The Sugar Quill
Author: Corgi (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Curse Breaker's Handy Guide to Dating on the Job  Chapter: Default
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The Curse Breaker's Handy Guide to Dating on the Job

The Curse Breaker's Handy Guide to Dating on the Job

by Corgi

Inspired by 'Job Hazards' by Jedi Boadicea

Disclaimer: No infringement on J.K. Rowling's or anybody else's legal rights is intended, and no profit will be made from this work.

Note: This was written for the First Annual Weird_Sisters Anniversary Fic-a-Thon, in which the denizens of Jedi Boadicea's Yahoo! Group, Weird_Sisters, wrote outtakes based on little story ideas derived from her first posted story, Job Hazards, to celebrate the group's first full year of existence.


     When goblins schedule an audit, you take it very, very seriously.  Bill Weasley had always been good about his record-keeping, since he'd always been in positions of responsibility -- first as the eldest son, then as a Hogwarts Prefect and Head Boy -- but working for the goblins of Gringotts brought meticulousness to a whole new order of precision.

     The books for the treasure he'd gathered had already been gone over, of course.  The goblins always ensured their galleons, sickles and knuts were accounted for every trip he made, coming and going.   He'd quickly learned not to take it personally.  That was just how goblins were.

     But the annual audit scheduled was to check his documentation and reports.  Information could be as valuable as currency, and all must be accounted for.  Bill had never had his records audited by the same person twice (Gringotts security) and he had no idea who to expect this year.

     Bill checked the clock on his office wall - it read a quarter past 'Appointment'.  Surprising.  Usually anybody hired by the goblins showed up precisely on time.  Restless, he decided to walk out into the lobby.  He'd be able to spot anybody heading for his office anyway, and this might take the edge off his nerves.  He hated these audits; they always made him feel like he was taking his N.E.W.T.s all over again.   Nightmarish - even if he had done as well or better than almost anybody in recent Hogwarts history.

     He sauntered out into the austere marble lobby, looking out of place in his Muggle-like clothes among all the wizards and witches in their more traditional -- both wizard-traditional and Egyptian-traditional -- robes and various kinds of headgear.

     Bill had just strolled to the doors opening from the foyer when they came flying open, propelled by the form of a dark-haired young woman, her arms full of books.  He could only figure, later, that her line of sight had been obscured by the stack of books and the swinging door, because at six-foot-plus with flaming red hair, he was otherwise quite hard to miss noticing.

     She missed.  Cleanly.

     Although she wasn't very tall herself, the dark-haired woman had the advantages of added mass and momentum on her side, and barrelled straight into Bill, sending books and documents flying.   Bill landed solidly on his backside with a loud 'Ooof!', barely missing cracking the back of his skull on the hard floor.  Books scattered, sliding halfway across the spacious floor, skidding into customers' ankles.  The woman landed effectively on Bill's lap, one elbow almost landing in such a way as to cause Molly Weasley no end of mourning.   It still hurt, though.

     Bill shook his head slowly, and struggled to prop himself up on his elbows.  Some of the more concerned (or amused) customers had started to gather the scattered documents and drift toward the accident site.  The woman who sprawled across his torso moaned dazedly, and lifted her head.  Toasted-caramel eyes half-hidden behind charcoal-brown curls met Bill's own blue-grey gaze, albeit somewhat unfocussedly.

     The wizard quickly became aware that having a pretty and young witch in a rather compromising position in the middle of the bank would not impress his bosses... even if she did impress him.  He overcame thoughts of impropriety with the manners his mother taught him, and wriggled to one side. Levering himself to his knees, wincing at the motion of bruised muscles, he helped his assailant to her feet.

     'I... oh, dear Merlin, I am so sorry!' the witch started to apologise at high speed, blushing deeply beneath her delicately dusky complexion, as she hastily grabbed the documents offered her.   She started to walk over to an orphaned folder when she realised she was walking off-kilter, and started looking for her missing shoe instead.   Bill took her distraction as a cue to sneak a rub at his bruises, then started collecting the rest of her books.  Thanking the crowd with smiles, he managed to disperse the audience.  Just in time; the Chief Teller had finally looked up from his journals and frowned.

