Much Ado About Hogwarts

Fifth Aside - Moments of Weakness

“Start again at the top please, Mr Mulciber. Mr Rosier, that’s two pages back. On you go.” Professor Sprout sounded just about as enthusiastic as Eleanor felt. The Dogberry and Verges section of the play had never been her favourite, but the two boys just couldn’t get it right.

Fair enough, they had the intrinsic stupidity down (though she strongly suspected that they weren’t actually acting that), and they were beginning to learn the words, but their timing was appalling…

The net result was a performance that made anyone within hearing distance want to shoot themselves in the head.

Theoretically she should have been running through her lines with Remus, but he was currently being thoroughly distracted by Sirius, Thomas Abbot and Nathan Perks, who were putting an inspiring amount of gusto into a read-through of their first scene. Sirius appeared to have thoroughly embraced Alice’s assertion that ‘being evil was much more fun’ and was working on a range of masterfully evil laughs, and all three of them appeared to be having an excellent time. Given this ample opportunity for distraction she supposed she couldn’t really blame Remus for his absent mindedness – she’d also be enjoying their antics if it weren’t for the blatant demolition of Shakespeare occurring in front of her (and causing what could be a very specific embolism in the front of her brain).

She rested her head on her arm and closed her eyes.

“Are you good men and true?”

“Yea, or else idd were piddy bud ddey should suffer salvation, body an’ zoul.”

It didn’t help that Rosier had a bad cold – something she couldn’t really blame him for (although she was giving it a good go) – and so the only half of the partnership with any apparent intelligence couldn’t drown out his appalling counterpart.

“Nay, that…. was a punishment too good for them, if…”

“They should have any allegiance in them,” supplied Spout in an exasperated voice.

“They should have any… what?”

“Mr Mulciber, can you actually read? No, don’t answer that,” she sighed. “That they should have any allegiance in them, being chosen for the Prince’s watch.”

Eleanor groaned. Perhaps Madame Pomfrey would have something for her headache; idly she wondered whether anyone would notice if she slipped out. Probably.

“That they should have any allegiance in them, being chosen for the Prince’s watch,” said Mulciber grumpily.

“Well, give dem deir charge, neighbour Dogberry,” said Rosier, through his nose, before giving an almighty sneeze.

If this went on much longer she was reasonably sure her brain would actively start trying to escape from her skull.

“Miss Wren, are you alright?” Professor McGonagall’s voice broke through the dire rendition of dialogue in front of her. She stared blearily up at her teacher.

“ ‘m ok.”

McGonagall looked as though she highly doubted it.

“Mr Lupin,” she called, wrenching his attention from his friend. “Would you escort Miss Wren to the Hospital Wing please?” She frowned at him. “And since you seem to be unable to concentrate this afternoon I would recommend that the two of you return to your Common Room.”

Remus blushed, but only very slightly; he hated being caught out by one of the professors.

“Sorry Professor. Come on Eleanor – have you got all your stuff?”

They walked in silence to the Hospital Wing, the pounding in Eleanor’s head diminishing as they progressed.

“Sorry, I should have noticed you weren’t feeling well,” he said, resting a gentle hand on the small of her back.

“No worries,” she said. “Sirius is pretty distracting.”

Madame Pomfrey had a potion in hand almost the moment she set eyes on her.

“Now I hope Filius has given you the remainder of the rehearsal off…” she said as Eleanor drank it down.

“Professor McGonagall gave us both the afternoon off,” said Remus, watching Eleanor’s features begin to relax.

“Good, then I shall leave her in your charge. I had a few Hufflepuffs in earlier, seems there was some sort of accident with a potted plant.” Both Eleanor and Remus craned around the matron to see; it wasn’t pretty. “I’m still trying to get the blasted thing out. “She needs sleep and some peace and quiet, Mr Lupin.”

She strode off behind the nearby screen where her patients were gurgling softly. They shared a look of immense relief that despite all outward appearances someone in the world was still worse off than them and Remus shouldered her satchel.

0o0o0o0

“Come on then,” Remus said, piloting her through the Portrait Hole.

“Come on where?” she asked grumpily. Remus cast the counter-charm on the girls’ dormitory staircase. “You know if McGonagall knew that you could do that she’d have some sort of fit.”

“Up,” he said, helping her along.

“But-”

“You heard Madame Pomfrey, you need sleep.”

