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Latet Anguis in Herba by Slide
Chapter 4 : December 15th, 1994 – Fifth Year
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 2


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“Is it me, or does this Yule Ball idea that decrepit old fossil’s come up with sound like a bad, bad thing that will torment us for the rest of our days and leave us with scars of embarrassment that nobody in the world will ever let us forget?” Tobias asked as he and Cal stepped past the statue that guarded the doorway to the Slytherin common room and walked inside.
The room was already full of students mumbling and glancing at each other, and Tobias could sense the eyes of a few fourth-years upon him. He wanted to squirm away; it felt as if he was some cut of meat in a butcher’s shop being eyed evaluatingly. If girls always dealt with him this way, maybe he’d follow Tanith’s suggestion of going gay or celibate.

Then again, the thought of Tanith in the context of this Yule Ball sent up a jolt in his stomach that happily dismissed the suggestions.

“I think it is a very, very bad idea, boyo, you’re right,” Cal agreed, stepping out of the path of some third years who had their eyes on him. “And I think we should abstain from this night of evil, if at all possible.” The Welshman looked distinctly shaken by the proclamation of the ball, which had come from Snape the last time they’d seen him.

“You can’t abstain!” Gabriel’s voice wafted over from the comfy chairs in the corner, and they headed over to where their friend was draped artfully across an armchair, looking unconcerned by all of the goings-on that had everyone else in a state of complete and utter panic and turmoil.

“Why the hell not?” Tobias demanded, flopping onto the sofa. Cal collapsed beside him with a grunt and a mild, pained groan. “Where are we supposed to find partners? I loathe my dress robes. I can’t dance to save my life. I don’t know the etiquette for fancy do’s like these! I’ll step on toes!”

“Well, finding partners is easy. Just look around you, mate. See the wonders of Slytherin house.” Gabriel raised a hand and gestured lightly to their surroundings, and the many students around them. Tobias wasn’t entirely sure he’d class all of the girls as ‘wonders’. “Surely you can find some delectable individual in this crowd of delightful housemates?”

Silence met Gabriel’s words as Tobias and Cal merely stared at him. “Gabe,” Cal started at last. “Slytherin House has the worst ratio of boys to girls in the whole of Hogwarts. The bad proportions are incredible and record-shattering.”

“And even worse if you take into account the number of these girls who are built like battleships and are about half as pretty,” Tobias agreed mournfully. “Cal and I will probably have to go to the dance together.”

“Before you lovebirds jump at the opportunity to declare your affection and you, Toby, get the chance to prove Tanith right,” Gabriel interrupted quickly, raising his hands at them both, “take into account the size and intellect of half of the males in Slytherin House. Remember, the Sorting Hat seems to think ‘stupid, cruel and thuggish’ were part of Salazar Slytherin’s best traits.”

“Bastard hat,” Cal mumbled.

“So what you’re saying, Gabe, is that Slytherin House is our oyster?” Tobias asked, wearing a thoughtful expression as he leant back on the sofa. He took his glasses off and polished them on the sleeve of his robe, as he always did whenever he was deep in thought.

“I have no idea what you’re going on about, but I don’t think oysters are on the menu for this banquet,” Gabriel said blankly. “There’s lamb chops? Will that do?”

Cal sighed. “What we mean is, do you really think there are that many potential targets out there? Decent girls who haven’t already been taken?” Beside him, Tobias nodded vaguely, but still seemed rather distracted.

“Oh, sure! Plenty of girls left, I’m certain. I asked Melanie Larkin a few minutes ago, so that’s one less, but there are always possibilities. Still plenty left,” Gabriel said reassuringly, though every word rang more hollow than the last to his two friends.

“Great. Then I guess that leaves Ariane?” Cal asked, perking up a little. The inseparable pair of girls in Slytherin’s fifth year were amiable enough, provided they didn’t hate your guts. Of course, being Slytherins themselves, Cal and Tobias already had something of an advantage, but few others had such a protection.

“Miles has already asked her,” Gabriel said apologetically.

Cal scowled. “So much for the opportunities and possibilities still out there. You do talk an awful amount of rubbish sometimes, Gabe.” He folded his arms across his chest sulkily, actually pouting a little. Then he glanced at Tobias grimly. “We’re screwed, mate.”

“Tobias isn’t,” Gabriel said shrewdly, eyeing his friend. “Because Tobias has remembered secret option number three of partners available to him. However, that door’s closed off to you, unless you want to get killed.”

Tobias raised his eyes to look at Gabriel. “What do you think you know?” he asked grimly, as Cal looked on blankly.

“There’s no thinking. It’s called paying attention for six months. Oh, it’s been subtle, but it’s there,” Gabriel said, nodding slowly and smirking in that self-satisfied way of his which just proved he knew what was going on.

“What’s where?” Cal asked slowly.

“Caldwyn, my friend, you put the ‘b’ in subtle,” Gabriel said, not unkindly as Cal glared at him, then he fixed his eyes back on Tobias. “So, you’re going to talk to Tanith, then? I can think of worse ideas.”

Cal clicked his fingers impatiently. “Damn, yes, Tanith! That would make life so much easier. She wouldn’t care what colour my dress robes were, and we’d probably have a blast just relaxing all evening… no damn tension…” His voice trailed off as he saw Gabriel shaking his head frantically at him, and he looked over at where Tobias sat, still deep in thought. “Oh, damn,” Cal concluded.

“I think that’s the right word,” Tobias said, smirking humourlessly.

“You’ve been thinking about this for the last two hours, haven’t you?” Cal concluded, crestfallen.

“I’ve been thinking about this for the last two months at least. Only now it’s taken some sort of focused form and aim.” Tobias stood up. “I’m going to die at the end of the day, aren’t I.” He looked at Gabriel unhappily.

“Not if you pull it off right.” Gabriel looked at his watch, his forehead creased with consternation. “Then again, you might want to move quickly, as last time I saw Tanith, that Durmstrang fellow Radimir had been about to talk to her…”

The colour fled from Tobias’s face, and he whirled around on his heel, hurtling towards the door back the way he came. He didn’t get too far, though; not even to the statue at the entrance to the common room, before it opened up without his intervention and Tanith herself stepped in.

Mercifully aware that Gabriel and Cal couldn’t hear him from here, and that they were rather cut off from the rest of the common room standing by this entranceway, Tobias skidded to a stop in front of her, and she paused, giving him a quizzical look.

