Who: Taliesyn Robards, Romilda Vane
Where: Robards HQ
When: 16 March 2002, evening
Cecilia hadn’t meant to make Sepphora feel excluded by telling tales of her boys’ upbringing in Monmouthshire; that was just a bonus. Right now she was up the time she banished her husband’s motorcycle to the bottom of the river.
“You do remember that Cary fished it out again, right?” Gawain interjected. He looked at his youngest son fondly. Cary grinned back and they clinked glasses.
“Yes, I forgot to take it apart first. A grave error,” Cecilia drawled, rolling her eyes. She cleared her throat. “Mind you, I suppose it has its uses. If you’re going to sulk then I prefer you ride hundreds of miles away first.”
“I don’t sulk,” said Gawain haughtily.
“Yes, you do,” said Cecilia. She took a sip of wine and waved a finger around the table. “They all do,” she said, mostly addressing Sepphora. “Even Idris. It’s a Robards defect.”
“I do not,” Idris muttered, sliding his hand over Sepphora’s, as if he reassure her that his mother was talking rot and he was indeed perfect in every way. “Besides, there are no Robards defects. No-one’s got any. Well, except for…”
Idris trailed off, but he did swing his gaze to the side, where Tali was sitting, on the other side of Romilda. He needn’t have done that and it still would’ve been apparent whom he had meant.
Tali had a fork halfway to his mouth and was most alarmed to find all eyes upon him. His mood tie — a get-well gift from someone in Experimental Charms — turned from beige to a deep shade of red. He put his fork down. He simply couldn’t eat under such scrutiny.
“Well, I don’t sulk either,” he declared self-consciously, after several seconds of silence. His tie turned to a very sulky black. Possibly it had been a bad idea to wear it tonight. Thank Merlin Idris hadn’t worked out what it was or he’d be doing a running commentary on all the colour changes and their possible meanings.
“Sulking’s not so bad,” Cary chipped in. “You could have got the womanising. How many girls was grandad linked with?”
“Cary, please, we’re eating,” said Idris.
“I meant, in his prime, not right now,” he clarified, as if that made it any better.
The conversation quickly turned to one Thomas Robards, retired Quidditch player and somewhat of a shirt-chaser. There was a lively debate about whether that particular trait had died out or simply skipped a generation. Cecilia was trying to pin it on Idris (much to Sepphora’s discomfort), Gawain on Cary. No-one could think Tali had done any womanising — even in his mind — and he was grateful for the opportunity to tune out. The tie had dulled to a light grey.
Yes, there was only one woman for him, he thought happily, and she was more than enough. Tali turned toward Romilda with a small smile. He glanced down for a second and caught a flash of cleavage.
His tie burst into flames.
Despite having been pulled away from work by the invitation from Cecilia Robards — a woman you simply did not ignore if you knew what was best for you — Romilda’s initial grumpiness had mellowed over food, wine, and embarrassing stories about the boys. Her smile was actually quite genuine when she looked over at Tali, pleased that he wasn’t any sort of womanizer and still internally laughing at the idea that he didn’t sulk. As if.
Romilda’s smile quickly disappeared when Tali’s tie ignited. She pushed her chair back with a start, eyes wide and still clutching her glass of wine. Throwing alcohol on flames would not help. Someone, she wasn’t sure who, was a little more quick-witted. A stream of water shot across the table, thoroughly dousing Tali until the flames were out and he sat there dripping.
A stunned silence had settled, but Romilda was the first to break it by laughing. She quickly covered her mouth, her eyes apologetic even as she stifled her giggles.
Cary laughed as well. “Nice party trick, Tali,” he said. “Shame Dad put it out so quickly.”
Sepphora’s eyes were wide. “Was that real fire? Why are you finding it so funny? He could’ve been seriously hurt!”
“Wouldn’t be the first time,” said Idris. He frowned as Sepphora stood up, as if she actually cared how Tali was.
“Are you OK?” Sepphora said as she approached.
“Darling, sit down, he’s fine,” said Idris with no small measure of irritation. “He’s like that all the time.”
“We should be certain,” insisted Sepphora. She was behind Tali’s chair and she put a hand on his shoulder.
“Er…” Tali was not sure how to respond. He didn’t feel in any pain but possibly that was because his nerves gave priority to signals of embarrassment.