He pushed open the door to the girls’ dormitory; a high pitched whining was coming from somewhere in Alice’s bed.

“Oh, yeah, that,” said Eleanor, rubbing her forehead. “It’s been doing that all day, we can’t get it to stop.”

Remus inspected the apparently singing book and came to a decision.

“Right,” he said. “Pyjamas on.”

“Wha-”

“No arguments. I’ll turn around,” he said, on her look.

“Why am I doing this again?” she asked, over the top of the sound of fabric being removed; Remus tried very hard not to think about that.

“Because Madame Pomfrey said to sleep,” really, it was astonishing how level his voice was, given the circumstances.

“ ‘Cause I’m really going to get to sleep with that racket going on,” she muttered, but his extra sensitive ears caught it, nonetheless.

“Exactly, which is why you’re coming to our dorm’.”

There was a pause.

“Do you think that’s wise?”

“Probably not, but I can keep an eye on you there.”

“You can turn around now...”

He did, and swallowed as he watched her pull a jumper over the top of her pyjamas; you wouldn’t think that a tank top and cotton bottoms could be that alluring, but they were. Tearing his eyes from the delicate floral edging along the bottom hem of her top, he extracted her copy of the play from her bag.

“In case you can’t sleep,” he mumbled, and she followed him back to the boys’ dormitory; as they walked he noticed that her toes were painted a deep wine red, and he was suddenly fascinated. So fascinated in fact, that when they reached the door to the dormitory he very nearly walked into it.

“Are you sure you don’t need a nap too?” Eleanor asked, grinning, and he glowered at her.

“That’s it, you. In,” he piloted her through the door, pausing to close it behind him, and pushed her firmly but reasonably gently, so that she fell back onto his bed.

“Ooof,” she said, mildly surprised; Remus strode towards her with a faintly predatory grin on his face.

“Uh, Remus?” she asked, a little worried about the Marauderish expression he was wearing.

“What?” he asked innocently, looming over her, expression mischievous and hands on hips.

“Um, what are you – aaaeeeiik!”

Remus laughed wickedly as he pounced on her and pinned her to the bed.

“I’m sorry, what was that?” he asked.

“Ge- aaah! Get off! Ahhahahaha! M-m-m-mercy!”

“I don’t think I caught that Eleanor, could you repeat it?”

“No, stOP! Stop t-t-t-tickling me! You bast-aaaahahahaha!”

He tickled her sides and stomach, laughing with her as she shrieked and struggled and tried to throw him off.

“I don’t think so, I’m having far too much fun!” he caught her arm as she went to push him away. “You see, if you didn’t make such interesting noises then I wouldn’t keep – oof!”

“My turn!” cried Eleanor triumphantly, holding him down as he struggled and treating him to the same torture that he’d recently been applying to her.

“No! Ahhhahaha! Gerrroff!” he writhed beneath her, desperate to avoid her questing fingers. “Ahhhahahaha! N-n-no you don’t!” With one great heave he had her on her back again, straddling her thighs so she couldn’t escape, pinning her arms above her head with his hands.

They looked at one another, laughing, panting and red in the face; slowly, as they stopped sporadically bursting into giggles, their faces fell. He let go of her arms.

“Sorry,” he said, and pushed himself off her.

Eleanor closed her eyes for a moment, as if trying to keep the memory of those last few minutes fresh in her mind. When he brought himself to meet her eyes she was giving him a wry smile.

“Your bedside manner is a little lacking,” she said. He chuckled and sighed, dropping his things beside the bed and sitting down next to her.

“That’s why I’m not training to be a healer – patients talk back.”

She smiled and made herself comfortable.

“Don’t let me sleep for too long, I’ll only get a worse headache.”

“Ok,” he said softly, brushing a strand of hair off her face.

“Remus?”

“Mmm?”

“Thanks.”

0o0o0o0

It was with considerable effort that Remus tore himself away from watching Eleanor sleep. He sat himself down on the floor beside her and tried to concentrate on reading through the play and emphatically not giving in to the temptation of just settling in beside her while she slept.

He gave her half an hour before waking her; he brushed his hand through her hair gently and she snuggled closer to him, still half asleep.

“Eleanor…”

She looped her arm around his waist, sleepily.

“Ellie…”

“No… sleepy…” she mumbled.

“But…”

“C’m’ere,” she said, pulling him down beside her and resting her head against his chest.

