"--I should never have let something like this happen to one of my boys, I have petitioned and petitioned the School Master to have those books removed--"
"It's alright, Professor, it didn’t even work--" began Tedros, but Dovey shot him a withering look, opening her office door briskly. She’d towed him out of Surviving Fairy Tales and hustled him up to her office the second she’d arrived on scene, despite Tedros’s many insistences that he was fine and that Yuba had failed Sophie for trying it--
"No, Tedros, it is absolutely not alright. I don't know what you've been told in that wretched kingdom, or what Aleksander has been teaching in those godforsaken Chivalry lessons, but it's not alright. That spell was strong. Had it gone wrong-- and, brewed by first years, it almost certainly would have done-- it could have warped you permanently.”
“No, you are immune to all consumed love potions and most poisons, thanks to your father's obsession with mithridatism-- which is, by the way, the reason you go crying to Emma about your acne, and get cramps. Usually they do not start that ridiculous practice on Princes until they’re sixteen, but like most things, your father rushed it because he was drinking himself to death. Who knows what taking small doses of poison frequently has done to your internal organs? Immunity. Bah. Do you get heartburn?”
Dovey didn’t wait for a response;
“Well, anyway, the point is you would not have been immune to that.” she snatched up the remains of the bullet and scoffed in derision. “The True Love Heart Hex. Glinda Gooch’s recipe, is it? Typical. Would have worked, but wreaked havoc on your prefrontal cortex and your heart long-term, most likely you’d drop dead at 35--”
"Glinda Gooch?" snorted Tedros.
“I’m glad you think it’s funny.” snapped Dovey. Tedros sobered, thinking of how his forest group had burst out laughing.
Dovey bustled around her desk and started making furious notes.
“I shall call over Emma, Yuba and Leonora, and--”
Tedros sat forward desperately.
“Oh, no, Professor, please don’t make a fuss--”
“If you think this is a fuss, Tedros, you are going to be severely dismayed by the formalities of your time on the throne.”
“I only meant--”
Dovey’s manner softened slightly.
“I know what you meant.” She drew a sheet of parchment towards her and looked at him. “Can I have your account of events, please, dear?”
“Your account, Tedros.”
“Right. Um. I don’t know, Sophie was just… in a tree and shot it at me, but it bounced off the swan crest and hit her, and Beatrix picked it up and realised she’d used a love spell, everyone laughed…” he felt his expression sour, and he struggled to keep a neutral face. “Er. Yuba said the F was for failing to abide by the rules, no spells until after the Unlocking…” he trailed off, realising the implications there. His stomach sank. “...Professor?”
“Would she be allowed to do that? Once we can use magic? Would it be within the rules?”
Dovey sighed deeply. Tedros got the impression she had been waiting for him to realise that.
“Love potions are strictly against the Good rules. But Sophie is a Never, and hence their set of rules is rather different to the Good ones--”
“So yes?” demanded Tedros, horrified. “But she could just do it again!”
Dovey pursed her lips. “It’s a complicated matter, since it concerns students from both schools. But I have reason to believe she won’t, since I believe the potion was not brewed by her, but a more competent witch.”
“Seems plenty competent to me.” spat Tedros, feeling himself flushing. “Manipulated someone else into making it for her? Sounds villainous enough.” He drummed his hands hard on his knees, starting to feel agitated, restless. “A love potion. Is she ten years old? No, is she deranged? She could have caused an international incident, not that I assume she cares. Does she understand the scope of it? No, they never do. She could have… she could have ruined everything!” He leapt to his feet and started pacing. “What if it had worked, and no one had realised? Then what? She’d have had me sweep her off to fair Camelot, many-tower'd Camelot, like she’d seen in her puerile storybooks. She’d have had me marry her the second we graduated. And when would she have taken the spell off me? She wouldn’t have. I could be under her horrible witchy hex from some pathetic spellbook for the rest of my life and I’d never know any better! She’d run Camelot! A Never! And I’d do anything she asked! She should be arrested, she--” he stopped. “...Professor, I don’t feel very well.”