     The witch hadn't stopped apologising yet.   '...and if I did any damage to your robes or, or anything, I promise, I'll make it good.'  She stopped in mid-hop, having finally remembered to re-don her shoe.  Her expression went from embarrassed red to horrified pale.  'Oh, no.  Ohhhh nononono.  I'm late.   The goblins hate people being late.  I'll get a letter of reprimand.   The Thothian Scholars in Cairo will never take me on with such a stain-- '   Bill couldn't stand it, and interrupted her.

     'Please, miss, I'm sure we can work something out.   Please--'  He pried her precariously clutched books out of her white-knuckled grip, stacked them more securely with the ones already balanced in the crook of his right arm, and steered her firmly out of the lobby and back toward his office.  He walked her between the clerks' desks, her sputtered 'But... but... but...'s causing a few ruffled owl feathers, but no disruption to the fierce concentration of the goblins poring over their books.

     A quick wand wave, and the witch was seated in the comfy chair behind his desk, a conjured glass of water placed in her hand.   Bill looked around quickly, and stacked her documents on top of one of his filing cabinets (carefully tidied and dusted just that morning).   His hands free, he leaned over his desk, braced himself on his left hand, and offered the witch his right.  'Bill Weasley.  I'm the resident Curse-Breaker here, and in charge of Acquisitions.'  His introduction seemed to startle her, but she shook his hand with surprising steadiness.

     Quirking an eyebrow at her reaction, he continued, 'I'm sorry I can't let you stay, but I've got someone arriving for an appointment.  Finish the water, though.'  He smiled at her in a comforting way.  'They're this late already, they can wait another few minutes.'  He waited a moment for her to say anything, but she only sipped instead.  Bill's smile started to strain a little, and he finally asked 'And you might be?'

     'The late appointment, I'm afraid, Mr Weasley.   Vivienne O'Connell, academic auditrix pro tempore.'

***

     Several hours later, Vivienne had finished her review of Bill's work of the past year, filed away her copies of his reports, and closed her final reference book.  'Mr Weasley, I must say, you are an excellent record-keeper.  I've rarely had the opportunity to review a system as carefully organised as... well, as one of my own.'

     'You're that good, eh?' Bill replied, grinning to ensure she knew he was teasing.  'Of course you're that good.   The goblins never hire anyone but the best.'

     'You're that good, eh?' she echoed back at him, gesturing around the office.  Bill chuckled back at the rejoinder.

     She explained, 'I can read and write Ancient Egyptian... and I can decipher hieroglyphics and hieratic... and I'm the only person who can code and catalog these collections.  At least, the only person who was available within the Gringotts timeframe.'  Vivienne's expression darkened a little as she leaned toward Bill across his desk, and confided, 'Thothian Scholars rejected my application because I didn't have enough experience in the field.  I'm hoping a recommendation from Gringotts will help change their minds.'

     Bill's vivid eyebrows shot up.  'The Thothians?   I'm impressed.  They're the highest authority in Egyptian theoretic wizardry.'

     Vivienne smiled modestly, and picked up her books.   'I'd best be on my way.  I have to write up my report and submit it within three days of the audit.'

     Bill liked her smile.  He decided he'd like to see more of her smile.  'Is there any chance you'll be around Datayrus a little longer than that?  If you're seeking more experience out in the field, I'd be happy to show you around some of those sites you just read about.'   He reached over and patted the folder holding Vivenne's audit notes, tucked on top of the stack of references, and grinned enticingly.

     Vivienne's eyebrows took their own trip upward, and she tipped her head to one side as she considered the offer.  Her slow answering smile told Bill what he wanted to know before she said, 'I think I'd like that quite a bit.'  She held his eyes for another moment before remembering she had to be about her business and moving briskly around his desk and out the door.  She demurred him walking her all the way out, as that didn't work out so well on the way in; and as she reached the door to the main lobby, she called over her shoulder, 'No fairy tales or hokum, Mr Weasley!   Only the real thing, right?'

     The doors closed almost simultaneously, and Bill leaned against his door frame, lips pursed in an inaudible whistle.   'Any more audits like that one, and I might start to enjoy the experience.'

***

     Exactly three days later, Bill found an owl waiting patiently for him as he entered the bank.  Vivienne had indeed finished her report, and was now on her own time; she had the rest of the week before she had to return to her regular duties in Alexandria.  The Muggles had never realised that the great fire hadn't destroyed the whole Library; the illusion of such had been cast by Greek and Egyptian wizardfolk after they'd extinguished the flames by magic, so only a little damage had been done.   Such a valuable resource became hidden away in the manner of other magical enclaves, like Diagon Alley, and maintained by the Thothian Scholars, the finest academics in the region.