Remus reviewed his options: wake Eleanor up fully and be forced to sit at least a metre away from one another; extricate himself and leave her to nap for a little while longer; or, and this was by far his favourite of the three, allow her to nap for longer while curled up against him. She was practically pinning him to his bed anyway, and she was so warm and comfortable… he shifted slightly, allowing her to nuzzle her face into his neck. He swallowed. This was a really bad idea, and yet…

He wrapped his arms around her warm body tightly. She smelled of honey and vanilla today, on top of her usually autumnal scent; he wondered idly whether the company that made whatever it was she put in her hair knew how tortuous a combination this was.

She was going to kill him when she woke up.

He could feel her heart beating against his chest, slow and peaceful… he allowed his eyes to close… maybe she was right, maybe he did need a nap… there were hours yet before the others got back. It’s not like he could move, anyway… and if they weren’t doing anything wrong, just sleeping…

Sleeping with your limbs wrapped around the girl your best friend has apparently fallen head over heels in love with… oh, Sirius would just love to see this…

Eleanor shifted in her sleep, curling her arms and legs around him. Somehow her knee had found its way between his legs and her thigh was now pressing up against… well, that might be a problem…

Ignoring the stern and insistent voice in his head that was telling him that his best friend would kill him if he caught them, Remus pressed his lips against her forehead and settled down to nap. Sirius had all the fun, it was time he had the opportunity.

0o0o0o0

Eleanor awoke, warm, cosy and delightfully bereft of her headache; she was, however, a little confused to discover that she couldn’t move. Opening an eye she was surprised to see the outline of a jaw… it had been dark for some time now, and the only light in the room was coming from the starlit window. It was a good shape for a jaw, she observed, staring at it – whomever it belonged to was snoring softly… his fringe falling across his eyes; she could just make out the vaguest tracery of a scar.

Shit.

She remembered falling asleep next to him, but she was sure he’d been sat on the floor. Trying not to disturb him, she glanced down and blushed deeply… their bodies seemed to be… she searched for an adequate description: entwined. His arms were wrapped around her, hands possessively gracing her back and waist; her leg, she noted, was between his thighs… she swallowed. Falling asleep was probably the least offensive option her slumbering self had left him with…

Now all she had to do was extricate herself from her current predicament.

The trouble was, it was a very comfortable predicament, and the opportunity for such indulgence didn’t often present itself… she breathed him in: all old leather and woods and peppery chocolate... it made her wish that the strength of the bond that held him to his friends, admirable that it was, would wane like the treacherous moon. Moving her hand slightly, she grazed her fingertips along the line of a scar on his neck, allowing them to follow it as it disappeared underneath his shirt…

He was going to kill her when he woke up.

He swallowed – she froze.

“Ellie?” he asked, softly.

“Um…”

“I know... We shouldn’t be doing this,” he whispered, but neither of them made a move away from the other.

“I know…” her fingers moved across his skin involuntarily, betraying her; he gasped and closed his eyes.

“Ellie,” he said, and his voice was hoarse now; he was holding her tighter than he had before.

“I know…” she went to pull her hand away, but he caught it and held it in place. She looked up at him in confusion. When he spoke it was in that same hoarse whisper; it made her tremble.

“Please… don’t stop…”

It took a few moments for his words to sink in; carefully, she rested her head against his shoulder once more. She allowed her fingers to caress the scar again and felt him shiver under her touch… the line of it was well beneath the fabric of his shirt now, and she slid her fingers around the topmost button, pulling it free and exposing his skin, pale under the starlight.

Eleanor was aware that her heart was hammering in her chest as she pulled the next button free and the next… he must have been able to feel the percussion of it against him… she slid her hand across his chest, watching in fascination as the subtlest trail of goosebumps followed her touch.

For his part, Remus was unable to feel anything other than the skim of her fingers over his flesh as she exposed the intricate network of scars that was his torso; he bit his lip hard as she traced the pattern of them, his breathing becoming ragged as she worked her way down his chest and her fingertips danced across his stomach…

He could feel himself rising to the challenge of her touch – and given how her thigh was pressing against him, she could probably feel it too… did she know what she was doing to him? She smelled delicious, and he inhaled her intoxicating scent…

He couldn’t take much more of this…

He gasped again as her fingers grazed the waistband of his trousers and he lost any remaining self control; he caught her hand in his and kissed her fiercely, breathlessly. Delighted to discover that she was responding with equal passion, Remus shifted his weight, pressing her down against his bed. Her hands were running up and down his back as he explored her mouth with his tongue; one of his hands had found its way inside her top and she trembled against him as it brushed across her stomach…