“Where’re you off to in such a hurry?” Tanith asked, raising an eyebrow at him in a curious manner.

“Well… I was just off to talk to…” Tobias’s voice trailed off, and he shook his head a little. “Never mind. How was Care of Magical Creatures?” Suddenly, his throat seemed rather dry, and he couldn’t just dive into the topic as he wished to. Words of small talk were the only he could utter without croaking.

“Fine. That lump Hagrid’s still as deranged as ever, but at least my Blast-Ended Skrewt isn’t about to kill me or anyone else any time soon, as it’s a touch dead.” Tanith shrugged. “There are worse fates for creatures with no purpose other than to try and sting me into oblivion. I could have grown angry with it, for one.”

Tobias grinned a nervous grin which was still fuelled by the fact that he definitely didn’t doubt her. “You spoke to Radimir?” he asked, managing to inject the question into the conversation relatively smoothly – he thought. “Gabriel mentioned you were chatting a few minutes ago…”

“Yes… he wanted to talk to me about Ancient Runes…” Tanith eyed Tobias slightly. “Why?”

“Nothing.” Tobias shook his head, then smiled nervously again and shrugged. “Well, it’s just all of this Yule Ball madness.” He managed to force his smile to become much more forceful, real, strong. “Seems that Ariane and Melanie are both taken, by Miles and Gabriel. You’re the only girl left in our year…”

Tanith gave him another contemplative look, taking in his faintly frantic appearance and the fact that he was clearly a bag of nerves. “You’re suggesting that we go along together?” She seemed to mull this one over as Tobias only managed to stare in an absent and shocked way she clearly took as verification. “Hmm. Sounds like fun. A lot less painful than having to hunt down some acceptable bloke. Could be a laugh, yes…”

No! Don’t say it’s a laugh! Don’t just say that it sounds like fun! The voice inside Tobias’ head set off at a ramble at this point, but he was completely incapable of expressing its wishes with his own words. Say that it sounds wonderful! Say you’d be delighted to spend the Yule Ball with me! Say you know it’ll be a magical evening!

“Yeah… much… easier,” Tobias said weakly. “I mean… after all, do you want to go through the stress of finding some romantic partner when there’s a friend right here who’s willing and… well, it’s much less certain?” He knew the meaning of his words, he knew the intent he was trying to get across – and yet he knew that he’d just dressed them up enough to be misinterpreted. And Tanith couldn’t be blamed for that.

“I guess we’ll have to colour co-ordinate our robes, then,” Tanith commented with a smirk. Her complete lack of any trace of nervousness confirmed in Tobias’ head that he’d just made his suggestion in the worst possible way. “Now, I’ve got to shower, because I’ve been handling a damned Skrewt all afternoon, but it’s a good idea, you know? I always knew you were a sharp thinker.” She tapped him on the side of the head lightly in a companionable way which still made Tobias’s stomach lurch – not unpleasantly – before she sauntered off towards the dorm.

Tobias stepped back to where Cal and Gabriel were sitting, not sure of whether or not to be euphoric. “I… well… that went interestingly,” he said quietly at their questioning gazes, then lifted his feet up to rest them on the table, staring out the enchanted windows – being underground, Slytherin common room windows merely showed a magical picture of the grounds from an angle that they figured was from one of the towers on many levels above them. The result was pleasant, but often disconcerting.

“You told her you’d go as friends,” Gabriel finished, rolling his eyes and rubbing his temples. “You’re useless, Grey.”

Cal blinked, and stared at Tobias. “I thought the entire point was that you were… you know…”

“I… didn’t tell her we’d go as friends… she just sort of assumed and I phrased it so she could assume, and I didn’t then correct her… and now we’re just a pair of pals going along because it’s easier than hunting down some other partner for the dance… and I don’t like dancing! I mean, I can, and I’m pretty good at it, but I don’t want to!” Tobias exclaimed, his concerns suddenly piling down upon him oppressively.

Cal grimaced. “Well… I’m sure you could manage to bring it across there and then on the night that your plans are something a bit different… oh! And Christmas present!” He gestured quickly. “That’s always a good way to state you have more than friend intentions. What did you get her?”

Tobias sat up, looking quite encouraged by this. “Yeah, that’s a good point, Cal. And she’ll love the present; it’s this great book on…” He stopped as Gabriel and Cal exchanged glances, then fell back in their seats and groaned melodramatically. “What?”

“A book?” Gabriel echoed, shaking his head and looking pained. “That’s all very well if you’re both friends and you’re… well… you… but it’s not a good way to slowly approach the suggestion that you want more. Get her jewellery. Get her expensive chocolates. Get her something subtle which she’d love but didn’t even realise she wanted it, and you worked it out from carefully paying attention all these years, just to demonstrate you do have emotions and are perfect for her.”

Tobias stared at him. “Like what?”

There was a moment as the three of them sat in silence, then Cal frowned. “Get her jewellery,” he decided at last, and Gabriel nodded firmly.

“Owl-order jewellery?” Tobias scrunched his nose up in thought. “I guess I don’t have much choice,” he conceded, grimacing. “But there are only ten days… it can be hell for that to work properly…”

“You can use Gawain,” Cal offered generously. “He’s faster than most owls. You should get your delivery pretty promptly with him. You just need to go and get the right catalogue and right present. Do you have enough money?”

“No, but I’ll spend every last bloody knut if I have to,” Tobias mumbled venomously.

“That’s the spirit! Self-sacrifice! Women love that!” Gabriel declared.

Tobias sighed, shaking his head and sinking back onto his chair. He was rather under the distinct impression that the Yule Ball was merely going to make his feelings more complicated, rather than dissolve the problems as he had originally thought.

 

§

 

“Cal, will you put that away? When I bought that for you as a Christmas present, I hadn’t expected to be on the receiving end of it,” Tobias instructed, looking over at his friend from where he stood before a long mirror in the boys’ dormitory, adjusting the clasp on the cloak of his black dress robes.

