work, you’re not still determined to leave the DIMC?’
Tobias gave a lopsided grimace. ‘I’m afraid so, Minister. I will happily stay on at your office, if you’ll still have me, but I can’t wear too many hats. And I’m taking time off over Christmas. That one’s not negotiable.’
‘You’re lucky you’re asking me for these things tonight,’ joked Shacklebolt amiably, ‘else I would have to negotiate. You’ll at least help me find a replacement? I’d rather hoped you’d change your mind.’
‘I did have an idea,’ said Tobias. ‘Will Rayner.’
‘He’s got a friend in every port. We’ll talk about it. And I’ll let you get back to the party.’ Tobias smiled at Shacklebolt, who looked like he knew full-well most of the party was, despite the euphoria of his victory, going to consist of talking to people he didn’t want to talk to, and left.
Now people had noticed him, noticed how warmly the Minister had greeted him, or perhaps now managed to recognise him, it was easier to move through the crowd. Being important and rubbing shoulders with the leader of the country was a better way to clear a route than even limping around on a cane was. But it also meant sound carried as he passed near the entrance to hall, and he forgot to ignore people calling his name in a public environment.
He looked around, kicking himself for reacting to what was probably the press, but instead saw two familiar figures standing by one of the burly Enforcers on security. He sighed, and limped over. ‘What’re you two doing here?’
Ariane Drake had the gall to look indignant. ‘It’s the celebration of a whole new government in Britain, Toby! We just want to -’
‘No, we’re not on the guest list, so sue us, Grey,’ said Melanie, tossing her hair. ‘But this is the best party in town tonight.’
‘You were on the Harrigan guest list, weren’t you.’
They exchanged looks, but their hesitation was all Tobias needed to know - and still he lifted a hand to the Enforcer on door duty. ‘It’s all right, Barry. They’re with me.’
‘Oh, you are a good sport, Toby,’ gushed Ariane as Barry opened the red velvet rope for them. ‘Don’t ever let us be heard speaking ill of you again.’
‘What, you speak ill of me now?’
‘We don’t get heard doing it,’ said Melanie with, he thought, a rather ungrateful smirk. ‘Don’t suppose you know any rich and sexy men to introduce us to?’
Ariane swatted her on the arm. ‘Really, is that all you think about?’
‘At a party like this?’
Tobias had never been sure what to think of Ariane and Melanie, not for the seven years they’d spent at school together, and it had been even more complicated since the end of the war. Ariane had impersonated Tanith, would have led him to his death if it hadn’t been for the Battle of Hogwarts, and yet she had almost paid for that betrayal with her life. It made it hard for him to hold a grudge. And Tanith was still friends with them, to boot, still valued them both as much as Tanith seemed inclined to value people outside the three of them, and he liked her to have other friends. It seemed only healthy.
So the least he could do was try to make an effort, and try to not think about how much Ariane Drake, purveyor of negligées, knew about his sex life.
His compromise was not especially kind.
He found his target more or less where he’d left him, still in a throng of people, at the outskirts of where the dancing had started, and still with a couple of glasses of champagne in hand. He wasn’t alone, however, and stood next to the only person in the room Tobias wagered could give him a run for his money on size and alcohol tolerance.
‘...you have to enjoy the good champagne; I know you English do not really understand wines...’
‘Bollocks to that; I’m Welsh, and I prefer a good pint...’
‘You can’t have a pint at a party like this, Cal. I thought you knew all about keeping up appearances?’ Tobias grinned at his best friend, then turned to gesture to the two women in his wake. ‘I found a couple of strays outside. You remember Ariane and Melanie from Hogwarts, don’t you, Dimitri?’
It occurred to him only too late that introducing Ariane to the man who had saved her life in Canary Wharf six months ago was perhaps rude (and he tried to not think too hard about how the other man to pump her full of healing spells had been newly-arrested serial killer Tom Everard), but the die was cast by then, and Dimitri gave one of his most charming smiles as Cal rolled his eyes good-naturedly.
‘But how could I forget?’ One champagne glass was thrust at Cal, and Dimitri stepped forward to take one of Ariane’s hands and bend down to kiss it melodramatically.
Ariane giggled. ‘Well, it has been some time -’
‘Years, really,’ interrupted Melanie, who literally elbowed her best friend to one side so she, too, could get greeted with a kiss on the hand by a mysterious foreigner.