“Sit down, dear. On that sofa there, that’s right--”
Tedros did. He put his forehead on his knees, teeth chattering, and tried to work out if he was going to be sick. He clenched his jaw and squeezed his eyes shut.
“Between the failed magic and the shock, I confess myself surprised you haven’t collapsed already.” said Dovey musingly, coming around her desk to sit next to him. “Try not to vomit on my floor, won’t you?”
Tedros attempted to laugh, but it came out more like a strangled cough. This was all so wrong.
He had always been pursued by girls, but it had never been more than a minor annoyance at most… well, maybe a moderate annoyance. Beatrix was a major one. But this wasn’t supposed to happen! It was meant to be silly and fickle, and they were meant to gawk when he took his shirt off and trail behind at a distance (well, Beatrix didn’t really have any respect for personal space, she practically sat in his lap but usually girls stayed at a distance) and try and slip him notes (though some of them were a bit much) and spy on him in the Groom Room (though he actually hated that, but it was what it was) but no one, ever, tried to drug him. He was meant to be protected against this sort of thing!
But who’s protecting you?
His father was dead, his mother and tutor fled, all the knights disappeared. He had no family left, and the remaining councillors, faced with crippling debt and corruption, could not have cared less about whether or not Tedros had overzealous girls breathing down the back of his neck. More gain for them if Tedros came back with a bride. In fact, he’d been told in no uncertain terms that he was expected to. But how could he, if all the girls here fucking stalked him and tried to cram notes into his lunch basket and spied on him in the gym and tried to drug him with a love potion--
Tedros burst into tears in Dovey’s office.
Dovey sent him on his way with grandmotherly concern, an armful of candied plums, and a rather ominous promise that she would deal with Sophie, but Tedros didn’t really see what she could do. Like she’d said, the Evil rules were different.
It was just that Sophie was convinced she was Good.
Like he’d said. Deranged.
Tedros skipped dinner and went to sit on the floor in the Honor Common Room with his mountain of candied plums. Usually, he would have gone to the gym if he was skipping something, but he didn’t find he was in the mood to be followed and gawked at, which would inevitably happen when one of the Evergirls realised he wasn’t there.
Maybe they were more than a minor annoyance, actually--
A boot landed on his shoulder.
“Sharing is caring, highness. What happened to temptation is the path to Evil, anyway?”
“Dovey gave them to me.” mumbled Tedros, not in the mood to horse around with Chaddick, but also not having the heart to tell him so. “How’d you know where I was?”
Chaddick gave him a light shove with his foot, then came around to sit opposite him.
“Well, first I thought you’d go to the gym, but then I figured you probably wouldn’t wanna field your fan club after all that, and then I thought you might have gone to our dorm, but I figured you probably hadn’t because it was too obvious, so I thought I’d check the common rooms.”
“...right.” muttered Tedros, not liking how easy Chaddick had found it to track his thought process. Chaddick poked around in the pile of plums, and Tedros, knowing he only liked them when they were underripe, found one and threw it at his head. Chaddick caught it, naturally.
“Cheers.” he took a bite, then paused contemplatively. “Li’en, are you su’e you’re oka--”
“I don’t wanna talk about it, Chaddick.” muttered Tedros, probing the bruise forming on his chest, under the swan crest. He’d not noticed it until he’d changed earlier, but he supposed the ricochet of the stupid hex had hit him pretty hard.
“Right.” Chaddick swallowed. “But--”
“I think you should have let us have a swing at her,” said Chaddick plainly. Tedros stared at him, baffled.
“Can’t hit girls.”
“Can hit anyone who tries to drug you. Or we could pay Beatrix to do it.” he paused. “Or Agatha. She looked so pissed. Maybe she’d do it for free.” When Tedros didn’t respond, he tried another angle. “Or we could throw her in the moat. Make it look like an accident.”
“She can’t swim.”
“We could pretend not to know that.”
“What school are you from?”