“No. You bought this, and told me that it was something I could record history with. Now, I know you expected me to flit out and record something else, which would actually be in the history books, but it’s hard to know what will and won’t, considering that we’re not in history. So I thought it’d be more fun to record something we can look back on in ten years time and have one great laugh. And, you never know – you might be famous some day and I can sell this for millions of Galleons,” Cal said in a rush, not lowering the magical Recording Orb that Tobias had given him that morning. It was a very simple and basic form of magic, and only worked on a small scale, but could record several hours worth of visual and audio events, and then it only took a simple charm to get it to project a reproduction. Fun, Tobias had thought, when he’d seen it. Now he was beginning to regret it.

“Aye. We must record for posterity,” Gabriel declared, stepping from out of the bathroom, his simple silk, emerald dress robes already on, but his hair damp from the shower. “Then again, Cal, what’s to say that it won’t be you who’ll be famous in the future, and people won’t want an image of you?”

“I am the narrator. I am the storyteller. I am not the story.” Cal snickered as Tobias groaned, but obligingly turned the Recording Orb on himself, speaking directly to it. “So, here we are,” he started in a deep, probably supposed-to-sound-mysterious voice. “The opening act of the Yule Ball, as the handsomest hunks of Slytherin house get ready for their gorgeous beauties that they wish to entertain tonight. Who knows what romantic possibilities will emerge by the end of the night?”

“I have a few ideas, mate,” Miles Bletchley called out from the other side of the dorm, where he was arranging his flamboyant, mahogany-hued robes. Cal turned the Orb to face him. “A few little plans in particular for Miss Ariane Drake… who shall have the pleasurable company tonight of the wonder that is myself!” But he wore a smirk with his words, taking some of the arrogant edge out.

“You know, I think you might end up with that ego suffering from a mild deflation by the end of the evening,” Tobias commented wryly. “But we’re the only ones going out with the two available girls in our house and year… and something tells me you might have more success on the romance front than I.”

“You think my intentions tonight are romance, Grey?” Bletchley asked with a smirk and a chuckle. “No… don’t underestimate me…”

“Oh, we won’t, Miles,” Cal called out, interrupting rapidly, then turning to Gabriel with the orb. “So, Mister Doyle, what happened to your delightful partner? The gorgeous Melanie Larkin? I thought you were going together.”

“So did I,” Gabriel said, not sounding particularly bothered. “But she had that mild accident in charms the other day and is still stuck up in the hospital wing. So it seems like I’m just flying solo tonight.” He shrugged. “It’s alright. It means I don’t have to dance.”

“Maybe you could be my partner in crime with this Recording Orb?” Cal suggested brightly.

“I’m glad you finished that sentence after ‘partner’, Brynmor,” Bletchley said with a wry grin. “Anyway, ladies, I think I’m done. Time to wait for five hours for Ariane to emerge, but I have to be waiting for her. It’s the rule of the world.” He swaggered towards the door, stopping by Tobias. “I’d stop there, Grey, mate. You’re just going to work yourself into a stress if you don’t give up now and accept that you look as great as you’ll ever look.”

Tobias looked at him, considering this ‘compliment’. Then he sagged. “I guess you’re right. Yeah, Tanith will have my head if I keep her waiting, and I’d rather not piss her off tonight, if at all possible…”

Bletchley laughed, clapping Tobias on the back as they descended the stairs. “Hey, no worries, Grey. Tanith’s a great girl, wonderful girl, but she’s not as scary as she often makes out…”

“I am her best friend, Miles, I think I know her better than you might with your five-minute relationships last year,” Tobias replied testily.

Bletchley laughed again. He did that a lot. “Don’t underestimate the intensity of our relationship, or what it let me know about her, Grey. Why, the things that I could tell you, if only I had the time…” His voice trailed off as he chuckled, shaking his head.

“Don’t.” Tobias’ voice was cold and tight by now. “I’d appreciate it if you didn’t; really. Because they’ll firstly make me want to hit you, and I’ll secondly know that you’re lying. Tanith does talk to me, you know…” Something glinted in his eyes. “Maybe I know more about you than you’d like?”

This actually shut Bletchley up, and he and Tobias stepped down into the common room without further comment, leaving Gabriel and Cal alone in the dormitory, the latter still holding the Recording Orb, which he turned towards Gabriel.

“I think they’re both going to get nasty surprises tonight,” Cal said calmly, and Gabriel nodded. “Do you have any idea where Edmund and Adrian are right now? They haven’t been seen for hours…”

“I think they’re down there already. Montague found himself some partner in the sixth year, and Pucey got one of Parkinson’s little friends to go with him. He’s mad, but he’s a Quidditch ‘star’, so that sort of helps,” Gabriel explained, tugging at the sleeves of his dress robes, still adjusting the fit slightly until it was what he would deign as perfect.

“Hey, Gabe?” Cal lowered the Orb slightly. “Can I ask you something?” Gabriel grunted. “You never did explain why you came along late to school this year. Just sauntered in on day two without an explanation of any sorts. I mean, I understand if you don’t want to tell loads of people… and, really, if you don’t want me to know, but if it’s anything…”

“It’s nothing important,” Gabriel said quickly. There was an uncomfortable pause, and he glanced over at Cal. “Alright. But switch that Orb off. And erase the last few seconds once you’re done. I’m not sure I’m supposed to tell you.”

Cal flicked the Orb off obligingly, and a few seconds passed as he fiddled with his wand to wipe off the lead-up to the switch-off. “Alright. Go ahead, then,” he said slowly.

“Well, I did give you some sort of explanation,” Gabriel started calmly. “I couldn’t get to King’s Cross in time. My dad had an important meeting to go to… it sort of kept him back. And I wanted to wait around until it was done, so I knew how it went…”

“Something that important happened in the Department of Magical Transport?” Cal asked sceptically, sniffing the bigger story.

“Something that important happened down at the Department of Magical Law Enforcement,” Gabriel explained stiffly, looking away and focusing on the mirror. “It… it’s from those Death Eaters that made trouble at the World Cup. The Wizengamot have been going through lists.” He grimaced at Cal’s enquiring expression. “Old suspect lists.”

“Your father…?” Cal stared.

“Had links to You-Know-Who. Yeah. And no, he’s not a Death Eater, and wasn’t, and didn’t have anything to do with torturing those Muggles at the World Cup,” Gabriel said, his voice gaining strength as the sentence moved along, until it was a fierce snap that dared Cal to make comment.

Cal didn’t; he had rarely seen Gabriel make such a display of emotion, and knew this had to be a difficult topic for him. “So the Wizengamot found him… clear of anything which could still cast… suspicions in his direction?”