He moved lower, kissing the soft skin of her neck and collarbone, making her gasp and murmur with pleasure… she was still wearing that stupid necklace Sirius had given her for Christmas, and all at once Remus was seized with the mad desire to make it his; he followed the line of it with his mouth, nipping and kissing at her shoulder and neck. First down one side, then back up to the other – she caught his mouth in another fiery kiss as he paused, but not for long, he wasn’t to be distracted from this – he followed the slender tendril of flowers down between her breasts.

That’s better, he thought, mine now…

And what breasts they were, his mind registered dimly as he helped her struggle out of her top; pert and creamy and perfect beneath his mouth and hands. He gave them rather a lot of attention, something Eleanor seemed perfectly content for him to do, stroking his hair and back and arching up to him if she felt him pulling back. Finally, and feeling that there were other parts of Eleanor he’d rather like to experience, he recaptured her mouth, holding her tightly and kissing her passionately.

Eleanor shifted beneath him, and he felt her thighs press him closer to her as her legs curled around his hips; she could definitely feel how much he wanted her now, and the way she was holding and kissing and groping him back suggested that it would only be a matter of time… she moaned into his mouth as he let his hands stray eagerly in the direction of her pyjama bottoms, and she moved to help him –

BANG!

The force of the explosion shook the walls of the Tower and sent the two of them flying apart in shock and confusion.

“What the fuck?” cried Remus, reaching for his wand and unconsciously straightening his disarrayed clothes. “Stay here,” he said and disappeared into a corridor that was rapidly filling with smoke, confusion and a few screams.

Eleanor pulled her top back on, missing his warmth and suddenly quite afraid; she picked up her own wand and crept to the door; Remus and a few of the seventh years were yelling at a group of fifth year boys from the dormitory next door. She thought she recognised a couple of them; the one who she’d seen take Prefect duty was looking particularly sheepish. Fortunately, most of the students appeared to be in various stages of undress, so she and Remus didn’t look out of place.

Making a show of running up the stairs from the Common Room she hurried over to them.

“What happened – I was sleeping and there was this big bang – is everyone alright?”

Dominic Smith, a burly but well meaning seventh year, took her to one side.

“Just some idiot’s idea of a practical joke,” he said. “Though funnily enough nothing to do with Sirius or James… I think we can handle it, but a few of the younger boys are a bit freaked out – could you speak to them?”

She nodded, and Dominic waded into the smoke; Remus met her eyes as she passed him.

“Come on boys, into the Common Room please,” she called, managing to shuffle anyone under the age of fifteen out of the crowded passage way and down the stairs. The Common Room was already full of bewildered and worried girls – the seventh year girls and fifth year Prefect passed her on her way down and she filled them in.

“What’s going on?”

“Is the Tower on fire?”

She waved her hands to quiet them down but it didn’t work; she pointed her wand at the ceiling and sent up red sparks. The panicking students shut up and stared at her.

“There’s been a bit of an accident, the Prefects are handling it, nothing to worry about.

“Where are the boys?” asked a fifth year girl. “I mean – the ones from our year…”

“Well since they’re the ones who caused all this I imagine they’re still pinned to the wall outside their dormitory, getting carpeted.”

Several people sniggered, there was the general air of tension relaxing.

“It’ll probably take some time so I reckon you boys should stay down here for the time being…”

People started to mill about – Eleanor smiled, the girls had immediately begun grilling their male classmates over the accident; some days she was proud to be a Gryffindor. The Portrait Hole swung open and a worried looking Professor McGonagall came in. An expectant hush fell over the room.

“Miss Wren, what’s going on? I’ve had reports from several of the portraits that there was some kind of explosion –”

“There was, in the fifth year boys’ dormitory – I think the Prefects have it under control now…”

“Good. And you’re keeping the rest down here?”

“Yes Professor, it seemed sensible.”

Professor McGonagall nodded and strode up the staircase to the boys’ dormitories; the entirety of the Common Room, Eleanor included, strained to hear. They didn’t have to wait long. There was a collective wince as she laid into the unfortunate miscreants. The Prefects, who along with the seventh years appeared to have stopped whatever it was that was generating all the smoke, backed down into the Common Room, where they were immediately pounced upon by their housemates. All around the room, hushed conversations were taking place; periodically everyone would stop and wince as McGonagall’s voice rose.