Dear Mr Weasley,

If you still have the time, I would greatly appreciate being able to visit those sites you mentioned the other day at the bank.  If you could Floo me at the Datayrus Inn after you get this note, we can make arrangements for what time to meet, and where.  I will also need to know if I should bring anything with me.

I confess, I'm most flattered that you would want to take time out of your busy schedule to do something as frivolous as playing tour guide; but you showed how thoughtful you were that morning of the audit.

Did I happen to mention how surprising I found that this... dashing gentleman picking me up off the floor was the head of Acquisitions?  Most wizards of your level of responsibility are usually quite older.  Or, at least within my realm of experience.  Makes it rather hard to find a good conversation where one isn't treated like somebody's daughter.

Oh, dear  -- I'm sure I'm boring you with my babble, and you'll be sorry you offered to take me anywhere.  I'll stop writing now and shall look forward to your call.

Sincerely,

Vivienne O'Connell

     Bill laughed at her self-deprecating comments -- he was looking forward to placing the call.  He knew perfectly well what it was like to work with... shall we say, co-workers from whom the term 'social butterfly' fled in terror.  However, he teased the guard goblins a little almost every chance he got; one of these days he'd get one to crack a smile, he was sure of it.

     He was tempted to owl his mother, just out of a desperate impulse to say 'I told you so!'.  His mother's hints about wanting to see her eldest son settled grew more and more blatant since he'd got hired by Gringotts and starting contributing substantially to the Weasley household.  'Cut your hair for you, Bill, dear?' and 'Oh, that's an awful earring, dear,' and 'Can't you wear proper robes, dear?  You'll look like a more substantial and serious businesswizard to the witches your age.'   He always ducked for cover whenever the phrase 'nice young witch' was brought out of Molly Weasley's maternal armoury, as 'would like to see grandchildren while I'm still young enough to appreciate them' soon followed.

     Bill looked forward to a family of his own, but... some day.  He just didn't feel the urge to start one as soon as his mother might like.  He was already supporting one family -- his birth family.  Maybe if the right witch swept him off his feet...  He laughed out loud at his mental turn of phrase.  Swept him off his feet indeed.  Vivienne had literally knocked him off his feet and flat on his back, but her exotic looks and impressive mind had done much the same job figuratively.  Vivienne, he savoured the sound of her name in his mind.   It reminded him of ancient romantic British legends, ladies in flowing sleeves and long trains.  He lost himself for a moment in imagining Vivienne in ornate medieval robes, but shook himself out of his fantasy before his thoughts progressed in a fairly normal masculine manner.   One thing at a time.

***

     Saturday morning, Bill stepped from the fireplace in the Datayrus Inn, absent-mindedly brushing off his tan cloak.  Vivienne stood before him, hands clasped neatly behind her back, face composed but her excitement betrayed by her bouncing on her toes.  She wore sturdy boots, trousers under a utilitarian-looking robe, and her hair pinned carefully back out of the way -- just as Bill had suggested.  He looked her up and down approvingly.  All right, a little more than just approvingly; and she apparently noticed his appreciation, as her cheeks pinked just a little.

     'Good, good,' he smiled back.  'Did you get a canteen?  It's a lot easier than trying to drink out of your wand.'   She brandished her canteen at him.

     'And a hat?  You must know by now how fierce the sun can get.'  The other hand came around from behind her back, and waved a broad-brimmed witches' hat at the wizard.

     Bill laughed.  'Here we go, then,' and handed her a miniaturised Gringotts broom he'd signed out from work.   Vivienne tugged on the hat, slung the canteen on one shoulder, took the broom with one hand and Bill's arm with the other.  He escorted her outside, expanded both brooms, and led the way into the desert.

     They didn't fly so fast that they couldn't converse on the way out.  The site Bill decided to show Vivienne was a good hour's flight into the deep desert, over featureless dunes -- quite dull.  Which made it a perfect hour to get better acquainted.

     'You already know all sorts of things about me from the audit, but all I know about you is that you work at Alexandria with the Thothians,' Bill said, a wind-screening charm keeping their hats on their heads and the words from whipping away from their mouths.