“Yes. It’s all ancient history,” Gabriel said angrily.

“What… what did he do?” Cal asked quietly, trying to not jerk any further extreme reactions out of Gabriel, but sensing that this was something – one of the many, many things, in fact – that his friend had been bottling up for a while.

“Passed information over to You-Know-Who. He worked in the Department of Mysteries for a while.” Gabriel glanced at Cal. “That would explain why your foster-father looked like he wanted to hex him coming off the train at the end of last year. He probably sees him as a traitor. And… and he was.” Gabriel nodded slowly. “But that was fifteen years ago. A lot’s changed. People have changed.”

“Times have changed,” Cal agreed quietly.

Gabriel turned to face him. “I know that I don’t generally care what people think about me, and that’s fair enough. But don’t tell anyone. I’d rather my family didn’t come into question, and I’d also rather not have people like Montague making loud comments about how my father was just serving the cause and I’m a ‘good little Slytherin’ now.” A sneer crept into his voice.

“Hey, my lips are sealed, mate. I’m not going to judge you on this.” Cal clapped him on the shoulder lightly, his hand staying there. “Death Eater father in Azkaban, and Death Eater mother dead at the hands of my foster-father, remember?” He smirked at the convoluted description of his family life. “It doesn’t affect how I view you at all. And as I’ve hardly ever met your father, I won’t lose sleep over it.”

Gabriel nodded, smiling slightly. It was one of the few genuine smiles Cal had seen from him – which wasn’t of amusement or a mere wry grin, that was. “Thanks, Caldwyn,” he said calmly, adjusting his robes again. “I should have figured that you’d be the one to press the issue. Tanith doesn’t ask about ancient history; she’s got her own mess of it, and Tobias is just oblivious.”

“Just glad to help. I always have a listening ear.” Cal brandished the Recording Orb. “Can I turn this on? I want to go taunt Tobias and talk to Tanith. Nothing else you want to say first that won’t be recorded for posterity?”

Gabriel looked at him for a long moment, then smirked. “I think we should definitely torment Slytherins with this Orb tonight,” he declared. “You made me watch that Muggle TV briefly over the summer. We should do it like that – you can be in charge of the Orb, and I’ll just interrogate people in embarrassing ways.”

“Sounds like fun.” Cal returned the smirk. “I’ll get started on Toby, and you can come down once you’re finished grooming yourself, okay?”

Gabriel nodded, and Cal stepped out of the dormitory, reactivating the Recording Orb as he headed down the stairs into the common room. There stood Bletchley and Tobias, both waiting patiently, but whilst Bletchley’s expression was casual and certain, Tobias looked like he was about to have a fit from nerves.

Suddenly, the idea of baiting him seemed much less tempting to Cal, and he merely flashed the Orb past them in an acknowledgement of their presence. He didn’t feel too inclined to go and bother Tanith, either, but there were definitely other things to talk about.

He headed up the stairs towards the girls’ dormitory. Tobias had told him about something he’d read which said that, in other houses, boys couldn’t even get up the stairs to the dorms; various charms would stop them. Slytherin house was quite different – Cal couldn’t barge in on the girls (all two of them currently left), but he could step into the room if he was invited in by one of the occupants. It was a much more sophisticated system, though did lead to certain… problems amongst seventh years that Cal didn’t want to think about too much.

He knocked on the door of the fifth year girls’ dormitory lightly, still holding the Orb. “You ladies aren’t indecent, are you? It’s Cal.”

“Come on in,” Ariane’s voice filtered through. She had never paid an excessive amount of attention to Cal in the past, but had never objected to him that much, either. She seemed to have no complaints about letting him in to obviously talk to Tanith.

Cal waltzed in, half-holding his breath. He sighed with faint relief as he saw they were both very much fully dressed, and – he had to admit it – looking rather fetching in their dress robes. For the first time, Cal felt faintly bothered about not having a partner for the dance. Granted, he and Gabe would have a good time, but even Montague had been able to find someone. He shook his head slightly.

“You ladies look gorgeous tonight,” he declared loftily, deciding to distance himself from the situation, and silently cursing that Miles Bletchley could be such a smooth talker; he’d happily take Ariane Drake to the Yule Ball if he had half a chance. He could just see it; he with Ariane, Gabriel with Melanie, and Tobias and Tanith together. Union of the least-objectionable Slytherins of the year – though Melanie certainly had her nasty side.

He shook his head again to clear it of foolish thoughts, and grinned at Tanith. “Hey, that’s the necklace Tobias gave you this morning,” he declared, gesturing to it and blurting it out before he could even think about it.

Ariane turned to face Tanith, who was looking a little sheepish by now. “Grey got you that?” she asked, sounding surprised and impressed. “I thought the two of you were just going out there as… friends?”

Tanith rolled her eyes. “We are. It’s just a necklace. He just bought me a necklace. We’re just going to the Ball together. It’s to save us the inconvenience of hunting down a partner we’d have to be ‘romantic’ with.” She said the word ‘romantic’ as if it were something of a curse.

Ariane laughed humourlessly. “Yeah, right. Pull the other one, Cole, it’s got bells on it. You just have fun tonight, you hear?” She patted her roommate on the shoulder lightly, then swept towards the door. “Grey might be a bit difficult, but he’s a sweetheart really. You shouldn’t toy with him like you do.”

“I don’t… toy…” Tanith spluttered, looking at Cal for support. Cal had none to give.

Ariane eyed him slightly, taking in his understated navy robes, and grinned at him. “Looking very dashing, Mister Brynmor. If Miles breaks his leg on the way down, come chat to me by the punch bowl.” Her grin was full of toying, but Cal did have a mild inclination to make Bletchley trip up on the dance floor.

“Oh, I will. It can be arranged?” Cal raised his wand with a teasing smirk, and she laughed before she stepped out.

Tanith rolled her eyes. “That girl needs to be talked to about male-female relationships which don’t necessarily have to be romantic. Tobias is a friend. You’re a friend. Gabriel is a friend. Why can’t it just be left at that?”

“You and Toby look more photogenic together?” Cal asked, raising an eyebrow. “I don’t know. But… she does have something of a point. I was with Tobias as he tried to pick out that necklace. He spent ages agonising over it.”