“The one where we throw people who drug our friends into the moat.”
Tedros sighed deeply.
“Well, have fun trying to convince Bea to let it lie, because she’s livid.”
“Why, because she didn’t think of it first?” Tedros snapped. He bad-naturedly threw a few of the plum stones into the fireplace and flopped back onto the carpet, glaring at the ornate ceiling.
“No, actually.” said Chaddick. “The second everyone left, she just lost it. Ranting on about the political implications and ‘how pathetically desperate must she have been to even try something as menial as a love potion?’ and how in Jaunt Jolie, she’d have gotten beheaded for trying it.”
Tedros propped himself up on his elbows to stare at Chaddick.
“Yeah, I was there.”
“But that’s…” Tedros blinked, thrown off. “Oh.”
He felt bad for assuming the worst of her, now.
The door opened, and they both turned--
Oh, speak of the devil.
Beatrix came bustling inside, clutching one of the giant glass pitchers from dinner.
“They had pomegranate lemonade at dinner and I know you both like it, so I brought some--”
Tedros blinked at her, trying to understand a) the ulterior motive behind this weird move and b) how she’d found them, but Chaddick seemed to know something he didn’t, because he merely stretched and grinned.
“How’d the nymphs let you take that?”
“Lied about Teddy being ill.” admitted Beatrix, setting the pitcher carefully on the floor. “Said I was going to find you, to take it up.”
“Oh, double lie.” Chaddick paused. “Hang on, we’re in Honor, how did you get up here?”
“It’s not that hard.” said Beatrix, producing glasses from her pockets. “Nymphs don’t really care at mealtimes, since no one’s up here. You could probably get into all the dorms.”
“Great.” said Chaddick, draining an entire glass in one go. “In that case, I’m going to steal my boots back from Tarquin, because he’s had them for weeks now and still hasn’t given them back.” he sprang to his feet and made for the door. Tedros looked between the two of them, utterly baffled.
“Hang on, Chaddick--”
But he was already gone.
Tedros slowly picked up his glass.
“It’s alright.” said Beatrix slightly pitchily, not making eye contact with him. Tedros eyed her suspiciously, sensing this was something he and Chaddick had arranged--
“My mother suggested I try it, you know,” said Beatrix suddenly and rather shrilly, as if she was forcing herself to make the admittance.
Tedros paused, suddenly wondering if he should drink what she’d brought. But Chaddick had…
He decided to hold off for a moment.
Beatrix shot him a tense, pinched look and Tedros’s heart sank.
This was what this was. Chaddick had wrangled Beatrix into coming to clear her conscience.
“Not that specific hex. Another one. Still a love potion. But I--” Beatrix stopped and wrung her hands together, jaw taut. Took a slug of lemonade and stared at her glass heels.
“That’s why you were so angry,” realised Tedros. “Because you felt bad that you’d been considering the same thing.”
“I didn’t consider it.” said Beatrix grimly, lips thinning. “I told her immediately that I wouldn’t, and we got in a big fight and haven’t been answering each other’s letters.”
Tedros summoned a vague memory of Beatrix tearing up one of her mother’s letters at breakfast.
“You... said that it was about her not sending you your peach suede heels.”
“Oh, Tedros, of course I said it was about that.” snapped Beatrix. “I wasn’t going to tell anyone she’d been trying to get me to drug you, was I? Oh, I hate her--” she bustled furiously to the window and bashed it open, leaning far out and taking gulps of fresh air.
Tedros stared at her, baffled. It was the biggest non-secret in Good that Beatrix was pursuing him because of her social climbing mother, ruthless Rena Rotunda, and that Tedros was tolerating her because Rena was the head of the Everwood Architectural Society, who were renovating Blue Tower in Camelot. But Tedros had thought Beatrix was at least somewhat personally on board with the idea, or was just as ambitious as her mother.
But apparently she was just a very, very good actress.