Eleanor didn’t even need to turn to know that Remus was stood beside her, buttoning up his shirt and brushing the soot off his trousers.

“I think those clowns have just made themselves very unpopular,” he said quietly.

“You think she’ll take points?” she asked, eyes still on the stairs.

“Undoubtedly…”

Gently, and more than a little uncertainly, he took her hand; she gave it a covert squeeze before letting him go. If they were still treating their relationship as an impossibility (and after this evening she wasn’t sure they would be) they couldn’t let anyone see them.

Somewhere below her, someone giggled; Eleanor glanced down to see the owner of Lottie the unfortunate Pygmy Puff smiling up at her from an armchair. Eleanor frowned, but the tiny girl with pigtails that stuck out from her head at improbable angles looked her dead in the eye and mouthed ‘I won’t tell’. Eleanor gave her a grateful nod.

She glanced up at Remus, who hadn’t noticed their cooperative spy, and laughed; he stared at her.

“What?”

“You’ve got a massive handprint on your face,” she said, unable to stop herself smiling.

“Have I?” he asked, reaching for it, but she caught his hand, still laughing; he scowled at her.

“You’ll only make it worse,” she laughed. “Soot’s difficult to get rid of.”

He couldn’t help it, he started chuckling too, and this time he didn’t let go of her hand.

There was a second hush as Professor McGonagall appeared at the top of the stairs, leading five very pale and sheepish boys.

“These fools had a moment of weakness and have just lost you fifty points,” she said, and there was a collective groan – they’d been doing quite well so far this year. “I hope that there won’t be a repeat performance,” she said sharply, then her expression softened slightly. “The rest of you have behaved commendably however, and I hope the example set by the older students will be instructive in future such incidents,” she glared at the five quivering boys behind her. “Not that that will ever be happening again. Prefects, seventh years and Miss Wren, in the corridor outside please.”

She waited until the Portrait Hole had swung closed before addressing them; she was still very red in the face, but calming down now.

“You all behaved admirably, leaping to the rescue and removing innocent bystanders,” she allowed them a rare smile. “Which is why I’m awarding you each five points for Gryffindor.”

The assembled students grinned; that more than made up for the points that had been lost.

“But I’d appreciate it if you didn’t tell that rabble,” she said, “best get back to them,” she said. “Er- not you, Miss Wren. Might I have a word?”

“Yes Miss,” she said, watching a confused Remus Lupin climb back through the Portrait Hole.

“I wanted to thank you particularly,” she said, to an astonished Eleanor. “You’ve not been here very long, and you haven’t a position of responsibility, but you still managed to convince a room full of Gryffindors to remain calmly in one place – that’s no mean feat, I can tell you.”

“Um, thanks Professor,” Eleanor said, blushing.

“I received a communication from your mother last week,” she continued, and Eleanor’s heart sank. “She wanted to know how you were getting on – I’ll be writing to her tomorrow, is there anything you wish to bring to my attention?”

Eleanor shook her head.

“Excellent. I shall inform her that her daughter is acting as an example to the younger students. I trust you’re feeling better?”

“Yes, much, thank you.” Eleanor couldn’t believe what she was hearing; chances were her mother wouldn’t believe it either.

“Good. Might I suggest that you and Mr Lupin read through the play until your friends return from rehearsal? We need to show Mr Mulciber and Mr Rosier that acting is possible.”

Eleanor couldn’t help it, she smirked, and to her astonishment, so did Professor McGonagall.

“Good Evening Miss Wren.”

He was waiting for her by the stairs when she climbed back through the Portrait Hole, and she sat on his bed as he tried to get the soot off his face. It took a while, but he eventually came back from the bathroom, face a little pink from where he’d been scrubbing at it. He sat down next to her.

“We should probably talk…” he said, slowly.

“Probably… I…” she looked up at him, and found that she didn’t really need to say anything, since his expression matched her own.

“Yeah… me too.”

There was a pause as they considered their options.

“We should probably reinstate the ‘no bed’ rule…” said Remus, quietly.

“Well I’d agree, except that there aren’t any other seats in here.”