“That’s what Tobias does. Spends ages agonising over the emotional things. He just wanted to be nice, rather than vaguely friendly, and that can be hard for him.” Tanith fingered the small diamond pendant hanging off a chain around her neck. “Oh, he means well, but he can be hopeless.”

“He’s trying to handle it. And… he’s doing more than being nice,” Cal said, shifting his feet a little. “He’s… haven’t you been paying attention the last four months? The way he’s just been uncomfortable around you more than usual? The way he glowers at Radimir?” He took a step forward. “Diamond necklace? You’re an Aries? That’s your starstone, you know.” He tapped his breastbone. “Divination student talking here.”

Tanith stared at him for a while, then buried her head in her hands. “Thank you, Brynmor. Thank you very bloody much. I was happily living in a sort of absent denial, until you managed to go and paint it clearly…”

Cal gaped for a minute. “You knew?” he asked slowly.

“Of course I knew! Tobias is the detached and unemotional one, not me. Thinks that if it can’t be figured out with a book, it’s not worth bothering with. Of course I’ve seen him in a twist lately, I’ve just been trying to work out how to deter him.” Tanith groaned slowly.

“So… you don’t feel the same way?” Cal felt horribly out of the loop.

Tanith looked at him slowly, her face a mask of regret. “Cal… Tobias is my friend, and I love him dearly. But not like that. And I think he himself is just stuck in this infatuation stage where he’s still trying to figure out what he wants and has decided it’s me. That’s why I’m trying to let him down gently.”

“Wait, let me get this straight – you’re trying to let him down gently by agreeing to go to the Ball with him?” Cal seemed just further confused.

Tanith rolled her eyes. “I’m intending to talk to him. I just didn’t want to disappoint him horribly and ruin our friendship by shooting him down nastily. Before he asked me, he asked if Dimitri had invited me to go with him. I said no, but… Dimitri had. I just said no to him because I didn’t want to hurt Tobias.” She straightened up. “So I’ll talk to him tonight. Clear it all up.”

“You’re just as bad as him!” Cal exclaimed. “I mean, sure, you don’t fancy him, and that’s your choice. But… you’re as romantically inept as each other! You couldn’t have done it sooner?”

“I was going to. Then this bloody Ball cropped up.” Tanith grimaced. “I’ll find a way. And he’ll get over it. He’s the detached and unemotional one, remember?”

“He’s a Scorpio. That doesn’t add up.” Cal grinned humourlessly as she shot a glare at him. “Seriously, though, I think you’re selling him short on that. He’s… well… let’s just say that I know what he can be like. And… just let him down gently.”

He looked down at the Recording Orb in his hand sadly, and hefted it slightly. “Now, I’m going to act like I’ve just come in, and you’re going to play up for the Orb and act all pre-Ball-y, and we’re going to pretend we didn’t have this conversation, either…”

 

§

 

“Ah! Mister O’Neal and Miss Fielding! Good to see that there are such good relations within the Hufflepuff Quidditch team!” Gabriel Doyle gushed in a manner which seemed to Cal to be a bit over the top as Connor O’Neal and Beatrix Fielding approached the punch bowl.

“Drop dead, Doyle,” O’Neal declared flatly, though he would have been unable to deny that there was a small smirk lurking around his lips as he poured himself and Fielding a glass of the punch, then eyed the Recording Orb Cal held. “And what is that?”

“I’m just recording the night for posterity, Connor. No worries,” Cal reassured him, lifting the Orb a little. “And no, it’s not for mocking. It would be Bletchley who’d do that, and he’s too busy trying to seduce Ariane Drake.” He jerked his head in the direction of the dance floor, where Miles Bletchley was, indeed, dancing more smoothly than anyone would have ever given him credit for with the aforementioned Drake.

“So this is just something you can wave around at the last night in the seventh year and we can all laugh at how stupid we look now?” Fielding asked, raising an eyebrow as she sipped some of the punch. “That’s nice of you, Caldwyn.”

Cal flinched at the use of his full name, but nodded slightly. “Well, it’s not just nice. I am a Slytherin after all, so I do have to have something reasonably sneaky in mind. Otherwise that wouldn’t be playing fair, and all the Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors would get confused – Ravenclaws wouldn’t care,” he elaborated as an afterthought.

There was a pause, and then O’Neal sighed. “Fine, I’ll bite. What’s your nefarious plan, Cal?”

“Well, the aforementioned nice little recording for nostalgia. But in ten years time, I intend to be made rich off this. I mean, if you, Connor, are a world-famous Quidditch star and you, Beatrix, the greatest Obliviator of your time, then I could sell this for a pretty penny to the Quibbler, couldn’t I?” Cal explained, chuckling.

Gabriel smirked. “Or we could send it off to you and use it for blackmail. Either way, we get dirty rich. So I’d suggest you don’t do anything you’d regret later. Or, if you do, maybe you pay us now to destroy it?”

“You can be disgusting, Doyle,” O’Neal told him dryly, then shook his head and glanced at his glass of punch. “You didn’t put anything in here, did you? Not traces of Firewhiskey, or some other substance you shouldn’t have got your hands on?”

Gabriel shook his head innocently.

“Huh. Pity,” Fielding mumbled, but made no further comment as she and O’Neal headed off, back to their table. Cal had seen them dancing earlier, and supposed that they were in need of something of a break for the time being.

Gabriel turned to face him, looking disgruntled. “I thought we decided that I could present them and ask how much of a wonderful evening they were having, just to confuse the hell out of them? They only wanted to talk to you!” he declared, rather put-out.

Cal shrugged. “I guess I’m just the nicer one to talk to.” He aimed the Orb at Gabriel and straightened up. “I mean, no offence, Gabe, but they don’t like you, and not many non-Slytherins do.”

Gabriel scratched his chin. “Not many Slytherins do, for that matter,” he said, not seeming particularly bothered by this state of affairs. “Oh, all right. Give me the Orb, and you can be the charming one who interviews everyone. But I want my share of the blackmailing money in ten year’s time!”

“Gabe, I was kidding about that.”

“Shut up. Not when I have the Orb, you’re not.”

So they lurked by the punch bowl, feeling mildly stupid in their dress robes without a partner in sight but each other, and partaking of the punch available. This bothered them mildly, but not enough to stop or go and dance – after all, who could they dance with? Thus they merely set about interviewing any couples who came by, like Nick Wilson and Jennifer Riley of Gryffindor, and made sure they could record all of it for posterity. And their own amusement.