“Congratulations, you’ve just doubled the number of women who’ve ever touched you,” said Idris.
“Oh, hush, you,” said Sepphora to Idris. She was trying to peel back Tali’s collar while he sat there, utterly frozen.
Idris’s eyebrows shot off into space.
“Yeah, shut up, Idris,” Romilda murmured as she shifted her chair back to its former position, too concerned about Tali to really revel in Sepphora’s comment to her boyfriend. She reached for Tali’s hand, looking at him closely and wondering how long it would take for his brain to catch up with what had just happened.
The fire didn’t seem to have damaged the tie much beyond a bit of singeing around the edges, which was one of the more peculiar things about what had just happened. Now, it shuddered between a few different colours before settling on a murky kind of greenish grey, the sort of colour that you found when you mixed a whole palette of paints together.
“I don’t think you’re burnt,” she told Tali. “But the tie might be a write-off. Maybe you should go get dry. Do you need a hand?”
“Yes, you don’t want to sit in damp clothing,” said Sepphora. She was trying to unknot his tie.
“He’s a big boy now, I’m sure he can manage to get changed all by himself,” said Idris. “Let him be, Seph, he’s not one of your charges.”
“She’s just concerned, Idris,” said Cecilia, never missing an opportunity to further her agenda. She suspected Idris and Sepphora weren’t right for each other and now she was vindicated. Sepphora had simply too much selfless care in her body. It was a shame Tali wasn’t actually burnt. She wouldn’t be surprised to see Sepphora cut his shirt off right then and there.
She leant toward her husband. “You were a bit too quick there.”
Gawain gave a low chuckle. “Couldn’t help it. Auror reflexes.”
Tali was trying to bat Sepphora’s hands away but not really because that was rude. The hand that wasn’t clutching Romilda’s simply hovered about. “I’m fine, everything’s fine, please don’t trouble yourself. I’m not even wet. I don’t feel damp at all. I could sit like this forever.”
His chest felt rather warm actually. He looked down. The tie had gone red again. He felt a surge of panic. And now the tie was crimson and starting to smoke…
Romilda sniffed. The smell of smoke was stronger again now. She glanced down. Oh, Merlin. Where on Earth had he got that thing? She released his hand. “Go on,” she said, giving his shoulder a light shove. “Go get changed before I get completely overwhelmed by the sight of you all wet and sexy. Shoo.” The thought of anyone finding Tali sexy was probably enough to shut both Cary and Idris up for a while, either out of shock or disgust; Romilda would settle for whatever she could get.
Now to try and get the attention off Tali for a little bit. Romilda smiled around the table. “I don’t know about anyone else, but I think I could use a top up,” she said, putting her glass down. “Looks like Sepphora definitely does. Make yourself useful, Idris.”
Sepphora still looked like she wanted to follow Tali, in case he couldn’t manage stairs. She went back to her seat reluctantly and held her glass out without even looking at Idris.
Idris was offended. It was bad enough that someone had referred to Tali as s-e-x-y (he still refused to believe that they slept together, and he would hold onto this belief for as long as possible, beyond babies, beyond blue-eyed babies, beyond blue-eyed, ginger babies with suspiciously long faces…) but now his girlfriend was treating him as a waiter. He topped up both the girls’ glasses with gritted teeth.
“I want that tie. Where can I get one?” Cary enthused.
“That was dangerous,” Sepphora voiced. “What if other things had caught fire?”
Cary shrugged. “Well, Romilda was closest. So… bad luck for her?” He smirked.
“Thank you, Idris,” Romilda said brightly, avoiding his gaze because she was sure that if she looked at his face she would start laughing again. She pulled a face at Cary. “Yeah, thanks for that, Cary. No idea where he got it. You’ll have to ask Tali when he gets back.” Romilda couldn’t help but smirk. “Unless he’s sulking, obviously.”
She sipped her wine. “Trust you to want something that might catch on fire at any minute. Maybe we could get you one with motorcycles on it.”
“Oh I’m kind of over motorcycles now. I like snowboards instead. You should have come with us, Romilda. You could’ve kept Astoria company,” said Cary, fighting back a wistful sigh.
“Oh! I almost forgot! Who wants to see my newest scar?”
“Not at the dinner table, Cary,” Cecilia and Gawain chimed in unison.
Sepphora looked aghast. She turned to Idris. “Does he do this often?”
