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Chapter 24 : The Dark Side of the Moon
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Music pumped from the wizarding wireless in the corner, loud and thumping and filling the entirety of Theron Howlett's house. With its wooden beams and large, echoing corners, the sound reverberated well, thrust a party atmosphere into every seam, but any new arrival not yet intoxicated by the sensations would doubtless just peer in confusion at this old, rambling farm house in the far reaches of the west country thrumming with such young and modern life.
Where Howlett's parents were, only a handful of people present knew. And none of them cared, so long as that location was 'not here'. It didn't matter. It couldn't matter. Now was the time for youth, and escape, and whatever rebellion they could feasibly get away with.
Tanith Cole had to concede it was somewhat suburban rebellion, so to speak, but it meant for a fairly decent party. Howlett was the consummate host, greeting anyone and everyone who arrived with such jubilation that it was as if he thought them all lifelong friends. For an entirely false demonstration, it was still successful in making everyone feel welcome, and Tanith could not deny that there was something infectious about the Quidditch captain's charisma.
At the very least, it was making people a lot more friendly than she'd expected. And though, through judicious assessment of the slightly cool attitudes towards her, she was sticking by Ariane and Melanie, she had yet to be hurled out by her ankles. This was quite an achievement, for a Slytherin.
What was more of an achievement was the one person in the room she couldn't take her eyes off. Tobias was moving effortlessly through the crowd with all of the grace of a consummate politician, overshadowing even the hostly Howlett himself. With Annie beside him, he seemed intent on having at least one conversation with everyone there, and the astounding thing was that everyone seemed happy to drop what they were doing and have a short, cheerful chat with the Head Boy.
This wasn't what was triggering her gut to twist unpleasantly. What caused that was the continuous, almost sneaky sideways glances he and Annie would exchange, and the way their faces would light up in such stolen moments. The way they, away from the expected restraint in public at Hogwarts, couldn't but continue to cling to each other was enough to make her want to look away. But it was like staring into the sun; blinding and painful, but holding on to something absolutely vital, absolutely impossible to live without.
"Stop it." Ariane pushed a fresh drink into her hand, which she peered at owlishly for a moment, a little stunned by the interruption. "Drink up, chin chin."
"What is it?" Tanith dubiously eyed the table of drinks in the corner of the front room. Everyone had brought a little something, and pooled their resources for a truly monstrous tower of potential inebriation. Diana Sawyer and Percival Anderson had commandeered the corner, putting together excellent but terrifying concoctions into various beakers, passing them to whoever strayed too close. To call what she held a 'cocktail' was an affront to anyone who had any concept of mixing or owned taste buds, but it did the job in a vibrant party like this.
"I don't know. I think there's gin in it. Which is likely to make you rather doleful when drunk, so I'd better make sure I'm not there to see it," Ariane said dryly, peering at her own beaker. "Perhaps not able to see when it happens."
"You do know how to handle a classy party, Ariane," Melanie pointed out with a snigger, taking a swig from her own cup.
"We must work with what we are given," Ariane said haughtily, but there was an unusual flash of self-awareness in the small smile she gleamed at them. "And for now, we should find a different room."
"Any particular reason?" Melanie lifted her head.
Ariane grabbed Tanith by the arm with surprising speed just as she opened her mouth to protest. "To get Tanith here out of the danger zone. It's starting to get embarrassing, the way she's gawking at Grey."
Tanith's lip curled as she was frog-marched into the equally busy, but Tobias-free kitchen. Aurora Jameson was sitting on the aga, evidently drunk already, head swaying completely out of time with the music. To everyone else chatting in here, this seemed normal.
"Can you not," she said through gritted teeth, "drag me about like a doll, or talk about me like I'm not there? And if it's so inconveniencing for you, then you don't have to..."
"Oh, but we do, dear." Ariane gave another brilliant smile. "You're one of us. We cannot have you suffer alone."
"I'm not suffering. I'm getting on with it," Tanith said, giving them both a firm look as they settled to lean against one of the spare spaces on the kitchen counter. "I just hadn't been prepared for... a party. With confined spaces. And all of that."