So they interrogated Cedric Diggory and Cho Chang, and Gabriel leered at the latter whilst Cal tried to get the former to admit that he wanted to hire someone to ‘dispose’ of Durmstrang champion Viktor Krum. All in the name of the best for Hogwarts’ school, of course.

Krum, it seemed, was currently standing with a very pretty girl that Cal didn’t recognise, but Diggory swore blind that she was one of Harry Potter’s friends. As she clearly couldn’t be the Weasley, she had to be the mad-haired bookish one, but that seemed pretty outrageous to Cal. He thought it was a bit cruel of Diggory to be making jokes like that about competitors’ friends, mocking them like that when they blatantly couldn’t end up looking that good.

Once Diggory and Chang were gone, Cal gaped at Krum and his partner. “Do you think that’s really what’s her face…” He glanced at Gabriel. “What is her name? Friend-of-Potter?”

“Granger. And I dunno, mate,” Gabriel admitted, blinking. “Talk about coming out of a shell if it is her.”

“Damn straight.” Cal nodded slowly.

“The word you’re looking for, my friend,” Gabriel said, drawing himself up haughtily, his leer turning in the direction of Possibly-Granger, “is hot, or possibly… hell, what’s Tobias doing?”

“That’s four words…” Cal turned around to focus on where Gabriel was staring. Tobias and Tanith had actually been dancing for the last few songs, Tobias looking as if he was concentrating very hard on not stepping on toes – and actually succeeding – and Tanith actually seeming to have a good time. Now, Tobias appeared to be dragging her off the dance floor towards a corner which practically had a sign above it saying “Suitable Location for ‘A Quiet Word’”.

“Did you talk to Tanith?” Gabriel asked, shifting in an uncomfortable way that Cal wasn’t used to his friend doing. Gabriel was always confident, about anything. If a horde of Death Eaters had suddenly decided to charge into the Great Hall and go on a killing spree, Gabriel would probably have sat them down, offered them a drink and then politely asked them to stop disrupting the Ball.

The weird thing was, though, that his suggestions tended to work. Maybe not on Death Eaters, mind, but…

“I spoke to her, yep,” Cal said at last, nodding. “About Tobias, you mean?” Gabriel returned the nod. “She just said… that she had it in hand. And that we should have given her more credit, because she’s not as blind as we seem to think she is.” He shifted his feet. “I didn’t know what was going on until last week,” he admitted slowly.

“Yes, but Tanith has been obsessed with something other than how to sabotage the Durmstrang efforts in the Triwizard Tournament,” Gabriel pointed out. “She’s not dumb. I guess we should have figured she’d know what Tobias is about. He’s not exactly a subtle fellow when he has to deal with his emotions.”

“Well, that’s sort of what Tanith said,” Cal explained slowly. “Only, it’s not. I mean, she said that Tobias seemed incapable of having any emotions, and that she didn’t feel the same way about him. That she just saw him as a friend, like you or me.”

“Yeah, but even without him fancying the hell out of her, he’s not a friend to her like you or me. Her and Tobias have always had their thing going on. Little bit of bonding when a marauding basilisk’s been on the loose. The prefect odds and sods. Actually giving a damn about the welfare of Slytherin house. They’re not like us ordinary mortals, Caldwyn, they like to throw themselves into the impossible situations,” Gabriel said, sighing deeply and shaking his head.

“It seems like Tobias has, if Tanith doesn’t feel that way about him, whatever ‘special bond’ you seem to think they have,” Cal mumbled.

Gabriel paused. “So why did she say yes to his ball invite? Why didn’t she just go with Radimir? The ladies all love Radimir, and he’s been drooling over Tanith since he arrived…” He waggled his eyebrows slightly. “And you can’t say she hasn’t been toying with him. Why do you think Tobias has been about to have a fit every time he’s seen the Russian git?”

“Well, maybe she still didn’t want to be drooled on. Playing and dancing and drooling are three very different things,” Cal said, though he would admit he didn’t exactly have expertise in this area. “And she said she said yes to Tobias and no to Radimir so as not to hurt Toby’s feelings.”

“So… she knows he likes her… she doesn’t feel the same way… and she said yes to an invite to the romantic event of our Hogwarts school life?” Gabriel checked, a frown on his face as he ran through the scenario as it appeared to him.

Cal contemplated this. “She said… she’d tell him tonight as gently as she could?”

Gabriel stared. “As gently as she could? This is Tanith. Tobias will be throwing himself off the top of the Astronomy Tower by midnight!” A look of horror and – could it be? – actual concern for his friend was appearing on his face.

“She said she’d handle it!” Cal replied, a little hysterically. He wasn’t entirely sure why, but his head was beginning to feel fuzzy, and he’d been leaning heavily against the table for the last fifteen minutes of the conversation.

“Why did you let her? You know what would make more sense? For us to take Tobias aside, explain the situation to him, and then let them both pretend that nothing had ever happened! Now it’ll be… a confrontation… a horribly horrible confrontation, which will scar Tobias for life, and leave him convinced that he’s worthless in the eyes of Tanith, who will be guilt-ridden and unable to look him in the face!” The hysteria was now hitting Gabriel, and Cal was getting quite worried as to what was making the unflappable Gabriel Doyle flap.

“…that would make more sense if we did that, wouldn’t it,” Cal conceded, scratching his chin and desperately trying to ignore the consequences of their failure. “Why didn’t you tell me to do this sooner?” he demanded, whacking Doyle on the arm slightly.

“Because I thought Tanith was just as happy! I’m a bloke! I’m not meant to be able to read feelings, but Tobias had a huge sign on his chest saying ‘I love Tanith Cole’, and I figured that she’d read it too and the reason she hadn’t hexed him to oblivion was because she felt the same way!” Gabriel began to gnaw on a fingernail.

Cal stared at the Quiet Word Corner. “You think we should go and interrupt them?” he asked, the thought slowly crossing his mind. “You know, idly, give them a drink, sit down as friends, make sure they don’t have this conversation, and then explain to Tobias in the morning?”

Gabriel nodded firmly, grabbing Cal by the elbow. “Come on. Let’s go. Before it’s too late.”