     'All right,' Vivienne answered slowly, apparently gathering her thoughts.  'I've lived in Egypt most of my life, although my family comes from England as well.  Great-grandmother was Egyptian, and quite an adventurer; her daughter -- my grandmother, of course -- grew up an Englishwoman, and married an American treasure-hunter she met here.   Father grew up in London, but spent a lot of time back here, following in grandmother's footsteps, and married a native Egyptian as well.  You'd never guess from looking at me that he's blond and blue-eyed,' she laughed.

     'So this is in your blood!  No wonder you're eager to be out in the field,' Bill chuckled back.  'You should be a natural, then.'

     'Oh, I hope so!' she said, her expression eager.

     A short while later, Bill took the opportunity of pointing their destination out to her to rest a hand on her far shoulder.   He almost thought she leaned into his arm across her back; certainly, she didn't pull away.  Vivienne peered along the line indicated by Bill's outstretched hand to see the sandstorm-weathered stumps of a few stone columns poking above the line of a dune.  As Bill moved his broom away again, she surprised him by capturing his hand as it slid off her back.  Fingers entwined lightly, the two explorers flew in tandem down to the ruin's entrance.

     Vivienne jumped off her broom and rushed toward the dark maw of the entrance half-concealed by tumbled dressed blocks of limestone.   Bill snatched at her in alarm.

     "WAIT, waitwaitwait, you can't just run in there!' he exclaimed.

     'But,' Vivenne's confusion was evident, 'I thought you'd been here before.  That you'd already explored this ruin.   I mean, you did file a report....' she trailed off uncertainly.

     'Yes, but some of these curses are so well-crafted, and using information which has been lost even to people like the Thothians, that all I can do in many cases is deflect the curse.  I put it off for a brief time.  If you had gone charging in there,' Bill waved his now-brandished wand in the direction of the dark opening, 'a tonne of rock would have fallen on your head.'

     'Oh.'

     '"Oh," indeed.'  Bill smiled to take the sting out of the words, and walked past her through the soft sand to stand in front of the entrance and cast his spells.  He had to use nesting charms, carefully interwoven to keep the deadfall in place as well as allow people to slip past the detection trigger.  The charm had a formal name, of course, but was known to anyone who actually used it as the 'nobody here but us chickens' charm.  Bill had actually picked up that one from a witch named Hambly, one of his first on-the-job trainers.

     He tested the spells carefully, then beckoned Vivienne to follow him in.  She scurried to tag close on his heels, and hushed quickly when Bill interrupted her questions.  This corridor had a few more traps before they got into a clear space.  Bill was sure Vivienne would be delighted by the wall paintings in the antechamber.

     The light failed quickly as the corridor twisted and sloped deeper beneath the sands, but Bill did not use Lumos to illuminate their way --on his original trip, he found out in an almost tragic way that light triggered one of the curses.

     Bill worked his way along the corridor carefully, brushing his fingertips over the bas-reliefs, feeling for one particular shape.   Vivienne kept close by using his cloak as an improvised leash, although Bill did the leading.  The wizard finally found the carving he sought:   the Weighing of Souls.  Touching the artwork carefully, he felt for the Feather of Truth brandished by the jackal-headed Anubis, traced upward to a solar disc, and pressed in hard.  The stone panel loosened in place, and swung inward, revealing... nothing yet.  Just more suffocating darkness.   Bill sidled through the narrow opening, feeling the tug of Vivienne still following the lead of his cloak.

     'Push the panel shut, please,' Bill said.   Vivienne squeaked in surprise after so much silence, but complied.   It closed with a gritty click, and the witch jumped again at the blossoming of light from Bill's wand.  It illuminated his grin, as he said, 'We're safe for the moment.'  He untangled Vivienne's fingers from the tight clench on his cloak and tangled his own fingers with them instead, and tugged her along the narrow corridor.  It had more corners than a Greek-key border design, and Bill heard Vivienne mutter under her breath about minotaurs.

     Finally, they stepped into what felt like wide open spaces after the claustrophobic corridor.  Bill charmed small spheres of cold fire to roll around the edges of the floor to light the whole room; Vivienne gasped in delight at the richness of the carvings on the walls, and applauded.  Bill swept her a melodramatic bow, complete with cloak-twirling, and recaptured her willing hand to start showing her the high points of the ancient illustrations.