Idris sighed. “No,” he lied. “He’s just exaggerating. He probably doesn’t even have a— stop rolling up your trousers, Cary!”
“Cary, no one wants to see your legs.” Romilda wrinkled her nose, turning to look past Idris at Sepphora. “This is Cary being well-behaved. I’m surprised it’s taken him this long to flash some flesh.” She wished that she could have gone on the trip, but it had been too last-minute. It was hard enough trying to get time off from one job, let alone both. Besides, it had been a little too soon after she had taken time off for her Valentine’s Day trip with Tali.
“Is this the first time you’ve met Cary and Tali?” she asked curiously.
“Yes,” said Sepphora apprehensively. Idris had told her she wouldn’t be the only non-family member there but she certainly felt like it. Romilda did not seem fazed at all that her boyfriend had been close to catching alight, nor that Cary wanted to strip in the middle of dinner. Tonight was trying and she wasn’t sure she could cope on a long term basis.
“Well, no, actually. I knew Taliesyn from when he worked in Tattered Pages. So we’ve met before. But I didn’t know he was Idris’s brother.”
“Wish I could have kept it that way,” said Idris, using his knife to stab at his food with gusto.
“Why? He seems…” Sepphora stopped herself from saying ‘preferable to Cary’, “…nice. Sweet. Laid back… what?” She wondered, looking around the table and seeing everyone biting back grins, except for Idris, who simply rolled his eyes.
“He’s a basketcase.”
“Who’s a basketcase?” Tali was back.
“Oh.” His face went a bit pink.
“If it helps,” Romilda said, “you’re my favourite basketcake.” She kissed his cheek as he sat next to her again, once more taking his hand in hers. She ran her thumb over the back of his hand. “I think we’ve just established that Cary’s a nutcase and you’re a basketcase. I wonder how we should describe Idris.” She turned a poisonously sweet smile on the eldest brother. “Maybe you got the perfect one, Sepphora. No defects, right?”
Sepphora was beginning to doubt that. Idris had seemed perfect. So had his family. She knew his dad was head of the Aurors and his grandfather (er, the non-womanising one) had been Minister of Magic. It was a fine pedigree. Did Romilda know something different? She wished she could ask her, in confidence. But she could hardly ask to have a private word, could she?
“I think I need a bit of fresh air,” she declared. “Could someone show me the way?”
Idris frowned. “Why do you need fresh air? It’s not stuffy.” Sepphora stood her ground and he was about to arise with barely concealed exasperation when Cecilia spoke.
“Yes, this is perfect timing. I have a lovely surprise for desert. Romilda, why don’t you show Sepphora the way while the boys clear all this away?”
“Um, yes, of course.” Romilda didn’t particularly want to let go of Tali’s hand after something so traumatic — dinner with his family, not the flaming tie — but it looked like she would have to. “This way.”
Though she wasn’t sure how Sepphora couldn’t find her way to the door by herself, Romilda lead the way. “Are you feeling alright?” she asked once they were well out of earshot. “You look a bit wobbly.”
“OK, you’ve obviously known them a lot longer than I have,” said Sepphora in a rush. “So please, be honest with me, because I have a very big decision to make.” She took a deep breath. “Is this just some sort of test, some sort of trial by fire—” she didn’t even register how literal that phrase was tonight, “—cooked up by a belligerent mother-in-law or… is this how they are?”
“Um…” Wow, that was not a question with an easy answer. Except, actually, it was. It was just an answer that Romilda didn’t really want to give her. Sepphora really seemed so lovely and she didn’t want to disappoint her. Selfishly, she hoped that Sepphora’s brother was capable of being just as nice.
Romilda sighed. “That’s just how they are. Maybe even just a little bit toned down because we’re here.”
“This is ‘toned down’?” Sepphora said in disbelief. She shook her head. “How do you stand it? It doesn’t seem to bother you at all.”
“Mm. Yeah. You don’t know how Cary can be when he doesn’t have his parents watching over him.” Romilda shrugged, not sure she had an answer to that question. “I guess I’ve just known them as long as I can remember. And I have three older sisters, so I suppose I kind of get the sibling thing that they have?” She frowned, brow creasing. “And it sounds so stupid,” she said, “but I think I could put up with most things for Tali.”