"No, no, of course not. And you're doing well," Ariane said reassuringly.
"Like chasing Miles." Melanie nodded.
Ariane gave her a slightly cold look. "I was going to say that... yourself and Miles... is a sensible next step. Albeit a slightly dangerous one. At least, in its current... form."
"That being undefined," Melanie added helpfully.
That's because it's so far only consisted of snogging him outside of sight. Bugger knows how that's got out, though, unless either Miles or Gabriel is being an indiscreet little bastard... Tanith frowned as she looked between her only two friends who, at the moment, she could talk to without getting either a boy's complete obliviousness or a desire to throw herself off a cliff. "It doesn't need definition..."
"It doesn't do your reputation much good, dear, for this to just be seen as a... fling." Ariane looked like she thought she was being kind as she patted Tanith on the elbow. "It makes you look... desperate."
Tanith straightened up. "Desperate."
"Yeah. You know. Like you can't get the guy you want, so you're taking the guy you can get?" Melanie smiled. At least she had the decency, Tanith thought, to look like she realised just how antagonistic she was being.
"Thank you, Larkin, because I couldn't figure out what the word meant without the assistance of your scintillating insight," she replied dryly, glaring at the other girl.
"Well, Miles is here," Ariane said, ignoring the snide commentary and delivering this news as if it was gracious of her to share such a secret. Which Tanith already knew. "So perhaps you could talk to him. And if it needs to be said only in private... I believe he, too, has an empty house tonight."
"You remain as subtle as a brick, Ariane," Tanith pointed out dryly. "I did not ask for your advice -"
"But you did ask for our company, tonight, so you didn't do anything foolish." Melanie pointed this out with a shrug. "The advice comes for free. Lucky you."
"...lucky me, indeed. Bollocks to this." Tanith pushed herself upright and drained her beaker, though it had still been half-full. Or empty, depending on how much their attitudes were aggravating her. "Hey, look, I finished my drink. I'm going to get another one."
"What..." Ariane didn't get a chance to phrase her objection or confusion before Tanith was off, weaving her way through the crowd and headed for the door. Overhearing Melanie confident, smugly declare "She'll be back," served only to add speed to her gait. She wasn't sure where she was going, but anywhere had to be better than that conversation.
The thought had barely escaped into the echoes of her mind before she rounded the corner leading to the living room, just in time to walk almost flat into Annie MacKenzie. She staggered a little, obviously not expecting this, but Tanith took a quick step back and regained her balance with a speed which would have impressed Ritter. Especially with whatever was in that cocktail beginning to work its merry way in to her system.
"Oh, C- Tanith." Annie leaned heavily against the wall. There was a long, awkward silence as the two peered at each other. "Small world."
"...not when we're sitting in the same house, Mac- Annie." Tanith just about managed to keep her voice teasing rather than full of the venom that threatened to bubble up at the sight of her. Gryffind-whore. "Makes running in to each other somewhat likely."
"Indeed." Annie straightened up. "Just as well, really, as I was looking for you. Got orders."
Tanith peered. "Orders?"
"Ah, Cole, there you are! Your drink's broken. Let's go see to that. You too, Mac."
For the second time, Tanith found herself grabbed and practically dragged off across the house, this time by the arrival of the sudden, jocular whirlwind that was Nathalie Lockett. Mildly more heartening still was that, though Annie followed in their wake, she didn't look particularly pleased by the prospect, and before she knew it Tanith had a beaker of something entirely different shoved in her hands by a beaming Ravenclaw.
"So, as I was saying to Mac," Lockett said, helping herself to a drink and waving another one at Annie.
"When did I start being a 'Mac'? No, thank you, I've had... quite enough." Annie shook her head at the proffered cocktail.
Lockett looked down at the two beakers in her hands, then shrugged, nodding towards a corner of comfy cushions and space to sit, which they ambled towards. "It's catchy, and completely not my fault, I'm certain." She practically threw herself down on to an overstuffed cushion, somehow managing to not spill a drop of either drink.