     By the time they got to the third panel, Vivienne couldn't contain herself any longer, and started frantically digging in her satchel, producing a sketchpad and a pair of quills that looked like pheasant feathers.  She opened the book, turning past many pages filled with drawings and columns of hieroglyphics to blank pages.  She set the book on the floor, brushing the pages flat, and left one quill resting on the left page.  The other she held as if to write, but with the trimmed, inky point facing her, instead.  Bill cocked his head to one side in curiosity as Vivienne started tracing the lines of the design in the wall before her with the fine soft point of the feather.  She finished one section, and Bill watched closely as she bent, set the quill point-down, balanced upright, on the blank page, where it started drawing out each line that its other end had just brushed.

     'Huh!' he exclaimed, and squatted to watch more closely as the quill drew by itself.  Vivienne had picked up her second quill to start on the next section already, but spared him a quick, proud look.

     'I developed the charm myself,' she said, 'after I became too frustrated trying to make really good copies of tomb panels brought to the Library.  I used a self-inking quill and combined it with a kind of memory charm.'

     'Very clever work!' Bill praised her warmly.   He settled back on the floor, stretched out his long legs, and watched the absorbed witch work her way around the room, filling page after page in her sketchbook.

     They spent the rest of the day in a similar fashion, although Vivienne did manage to pull herself out of her academic trance long enough to stop for lunch.  Over a meal of dried fruit and pita bread, she prompted Bill to tell her stories of his large family; and she told him more of her grandparents' adventures that had brought them together.   He admired how respectfully she treated the ancient structure they explored together, her quick wit, her capacious knowledge.

     In fact, this had been one of the nicest days he'd had in a long time until Vivienne happened to mention she didn't believe in the continued existence of Voldemort.  'I believe if I can see it and I can touch it, then it's real.  That's what I believe,' she stated, after Bill had mentioned - obliquely - that he had heard about some incidents related to the Dark Lord.  Afterwards, he realised he didn't even know what got them onto that topic of conversation.

     'But Vivienne, if you got close enough to "touch" Voldemort...' she flinched, '...you'd likely end up dying painfully.  It's not the best sort of proof,' he argued.

     The witch shook her head.  'All the evidence shows he disintegrated when he tried to kill Harry Potter.  Nobody has seen him since, and without proof, all we have is rumour.'  Bill bit his tongue.  There was proof, stories from his youngest brother, but it wasn't his to share.

     They had worked their way through the series of chambers surrounding an ancient tomb.  Bill had long ago removed the treasure items, but the wall art and the empty sarcophagus remained.

     Vivienne stepped into the sarcophagus chamber after Bill had cleared the doorway.  She lifted one hand to touch the ponderous cover stone, looked back at her companion questioningly, then traced the cartouche with a careful fingertip when he nodded assent.  She sucked breath, and said 'Now here's an odd coincidence -- on the sarcophagus -- "He that shall not be named".'

     'I know.  It gave me quite a pause when I found it originally.'

     Bill strolled around to the opposite side of the tomb from Vivienne, and propped his elbows on top, watching her as she whispered her way across the columns of characters engraved into the stone.  She reached one section, and her voice raised in excitement as she pronounced the hieroglyphics clearly.  Bill straightened, his hands pushing him up from his half-lounge.  'Vivienne, that's not a good idea.'

     'Oh, Bill.  I may not be an explorer, or an adventurer, or a treasure-seeker, or a cursebreaker, but I am proud of what I am.  I... am a librarian!  And therefore, I know books. This... this is just a book, basically.  No harm ever came from reading a book.'

     He refrained from reeling off a list of dangerous books from the Hogwarts Library's  Restricted Section, just to start with, and opened his mouth to protest further, but the room shook, the wandlights and fire-balls snuffed out abruptly... and Bill found himself prone... inside the sarcophagus.

     At least, that's what it felt like -- very little room to move, roughly human-shaped... dark.

     I will not panic.  I WILL not panic.  I will NOT PANIC.  'VIVIENNE!'

     'Bill!' he heard extremely faintly, over the self-induced ringing in his ears.  Vivienne apparently hadn't even considered not panicking.  He had just enough room to reach his wand-pocket, if he bent his wrist at an extreme angle, and cast an amplification spell, a relative of Sonorus, and could then hear her somewhat better.

     'Oh, God, Bill, what happened?  What do I do?   How are you getting out of there?  How am I getting out of here?  Bill!'  Faint thumps suggested Vivienne was pounding on the stone lid, absurdly, like she was knocking on a door and expecting him to swing it open.