“I know you hate it, Teddy.” said Beatrix tiredly. “You’re very noble about it, but you get this awful wearied look, and I know you’re only pretending to go along with it. And I’m so sorry. But--”
“Anemone is friends with your mother, and your mother is using her to find out if you’re doing as she asked.” finished Tedros. “Millicent told me.”
Beatrix pursed her lips.
“Anemone thinks it’s just some cute teenage gossip, she doesn’t realise how insidious it is. She thinks it’s fun. She asks me every Beautification lesson how we’re getting on, you know? Impossible to avoid.'' She put her head against the window frame. “I have been trying to make it less… weird. I tried to stop the other girls following you to the Groom Room after Chaddick told me th--”
“You seem to talk to Chaddick a lot.” interrupted Tedros pointedly. Beatrix pinked, slightly.
“Well. I suppose so. If I had to pick a boy--”
“If you had to?”
Beatrix shot him a look, combing her hair with her fingers. Tedros raised his eyebrows.
“Does your mother know you at all?”
“Of course not, she’s always working and going to parties. I was raised by a long parade of aunts.” scoffed Beatrix.
“...right.” said Tedros. He paused, considering. “Well, I’ll make you a deal.”
Beatrix turned to face him, leaning her elbows on the windowsill.
“We can continue this weird charade,” said Tedros. “You tell your mother that Sophie tried the love potion, and it didn’t work, so there’s no way you can possibly risk it now, because I was furious over it and I was threatening to like… execute her, or something. So you’re just going to try and convince me to ask you to the Ball, and you’re gonna properly suck up to me in the aftermath of… all this. And if I haven’t found anyone I really want to ask to the Ball by the Circus of the Talents, I’ll ask you. If I don’t ask you, Chaddick will. You just have to pretend to be mad about that.”
Beatrix nodded slowly.
“..seems fair. And easy enough.”
“I know Chaddick put you up to admitting this, by the way.” said Tedros. Beatrix dropped her head and smiled ruefully.
“I was going to anyway, but it might have taken longer if he hadn’t hassled me into it.”
“He’s a good friend.” muttered Tedros, picking at the fancy carving on the glass. He decided there was little risk of it being contaminated and took a swig.
After all, as he’d told Dovey, he was immune to most consumed things.
(She was right. He did get heartburn.)
“Yeah.” said Beatrix. “Yeah, he is.”
She looked down at the remaining plums on Chaddick’s abandoned jacket.
“Dovey give you those?”
“Yeah.” said Tedros. “Think I spooked her by bursting into tears on her suede couch.”
Beatrix pressed her lips together.
“Sorry.” she said, again.
“You didn’t do it.” said Tedros, not unkindly.
“I know.” muttered Beatrix, but she still looked unhappy. She looked down again. “...always wanted to steal something from Hansel’s Haven.” she admitted.
“You can take some, Dovey gave me about thirty.”
“Temptation is the path to Evil.” said Beatrix nervously.
“Oh, no it’s not.” scoffed Tedros. “Else Hester’s mother would have cooked and killed Hansel and Gretel, and Agatha would have failed twenty times over because she steals things all the time.”
“Of course she does.” mumbled Beatrix.
But she took some anyway.
They grudgingly went down to the Clearing after dinner, mostly just to watch the Everboys’ rugby match. Tedros went the whole way on edge, feverishing scanning every Never who passed them, looking for--
Sophie, who emerged from the treeline just as they passed. Tedros tensed, Chaddick’s hand went to his sword--
Beatrix hissed at her, legitimately hissed, and Sophie jumped and bolted back into the Tunnel of Trees like a spooked deer, clearly giving up on whatever she’d been about to attempt.
Tedros gawked at Beatrix, who looked supremely unconcerned.
“Who are you, Hester?” spluttered Chaddick incredulously.
“Strays should be put in their place.” said Beatrix coldly, sweeping her hair over her shoulder and marching off to catch up with Reena and Millicent.
“She’s dreadful,” said Chaddick solemnly, watching her go. “But she’s kind of a genius.”
Before Tedros could reply, a new voice cut in;
The two Everboys turned to see Agatha standing to the side of them, holding a crumpled piece of paper out.