"I'm sure," Tanith muttered, almost at the exact same time as Annie did the same, and the two girls eyed each other warily as they, too, perched on the seating.
"...as I was saying to Mac," Lockett tried again, pausing to take a gulp of her drink, "None of us have really spoken before. We should fix that."
Tanith peered at her. "We should?"
Lockett waggled a finger. "I know you've got this whole ice-queen thing going on, Cole, and awesome as that is, it's not fooling me. You are friends with Cal and Toby. Mac here is obviously somewhat significant to Toby, and I think I'm getting kind of fond of that big lug Cal." She gave a wry, playful smile, which Tanith, despite herself, found a little infectious. "So it might not be a bad idea if we could all get along."
Annie gave a small, but not unamused sniff. "That's a frighteningly healthy way of looking at things."
"Or we could sit around and hiss and get territorial at each other, like you two have. But that's just not fun for anyone. Even you," Lockett pointed out.
Tanith rubbed the back of her neck uncomfortably. "Not... territorial..." Her voice trailed off as she realised that, defensive or not, she didn't want to say what her actual problem was.
Annie was shifting with similar discomfort. "It's not a problem. Not an insurmountable one, anyway. Just..." She stopped, then looked up sharply to meet Lockett's gaze. "What is going on with you and Cal, anyway?"
Tanith breathed a silent sigh of relief at the change in focus. She would have never thought that Annie MacKenzie might save her from a tight spot; even if it was a tight spot they'd happened to be sharing at that exact moment.
Lockett looked between them. "We're... friends," she said at last.
"That's an awfully evasive answer," Tanith muttered into her drink. This one appeared to have vodka, rather than gin as the main intoxicant. Such a lovely mixture of alcohol could only mean that if she indulged much more she wouldn't remember this evening. If she was lucky.
"And, I don't think, entirely true." Annie smirked at Lockett, who was still looking between the two of them with a glint in her eye that Tanith didn't particularly trust.
"Oh, really? What makes you think that?"
"The amount of time you spend together..." Annie began to count off on her fingers.
"The way Cal seems to trip over words and sense at the sight of you..."
"Not that you don't go a bit red whenever you see him..."
"...and talk faster..." Tanith stopped as the two of them seemed to run out of arguments to bounce off each other, and noticed the glint in Lockett's eye shining even more. She suppressed a scowl, hiding it behind another gulp of her drink. She's making us try to get on. The conniving little bitch. I bet Cal put her up to this...
...but even more damningly, it's working.
"Well, when you put it like that..." Lockett didn't even pretend that this victory had been hard-won by them. "There might be a... thing."
"Of the snogging variety, or are we talking a little more than fumbles behind the herbology greenhouses?" Tanith fought, and succeeded, in keeping a straight face at this, and was rewarded with a small flicker from Annie's expression.
"Of the... maybe would like to." Lockett shrugged. There was a hint of reddening about her cheeks, and she ran a hand a little self-consciously through her short, pixie-like hair.
Tanith leaned back, taking pity on the girl who obviously meant well and seemed utterly immune to being disliked. "This is a party. There is merriment, and perhaps a little... what's the phrase Cal would use? Dutch courage. It's always worth a try. What's the worst that could happen?"
You don't love me, you can’t love me...
"He could laugh. Then everyone else in the room could start laughing. Then all teachers at Hogwarts could suddenly appear and they could laugh, too, and I could fail my exams, and then, I’d be naked.” Lockett paused, expression twisting with the hint of a confession. “Alright. So that was a nightmare I once had. But it could happen.” She pointed a finger at them. Pointedly.
Tanith and Annie exchanged glances. “Vivid imagination you’ve got there, Lockett,” Tanith said dryly.
“Trust a Ravenclaw to include failing their exams in the middle of a nightmare scenario,” Annie agreed.
“What would be the Gryffindor equivalent?” Tanith wondered aloud. “There’d be no pit of lava to throw one’s self into without thought or reason?”