“Oh, you’re in love. I’m not. That must be the difference.” It felt… kind of a relief to finally admit it. “I mean, that’s not because of tonight,” Sepphora added hastily, lest the other woman think her feelings were so easily swayed, “I wasn’t really to begin with.” She stared off into the night, then snapped rapidly back to attention. “Look, I’m just going to go, OK? Tell them I suddenly remembered something really important I have to do before tomorrow.”
“WHAT ARE YOU LADIES DOING OUT THERE? MAKING OUT? IF YOU DON’T GET BACK IN HERE NOW I’M EATING BOTH YOUR PORTIONS.” It was Cary. “TEN SECONDS TILL I LICK YOUR SPOON.”
“Yeah I really need to go.” Sepphora clasped Romilda’s hand. “Thank you, and good luck.”
“EIGHT, SEVEN, SIX, FIVE…”
“You too,” Romilda said, giving the other witch’s hand a squeeze and briefly wondering whether Idris had a heart to break. She turned on her heel and headed back into the house. “Don’t you dare touch my spoon, Cary Robards!” Taking a longer route around the table, Romilda clipped his ear for good measure.
She didn’t say anything else until she was seated again, now uncomfortably aware of her proximity to Idris. “Sepphora had to dash off. She remembered something she has to sort out for tomorrow. Last thing she wants is upset toddlers on a Monday morning. And here I was thinking drunk adults were a tough crowd to deal with.” Romilda looked across the table at Cecilia. “She wanted me to pass on her thanks for dinner.”
Idris didn’t fall for that excuse for a second. “Oh sodding hell,” he said, leaping to his feet. “Excuse me.” He left.
Cecilia looked totally unsurprised. “I knew it wouldn’t work out.”
Cary shook his head. “So unlike Idris to chase after lost causes. He must be desperate. Hey… two extra slices for me!” He pulled over their plates with no shame.
“She’s just too nice for us,” stated Gawain. “Excuse me, I think it’s only fair that the head of the household gets first dibs on extras,” he added, claiming a plate back from Cary.
“Wait, what’s going on?” asked Tali.
“Idris and Sepphora are over. I knew it would happen. He’ll thank me later.”
“What, you knew?”
“A mother always knows.” At Tali’s suddenly frightened face, she added: “You two are good, though.” He relaxed.
“Before you say that, Mum, I think Romilda should know that Tali licked her cake while she was outside,” said Cary, ever the troublemaker. “What do you think of that, eh?”
“I only touched a little corner!” said Tali defensively. “Sorry, it was the only way to keep Cary away from it,” he explained with a sheepish smile. “It was just this little bit there. Here, I’ll cut the tainted bit off.”
Romilda sighed. Maybe Sepphora had been right about this dinner being some sort of test after all. The men of the household hadn’t had a clue, of course, only Cecilia. Which, Romilda supposed, was true about most things around here.
“Then I’ll just take this little bit here,” she said, digging her spoon into Tali’s cake. She felt certain that he hadn’t licked his own dessert. Taking a bite, she then grinned at Tali. “Tasty. Thanks for keeping him away.”
“Anything for you, darling,” said Tali.
Cary made a gagging noise. Along with an extra plate of dessert, he had also claimed Tali short-lived tie. It was now slung around his shoulders.
“Hey, you said it changes with mood, right? So you what were you thinking about when it ignited?”
A mouthful of cake went down the wrong way and Tali started choking. “Nothing, nothing,” he wheezed. “I don’t… recall.”
He turned toward Romilda instinctively but thought, no, bad idea, may give clue, and whipped his face away again.
“Tali, we covered ‘how to save yourself from choking’ in the first week,” Gawain admonished. “Oh, somebody else save him, I already did it once tonight.”
“I’m not sure who’s having a worse night,” Romilda commented, giving Tali a thump on the back. “You or Idris.” She gave him another thump. Both of them would probably be sulking for days, probably. Cecilia was probably enjoying all this as much as Cary, though. “Better?”
“Y-yes,” said Tali shakily. He had coughed so hard his eyes had started watering. He wiped some tears away. “Yes, I’m fine, thank you. I’m not running after you in the dark so I think Idris is having a worse night,” he voiced. “Thank you for saving me from a terrible choking death, darling.” Though she’d been an indirect cause so it was the least she could do. He gave Romilda’s cheek a quick peck.
Cecilia’s smile was beatific as she gazed upon the scene. Right, that was one son settled. Two to go.