It may have not been too late for the conversation, but it was certainly too late for Cal to get there, as the moment Gabriel pulled him away from the table, his knees collapsed under him, and he felt himself sprawling towards Gabriel. Gabriel, although better off, wasn’t that much better off, and thus couldn’t quite resist the full weight of the muscular Quidditch player falling onto him.

They flew across towards the dance floor and collapsed in a heap, knocking a few others over in the process, and were unable to move for a few good seconds as their brains caught up with their bodies.

Cal slowly managed to disentangle himself from Gabriel, raising himself up on his elbows to look at his friend. “Sorry,” he croaked slowly, clambering to his feet as best he could and bodily lifting the other boy upright as well. They swayed slightly, but leant on each other for support, both desperately trying to find co-ordination. “I just… wow. I feel weird…”

“Me too.” Gabriel swallowed heavily, and they both staggered away from the dance floor, mumbling apologies to people, and sat down with thumps on the chairs next to the punch bowl, their mission forgotten.

Cal grabbed them both drinks. “It’s hot in here. That’s what it is. It’s just… just hot. It’s making us feel a bit woozy. Let’s just sit down for a second, relax, and we can go about our business in a minute. Just drink this.” He passed a beaker to Gabriel.

Gabriel raised it to his lips, and then stopped, eyeing the liquid. “Cal… are you sure this drink isn’t spiked?” he asked, sniffing the punch with a dubious air.

“I don’t know,” Cal admitted, now eyeing his own drink cautiously. “I don’t… feel drunk. Do you? I mean, I’ve got that fuzzy sort of feeling behind my eyes, but it’s… different. Woah. Very weird.”

“Should we interrogate the Weasley twins?” Gabriel asked, setting his beaker down.

“I dunno,” Cal said again. “Where are they? Can we stand enough to go and find them? Can we interrogate them without throwing up on them?” He held the Recording Orb to him protectively.

“You think you’re going to throw up?” Gabriel asked with alarm, more for his dress robes than his friend.

“No… I’m alright. I think.” Cal shook his head and pinched the bridge of his nose as Gabriel rubbed his temples. “What were we going to do again? Just now, when we made absolute prats of ourselves?”

“I’m not sure,” Gabriel said, looking furious with himself. Cal knew that Gabriel had rarely drunk with the others over the summer, not liking to lack control of his body. Cal could understand that, now. He had no objections to drinking alcohol on his own terms, when he could stop when he wanted. But this… felt like an abuse of some sort.

“But I do think we might not have prevented any of the rumours flying around happily about the two of us being gay,” Gabriel continued.

What?” Cal leapt to his feet, before his knees buckled once more and he sat back down heavily again. He paused, glancing around as everyone stared at them, then leant in to talk a touch more discreetly this time. “What?” he hissed.

“That we’re gay,” Gabriel said, looking distinctly unruffled. “You know – neither of us have a partner, we’re hanging around each other all night, and we’re always the two left whenever Tanith and Tobias are doing their thing.”

“But… nobody says that about Montague and Pucey,” Cal mumbled weakly.

“Montague and Pucey have partners tonight. And with us, the fact that everyone’s convinced that half of our quartet want to shag each other means that, logically, the other half – i.e. us – want to shag each other too,” Gabriel said eloquently.

Cal stared at him, then took a large gulp of his beaker of punch. “Come on. We have to go and save Tanith and Tobias from themselves. Either stop Toby or convince Tanith that Toby’s the sexiest man alive and she wants him.”

“I think we’ll do better with the first aim,” Gabriel said slowly, grimacing a little.

“Yeah, I know, but happy endings…”

Happy endings seemed to fall out of the window that very second, however, as Tobias weaved his way through the crowds, alone, to sit down next to them heavily. “Hey, guys,” he mumbled, looking miserably.

“Crashed and burned?” Gabriel asked, far too chirpily.

Cal stomped on his foot. “Yeah… probably should have warned you about that. What did you do?” he asked quietly, passing Tobias a beaker of punch. It was spiked, but he looked as if he probably needed it.

Tobias took the punch but didn’t drink it; just clutched the beaker in his hand as he stared ahead. “Oh, I just… sat her down. Made some mumbling, eloquent declaration of how I had begun to see her in a new light since the end of last year…”

That recently?” Gabriel asked. They stared at him. “Oh, sorry. Go on.”

“Yes, that recently,” Tobias said heavily. “And then, I was stupid enough to take her silence as… well, I don’t know what I took it as, but I was figuring that no news was good news, right? So that would be about when I tried to kiss her.”

“Oh God.” Gabriel buried his head in his hands. “You moron, Grey. You utter moron.”

“Yeah, I think that was the gist of what she said, too.” Tobias showed outward reaction to Gabriel’s words, though – he seemed too shocked, stunned, and incapable of independent thought. “It was also about then she jumped up and said in a hurried rush that I was her friend, I was only her friend, and that she valued me as a friend but as nothing more. And then she said that she’d agreed to go to the ball with me because she felt sorry for me.” He gulped on his drink. “Then she said she was going back to the Common Room.”

“Sorry for you?” Cal repeated incredulously. That wasn’t what Tanith had said earlier. Well, in some sort of vague way, it was, but… well, she had expressed herself in the worst possible way. “You know… I think we should head back too. Get to bed. My head’s going to explode,” he said, pulling the beaker away from Tobias.

“I don’t think I can sleep,” Tobias mumbled dejectedly. “I just… I really thought it was… and now I’ve ruined everything. Even our friendship. And that was the last thing I wanted to happen.”

“No… I think it can be recovered,” Gabriel said slowly. “Just you two both need to agree that you’re going to act like tonight never happened, and then you’ll forget about it all. And you’ll get over her. Plenty more fish in the sea.”

“I don’t want bloody fish.” Tobias stared at his hands, then sighed again, sounding less angry. “Yeah… you’re right. I mean… if she doesn’t like me back… not much that I can do, is there? I should just… move on.” He looked at the other two. “What did you two smuggle in here? I heard your crash from over in the corner.”

“Oh, we… erm… there’s something in the punch. It’s not booze. We don’t know what it is,” Cal explained ineloquently.

“And you gave it to me without telling me?” Tobias asked incredulously.

“We thought you might need it,” Gabriel contributed helpfully.