“Probably. And what’s the Slytherin version? Everyone realises all of a sudden that you’re not actually a heinous bitch queen from hell?” Annie countered.
Tanith straightened up, instinct demanding she respond to that with something cutting, something about Gryffindor stupidity… or perhaps more witty than that… but by the time she’d realised she’d paused far too long for a response, she noticed the slight smile on Annie’s face, realised there’d been a gently mocking tone in the voice, and came to the conclusion that it had been… not an attack, but a joke.
That was new. And unwelcome.
“Still,” she said, with less smoothness than she’d like, looking back at Lockett. “It’s not likely to happen.”
Lockett tilted her head with another one of those slightly satisfied smirks of hers. “I didn't realise my love life was all that exciting."
"You're the one insisting we sit here and talk," Annie said with a grin. "So let's talk."
The shift in emphasis in the conversation was like Lockett had been a mouse chased by a cat, only to suddenly transform into a large dog, so quickly were the tables abruptly turned. "Alright. You and Toby."
Tanith took a large gulp from her beaker.
"What about us?" Annie smiled sweetly, though Tanith's trained eye caught the small hint of a flicker of pure glee that made her stomach twist unpleasantly.
"Golden couple of Hogwarts, uniting the houses, yadda yadda yadda." Lockett waved a hand dismissively, still wearing a smirk.
"My point is I could make some awful jokes about 'Head Boy', but I'm sure this is a far too tasteful gathering for such filth..."
Tanith almost choked on her drink - then actually did as Annie turned bright red in a most telling manner. For the first time she silently cursed, and cursed, and cursed her tutor for teaching her to read people. Occasionally, you didn't like the material.
"You didn't!" she declared before she could stop herself, throat burning with alcohol and only barely managing to use that to make her voice sound hoarse rather than reflective of the sick, heavy sensation in her ribcage.
Annie blinked at her owlishly in a passable imitation of innocence, confusion, and evasion to cover up the obvious happy embarrassment. "Didn't what?"
Tanith might have left it at that, with a preference of uncertainty driving her batty to certainty driving her absolutely mad - but by now Lockett had picked up on this, draining one of her beakers and leaning forwards. "Oooh. You didn't."
"I..." Annie looked between them, gaze especially wary of Tanith - whose mask of haughty indifference was pretty much intact by now - before she gave small, girlish giggle and turned bright red. "Maybe we did. Maybe there was a free house yesterday…”
Tanith gulped down her drink in one go. She wouldn't, if asked later, be able to remember one more second of that conversation, as it just passed by in something of a numb blur, dulling her senses. She would recall that she sat calmly and coherently, wearing a mask of polite joviality and even engaging in further conversation - once this particular topic had been dropped. Her lessons, which had served to get her into this situation, remained steady enough in getting her out.
Then before she knew it she was ambling away from the drinks table, her mind buzzing as if she had drunk more than two beakers of this cocktail, winding her way through the crowd. She had seen Miles heading for the kitchen some ten minutes earlier, so if he wasn't in there he might have made for the fresh air - particularly fresh this time of year - in the back garden.
She paused in the suddenly empty corridor as Tobias' voice reached her ears, then turned slowly to face him. Just laying eyes on him right then was like a kick to the gut, and it was all she could do to suppress the images of them together that rose in her mind and attempt a small, but epically distant smile.
Her lips upon his, limbs entangled, hands running through his hair...
She blinked hard. "Grey."
Tobias walked towards her slowly, cautiously, looking like he might bolt at any moment. "I didn't think I'd catch you tonight on your own, but... I'm glad I did."
"Oh?" She tilted her head curiously. Because that was a good means of showing interest, even though her body seemed to feel colder at his approach.
"We need to talk. About the argument." Tobias wrung his hands together uncertainly. "I mean... I don't mean we have to go over it. But I shouldn't have... reacted the way I did. And we should talk."