‘Truly? It does not seem so long.’ Dimitri’s grin broadened. ‘But you fine ladies do not have drinks; this is something we must correct.’
‘Oh, by all means, the bar’s somewhere... over there,’ said Tobias, waving a hand, and soon enough it was just him and Cal stood in the crowd as Dimitri walked off, a woman on either arm.
Cal looked into his champagne glass suspiciously. ‘Ever feel like chopped liver?’
‘When hanging around with you or Dimitri? Often.’
Cal sniffed. ‘Yeah, well. It’s just because he’s foreign and they know me too well.’
‘And it’s not like you’d actually want Ariane or Melanie’s affections.’
‘True.’ He sipped on the champagne. ‘...I saw Nat.’
Tobias winced. ‘Yeah?’
‘Yep.’ Another pause as Cal looked like he was mulling over what he wanted to say - then the thoughtful expression faded and he clapped Tobias on the shoulder. ‘Aw, hell, it doesn’t matter. Congratulations, mate. You ought to have a good time tonight; you’ve earnt it.’
Tobias looked up. ‘If something’s bothering you, if you met Nat, of course it matters -’
But Cal looked reluctant - and then his gaze landed over Tobias’ shoulder, and he grinned. ‘Oh, hey, look at that - a distraction with a cracking pair of legs...’
Tobias turned, and on some level he was a little disturbed that Cal noticed Tanith’s legs, but then he’d noticed her legs too and had to concede that they were rather diverting, especially in a slinky black number of a dress like the one she was wearing.
Then Cal was gone, judiciously gone, and his fiancée had wound her way through the crowd up to him. If she’d rushed to look good for this event, he couldn’t tell, though as she stepped in to slide her arms around his neck he could see the marks on her knuckles which would no doubt turn to bruising in time.
He gave a stupid grin, his free hand coming to wind around her waist. ‘Hey yourself. Didn’t expect to see you here so soon. Or at all.’
‘Everard’s in a cell. There’s paperwork. It can wait until morning. All my trainees wanted to come here anyway; I bet you’ll see Potter and Weasley making an appearance once they’re all gussied up, but... I wanted to see you.’ She gave a sleepy, satisfied smile, and kissed him. ‘Congratulations.’
He was hit with the sudden desire to make everyone else in the large hall disappear - but, alas, didn’t have the power. ‘It’s just an election.’
‘Just a...’ Her expression twisted. ‘All the late nights, upset, tears, arguments? It’s not just an election, Grey, and if we were both so silly over just anything, I really will kick your arse.’
‘So, that congratulatory spirit didn’t last long, did it?’
She brushed her nose against his, and her voice dropped. ‘I have a confession to make.’ His chest tightened at her tone, but she pressed on. ‘Today’s been... a difficult day. With my work. With you. And I spent a lot of time thinking. And a lot of time working. And it’s been... really hard. But... what I’m trying to say is, Toby... what I need to admit to...’
Her voice trailed off, and she bit her lip for a moment before continuing. ‘I didn’t vote.’
He laughed, and it was a good laugh, a laugh for once not tinged with tension or apprehension, and he kissed her again. ‘If you won’t participate in the process, how can you think to complain about the administration?’
‘Oh, I’ll find a way.’
His smile softened. ‘I think we did it,’ Tobias mused. ‘The worst is over, for us both. Your big case. This election. The Minister’s accepted me leaving the DIMC, I’ll just be in his office, it won’t be light work but it won’t be... everything at once...’
‘And I’ll have to see what Vaughn wants me to do next, but it can’t be too huge. After all, he’ll never make me work with Proudfoot, so that rules out the Avery hunt.’
‘So, hey.’ His hold on her tightened. ‘Maybe now we can look at the rest of our lives. I mean, our life. Where we go next. Making big decisions.’
Tanith’s expression flickered, but she still smiled. ‘I’m still coming down from punching a man in the face lots,’ she said, ‘so I’m not up to too many big decisions right now, but I do know what we’re going to do next.’ She glanced to the open space to his left. ‘Dance. Since we didn’t get to dance at the last victory party.’
Tobias grimaced, looking down at his cane. ‘I’m about as mobile as a stunted rhino without this thing.’
She stepped back, still holding his free hand tightly, and smiled. ‘That’s fine,’ she said. ‘You know you can always lean on me.’