“Bastards,” Tobias mumbled, sounding a little like his old self. He raised the beaker and sniffed it idly. Then he swirled the liquid around and eyed it dubiously. “It could be an Intoxicant Charm. Ideal for the alcoholic wizard who’s had his drinks taken away from him. Pretty complicated charm.”

“Weasley twins,” Gabriel mumbled bitterly. “Can you give them detention?”

“Sure. If you feel like fishing me out of the lake afterwards,” Tobias said, nodding. “Come on. Let’s go back. I ought to get some sleep. And I’ll work on an apology to Tanith, and we can go on from there. Just… forget it ever happened.” He scowled. “Radimir better bloody stay away from her, though.”

Cal patted him on the shoulder as he stood slowly, and managed to focus on keeping his knees straight. “Nah. She won’t do anything with him if she thinks it’ll hurt you, and you know it. She said to me right at the start of the evening that the last thing she wanted to do was hurt you.”

“You knew?” Tobias asked, standing up incredulously. “You knew how she felt, and you didn’t tell me?”

Gabriel stood up and began to drag the two of them uncertainly towards the door of the Great Hall, hopefully back over to the Slytherin Common Room. “We didn’t get much of a chance, mate. Tanith said she had it all in hand. We were going to interrupt you when you had your ‘talk’ earlier, but that was when we fell over.”

“Great.” Tobias looked sulky again. “And now my rejection is to be plastered across the entire school. Wonderful.”

“Oh, just cope, you great lug,” Cal told him, patting him on the back heavily in a thinly-veiled effort to use him for support lest he fall over. “People don’t know, and you can just get on with pretending it never happened.

“I’m not sure that’s healthy,” Tobias said uncertainly.

“Got any better ideas? Talking it through?” Gabriel scoffed.

“No,” Tobias admitted.

The progress back to the Slytherin Common Room was slow but steady, and it wasn’t long before they staggered into the abandoned room. The lower years had all gone to bed, and everyone else was mostly still down in the Great Hall, enjoying the ball. Gabriel and Tobias headed towards their room, but Cal waved them on.

“I’ll be up in a minute. I just have to… do something.”

They all knew the ‘something’ was to talk to Tanith, but left it unspoken, and Cal stepped up towards the girls’ dormitory. He didn’t like this. He felt even worse than he had at the conversation before the Ball, and he hadn’t thought that was possible. Tanith was his friend, yes, but it was a very easy friendship, of Quidditch and Gryffindor baiting and homework. The deeper, more emotional matters had always been something Tanith had discussed with Tobias. Now the deep, emotional matters were about Tobias, and the thought of Gabriel having such a discussion with anyone was scary.

So it fell to Cal, and he squared his shoulders before knocking tentatively at the door to the fifth year girls’ dormitory.

“Who is it?” Tanith’s muffled voice came through the thick wood.

“Cal,” Cal said quietly, then pushed the door open and stepped in as he head a mumble that could have been an invitation, but which was good enough for the charms anyway, allowing him into the room.

He stopped dead as he saw Tanith curled up on her bed, her eyes red. She’d been crying, and looked as if she might start again at any second.

This only served to confuse Cal yet further. Tanith had been crying. Tanith had been crying. Tanith, who didn’t bat an eyelid at a single damn thing, whom he had only seen disturbed by something as major as the Dark Mark, had been crying. No, her solidity of spirit wasn’t the same kind as Gabriel’s, was more understated and less outrageous – Tanith seemed to be made of stern stuff that gave her a barrier; Gabriel just never appeared to care – but it was equally as formidable.

“Are you alright?” he asked stupidly, walking over towards the bed and pulling the stool by one of the desks over to it, so he could be close without intruding in some mad way – like sitting on her bed.

Tanith sat up, wrapping her arms around her legs and resting her chin on her knees. Her dress robes were crinkled and in need of a good ironing, the near-Muggle upbringing in Cal said. “No. Not really.” A diamond necklace had been placed on the bedside table.

Cal shifted. “Tobias is… well, he’s not looking great. But you know what he’s like. He’ll pull through this one.”

“You didn’t see the look in his eyes,” Tanith mumbled miserably. “He just looked as if I’d kicked him in the stomach and called him a worthless half-breed I never wanted to see again. Worse. It was as if I’d just extinguished that little flame of excitement he always seems to have.” She closed her eyes. “I never wanted to hurt him.”

For one awful moment, Cal thought she was going to cry again, and stared at his hands uncomfortably. “Of course you didn’t. I mean, that would have just been crappy. But this was inevitable, and it’s good that it’s done and you talked to him. Otherwise you’d have just been going on, confused, for ages. It’s better this way.”

“I think I’ve ruined everything, though!” Tanith declared, a slight sob catching in her voice. Cal wanted to run. “I don’t know if he’ll even be able to look at me in the morning. And I don’t like him in that way, no, but he’s my friend, and I need him as my friend…” She sniffed heavily.

“Look, I just think… Tobias has been humiliated and hurt,” Cal said, as bluntly as he could manage. “But he hasn’t been broken. You know what he’s like. He bounces back. So you’re just going to get up in the morning, smile at him, and talk about normal things. Pretend like it never happened. He’d thank you for it.”

“I do want to forget it ever happened,” Tanith mumbled unhappily.

“So does he. So just don’t let it affect anything. He can deal with his own problems, and you two just keep being yourselves and be friends. No romance is worth the price of friendship,” Cal said, patting her uncomfortably on the shoulder.

“You read that in a book somewhere,” Tanith accused.

Cal chuckled. If she was making comments like that, then she had to be feeling better. “Yeah, but it’s true. Now, I’m going to go to bed. You just… don’t worry about it. Tobias is tough. He’ll bounce back. Don’t let it affect you.”

Tanith nodded slowly as he stood up. “Thanks, Cal.” She looked at him. “You’re a good friend, too. You all are. I don’t tell you that enough.”

Cal smiled sheepishly. “Okay, now go back to being haughty Tanith, because this is beginning to scare me.”

She laughed, and he felt a little warmer for having caused that. There was a brief pause as they looked at each other, then Tanith waved a hand at him. “Alright, get out, you great oaf. I don’t really want you leering at me for the rest of the night.

“Leering? I’m offended,” Cal declared, but he chuckled and bowed out the door obligingly. He had, he felt, done a certain amount of damage control.

Now they just all needed to forget the night had happened. And Cal needed to find out who had spiked the punch.


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