"What's there to talk about? I thought you were rather clear." Her voice was dull and empty despite her best efforts. Somewhere over Tobias' shoulder, back in the living room, she spotted a Lockett-shaped blur throw itself at Cal as if from nowhere and kiss him full on the lips. She couldn't even summon up happiness on someone else's behalf at how well-received this move was.
She looked back at Tobias. "And are you sure this is the best time?"
"We don't have to talk now," Tobias said a little frantically. "But we can talk about talking. I mean... open a dialogue." He gestured vaguely, and had she been more aware she'd have realised she hadn't seem him this outright nervous in quite some time.
Not since the Yule Ball, where you shot him down. How the tables have turned.
"Right. We'll schedule it in. 'Discuss subject better left buried'. We'll do lunch or something." Tanith turned away, voice still rather empty and dull.
"Tanith..." He reached out to grab her by the elbow, grip surprisingly firm, attempting to pull her back around.
There was a fresh twist in her gut yelling loud and clear at her that she only knew, pushed to her limit as it was, of two ways to respond to this. And the first was unthinkable.
Grab him by his shirt, pull yourself up close against him, kiss him until all sense goes and he pushes you against the wall...
She turned to face him sharply, yanking her arm out of his grip. "How is this helping?" she demanded instead, inwardly cursing as she felt the pinprick threat of tears welling up. "You think I have an easy time of seeing you with her as it is without you then playing nice? Why can't you just let me hate you?"
Tobias took a step back as if struck, staring at her. "I don't... want you to hate me..."
"Yeah? Well? Tough." Tanith also took a step back, though for her this was a move closer to the kitchen door. "So I suggest you just go off and fuck your little Gryffind-whore again to console yourself about how mean and horrible I've been in inconveniencing your perfect fucking life."
Then she was gone, storming through the crowds of the kitchen - all of whom knew better, however drunk they were, than to get in the way of Tanith Cole in a foul mood, and leaving Tobias absolutely speechless in her wake. Fortunately, the threat of tears had been an empty one, but she was still mostly unaware of her surroundings until she emerged out the back door of the house and into the farmyard, jerked somewhat back to reality by the cold winter air.
She'd forgotten she'd been looking for Miles, and that this was why she'd been heading outside in the first place. His footsteps crunched on the gravel as he padded up next to her, gaze fixed in her direction, breath misting in the cold air. "Little chilly, isn't it?"
"I could say the same for you," she murmured quietly.
"I have a coat. I'm not crazy."
Tanith looked down, scowling as she realised he was right, and that she'd burst outside in the middle of winter, and that the chill was actually beginning to penetrate her shield of sheer hurt. She looked over at him, and again the image of kissing Tobias rose, unbidden, to her mind.
"I have a better idea than a coat to keep me warm," she said at last, swallowing hard.
Miles smirked and raised an eyebrow. "Oh, really?"
She didn't bother to reply, just stepped in, grabbed him by the front of his coat and kissed him hungrily. For just a split second, the part of her mind which still writhed in pain attempted to layer over the sensations the images about Tobias, either as a part of a deception or perhaps to just ease her in.
But it was different. The smell of him was different, the feel of him was different, and it was with a fresh punch to the gut that she realised she had absolutely no point of direct comparison, but that she'd at least imagined Tobias was less greedy, pushing. He wasn't him. This was Miles Bletchley, and at that moment she was hanging on to him as if her life depended on it, hands sliding over his chest and letting him pin her against him in complete entrapment.
She wore absolutely no expression when she pulled back, still wrapped up in his grip. "Take me home, Miles."
Miles blinked at her, obviously surprised enough by her sudden leap on him as it was. "I don't know where -"
"I don't mean my home." She leaned forward to plant a light, lingering, and intended to be infinitely teasing kiss on his lips. He was a simple enough man that this would, surely, be enough to distract him from the trouble she was having summoning enthusiasm.
This wasn't about wanting. This was about needing.
"I... oh. Oh." Miles' expression lit back up then, before he pulled her to him for another kiss which lacked all of the gentleness and subtlety of her last.
There were so many ways in which he wasn't Tobias Grey. But that, in and of itself, was exactly what she needed right then.
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