“What’s this?” said Tedros, taking it and squinting at it-- “...oh.” The True Love’s Heart Hex. The love potion recipe. “Where did you get--”
“I snatched it off her a few days ago, told her it was a terrible idea, but apparently I was too late.” said Agatha grimly. “They must have already brewed it. I told her not to do it, and I thought she’d listened, but apparently not.”
“Hang on, you knew she was planning this?” intercepted Chaddick.
“I said I told her not to do it, budget Lancelot.” snapped Agatha. “Do you listen?”
Chaddick, who had long been used to being dunked on by Agatha, huffed.
“Just checking. Why didn’t you tell us?”
“As I just said, I thought I’d talked her out of it, but apparently I hadn’t.” said Agatha tightly. “As far as I know, that’s the only copy of the recipe, so do what you want with it. Burn it. Feed it to Uma’s pigs. I don’t care.”
“Thank you,” muttered Tedros, scanning the page briefly, then crumpling it and shoving it in his pocket. Agatha shot him an unreadable look.
“You’re welcome.” she said, fairly indifferently. “For what it’s worth, I thought it was low. So I’m not speaking to her.”
She turned and stomped off, apparently uninterested in continuing the conversation any longer.
“Thanks.” Tedros called weakly after her. She ignored him.
“She and Beatrix are just like each other, really.” sighed Chaddick, watching as Agatha and Beatrix drew level, exchanged venomous looks, and went in separate directions. “Just in opposite ways.”
Tedros drew the paper out of his pocket and looked at it again.
Once a boy is under this spell, he will instantly fall in love with you and do whatever you ask. Works particularly well with eliciting proposals of marriage and invitations to Balls.
Then, below that, an illustration of a prince and princess kissing at a ball, with the caption;
ONLY AUTHENTIC SUBSTITUTE FOR TRUE LOVE!
Tedros ripped it in half, then into quarters, and threw it in a puddle, grinding it under the heel of his boot.
There were no substitutes for true love. A proper Ever would know that.
And he knew it best of all.
“Maybe we should just go to the Ball together.” said Chaddick glumly, evidently having read it over his shoulder. “Save us a lot of trouble. Beatrix and Reena can go, then.”
Tedros huffed in vague amusement. They all knew it wasn’t a viable option. That particular loophole had been struck from the rules in his father’s time.
“I think we’d lose a lot of marks for our presentation. Aren’t there points for dress tailoring and things?”
Chaddick considered this.
“Well, I think I would look very fetching in a crinoline. Though you have slimmer hips, so a corset would probably flatter you more.”
Tedros couldn’t help but laugh.
“If I thought we could get away with it in any way, I would be tempted.”
“Aww.” said Chaddick. “You’re lying, though. I know you want to go with a girl you like.”
“There aren’t any.” muttered Tedros.
“Never know,” said Chaddick. “Someone might reveal hidden depths. Maybe Agatha will turn out to be a saint or something.”
They stared at Agatha out in front, who had, for no apparent reason, caught a massive frog in the shallows of the lake. One of the other Evergirls was shrieking.
“Mm.” said Tedros.
“Yeah, that one might be a bit far fetched.” admitted Chaddick. “But anyone’s better than Sophie.”
“If I end up asking Sophie, know that there’s something seriously wrong.” said Tedros grimly. “I’d sooner marry Agatha than ask Sophie to the ball. Especially after today.”
“Maybe you should tell Agatha that.”
“She’d probably say something cutting and put that frog down the back of my shirt.”
“Probably.” Chaddick brightened, and clapped him on the back. “Come on, come and watch me demolish Tarquin's team for the third time this week!”
He jogged off, whistling, and Tedros followed him, feeling very slightly better.
But as they went down to the field, he could feel Agatha’s eyes boring into his back, and the dull ache of the bruise on his chest.
ONLY AUTHENTIC SUBSTITUTE FOR TRUE LOVE!
Tedros clenched his teeth and went on.