“Well that’s true… we could always relocate to the Common Room –”

“Professor McGonagall wants us to work on the play, which we can’t very well do out there. Besides, we have to be able to be alone and near one another and not… well…” she felt her cheeks begin to turn pink. “Or we’ll never be comfortable around each other ever again…”

“And neither of us want that,” Remus nodded. He looked at her. “Alright, I’ll stay over on this side of the bed and you stay over there.”

Eleanor sighed, and took his hand.

“If we act like we’re allergic to one another, someone will notice and ask us about it. It seems unlikely that a similar situation will arise any time soon – if it’s alright with you I don’t see any reason not to act as we have been doing, as close friends who happen to flirt.”

Remus appeared to be having an internal war with himself.

“It’s not that I don’t want to be close to you,” he started, then stopped as if he was afraid to go on.

“But…”

“But… I can’t trust myself around you,” he said, going really quite red. “And…” there was a long pause, as he screwed up his resolve. “Icansmellhowmuchyouwantme,” he said, as if saying it faster would make it less weird.

Eleanor blinked.

“Come again?”

He sighed and stared at his feet.

“I can smell how much you want me…” he whispered.

Eleanor’s mouth formed a perfect ‘o’.

“Sorry…”

“I imagine it’s not something you can control,” she said, cheeks burning crimson.

“Nor you…” he said, and when she glanced over at him she saw that his smile was sliding up one side of his face.

“Well… I’ll just have to behave myself, won’t I,” said Eleanor, privately thinking that this would be very difficult indeed. Then, “Still?”

He nodded sheepishly.

“It’s really rather distracting,” he said, continuing the study of his knees. “Intoxicating, even.”

“Oh.”

“Yes.”

“Then what do you suggest?”

Forcing himself to look up at her, he passed over her copy of the play.

“Well, if we take those… ‘limiting factors’ into account we should be ok… but I don’t think this – whatever it is – can last much longer. I just…” he trailed off and looked at her sadly; Eleanor bit her lip and nodded. She took a deep breath.

“So where do you want to start?” she asked, twisting around so that her back rested against one of the posts of his bed, legs crossed.

“Er- first confrontation?” he adopted a similar position across from her, noting her expression of resolution. She nodded, not even bothering to open her copy of the play; as she closed her eyes he realised that she was reading it from the script playing across the inside of her eyeballs. She really did love this play…

He found his place.

“If Signior Leonato be her father, she would not have his head on her shoulders for all Messina, as like him as she is.”

“I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior Benedick; nobody marks you.” She put such disdain in the sentence that he was afraid for a moment that it was meant for him.

“What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?”

“Is it possible disdain should die while she hath such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick? Courtesy itself must convert to disdain, if you come in her presence.”
“Then is courtesy a turncoat. But it is certain I am loved of all ladies, only you excepted: and I would I could find in my heart that I had not a hard
heart; for, truly, I love none.”

“A dear happiness to women: they would else have been troubled with a pernicious suitor. I thank God and my cold blood, I am of your humour for that: I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me.” The coldness of her tone was really beginning to worry him, her face was impassive, and he hoped it wasn’t what he’d said before that had made her react so coolly.

“God keep your ladyship still in that mind! so some gentleman or other shall 'scape a predestinate scratched face,” he countered, but much more gently than the line was intended.

“Scratching could not make it worse, an 'twere such a face as yours were,” Eleanor shot back, but she opened her eyes soon enough to see his wince, and frowned; scratching hadn’t made it worse, the scars were simply a part of him now. One day, when they didn’t need to stay apart, she vowed she’d prove it to him.

“Well, you are a rare parrot-teacher,” he mumbled, miserably.

“You know I did tell McGonagall that we were better at acting than Mulciber and Rosier…”

He shrugged, helplessly; Eleanor stretched out so her foot rested against his knee.

“I know you can do this Remus, just pretend you’re channelling Sirius or something,” she gave her a half smile. “Now there’s advice I never thought I’d ever give anyone.”

His lips twitched upwards at the corners, despite himself.

“A bird of my tongue is better than a beast of yours,” Eleanor continued.

“I would my horse had the speed of your tongue, and so good a continuer,” he said, thoughtfully. “But keep your way, i' God's name; I have done.” It was still a little wooden, but he was treating her to the briefest flavour of scorn now, which was a good start.

“You always end with a jade's trick,” she said softly. “I know you of old.”

He smiled.

“That wasn’t so bad,” he said, his hand resting lightly and unconsciously on her outstretched leg. “What’s next?”


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