     'Vivienne, cast Audeme!'  If she didn't calm down and start using her head, he was going to go deaf before he suffocated.

     'Is this better?' she said in a more level tone, but one still full of stress.

     'Yes, thanks.  I'm going to need your help to try to break out of this.  Obviously, this is a curse I missed the first time through here.  Try to move the lid using a Leviosa or Mobili spell.  I can't move my hands enough for the right wand motion.'

     They worked through several spells and combinations of spells, but nothing worked.  Vivienne, instead of falling into her nearly trance-like state of concentration, like when she worked on the wall inscriptions, got more and more frazzled as each charm failed to free Bill.   Finally, after hours of discouragement, she snapped.

     'I can't take this!  I can't stay here and just listen to you die in that tomb.  I've got to leave.  I'm... I'm going for help, I'll g-go back to town and find somebody at the bank or somewhere, but I just can't stay.  I'm sorry, Bill, I'm really, really sorry, but....  I'm really sorry!'

     Several minutes passed.  'Vivienne?'

     She wouldn't have really left him here, all alone.   'Vivienne?'

     How was she going to get back out without tripping the entrance curses?  'Vivienne!'

     Damn.  She DID leave.  That... librarian of a witch.

***

     Two days later, half-starved, sleep-deprived, filthy and extremely annoyed, Bill climbed out of the ruins of the formerly-beautiful sepulchre.  He'd finally hit on a combination of a personal shield and one of the twins's favourite explosion curses to blow the lid off the stone tomb; not completely off, but it shifted it far enough to one side that it overbalanced and crashed to the floor, cracking into large pieces.   The curse also took several chunks out of the hollowed-out base, and left a large fissure running diagonally down from the rim to the floor.

     Bill wobbled to his feet, thanking any Powers That Be who were listening for the fact that he was able to clean his air and provide himself water with his wand.  The sepulchre sealed tightly enough that he would have indeed suffocated as his... date... had apparently feared if he hadn't remembered a spell for the purpose.   Being Head Boy came in handy later in life, after all.  All that studying paid off.

     He found his cloak and travel bag next to the door.   Ravenous, he dug into the bag, and found a little of the dried fruit left over from lunch two and a half days ago.  He revived himself with the sweetness, and drained his canteen to fill his stomach.  Bill stormed his way outside, methodically disabling each trap on the way, and took to the pale grey-gold early morning skies as soon as he had cleared the ruin.   His mind churned all the way back to Datayrus with what he would say to Vivenne when he tracked her down.

     Bill didn't bother stopping at home first, despite the state of his hair and clothes.  He flew straight to the Datayrus Inn, dusted himself off (futilely), and strode up to the front desk.

     'Is Miss O'Connell still checked in, please?'

     The concierge checked his register; stepped to a small saucer-shaped lamp, sprinkled green powder into the open flame, and stated, 'Vivienne O'Connell.'

     'Yes?' a disembodied female voice answered.

     'Miss O'Connell, there is a... a gentleman asking for you here at the front desk,' the clerk answered, peering at Bill from beneath a tidy turban.

     'Oh.'

     Amazing how so small a word can say so much.

     Vivienne gave the concierge permission to direct Bill to her room, and he was knocking her up in a flash.  She opened the door quickly, not meeting his eyes as she let him into the room.

     Bill took a deep breath... and let it out.   And paused before he tried to start again.  The whole while, Vivienne kept about her packing, moving quietly around the room, still not looking Bill in the face.

     'You left.  You said you would get help, and you never came back.  I'm lucky I was able to free myself....' he trailed off.  He had managed to keep his voice even, but his frustration choked off his words.

     'I cannot begin to tell you how sorry and ashamed I am for abandoning you like that,' she replied, her voice as lowly as Bill's was taut.  'I made it back here, and would have gone straight to the bank... but it was the middle of the night.  They tell me I fainted dead away, right in the middle of the lobby.  The concierge or someone must have recognised me, because I woke up in this bed late Sunday afternoon.'   She finally stopped fiddling with the robe she pretended to fold over and over again and looked up.  Her eyes were still red and puffy from crying.

     'And by then, I was afraid to go back to find you d... and have to tell your mother... and....'  She sniffled loudly.   'I was too afraid.'  She wiped the back of one hand across her eyes.   'The Thothian Scholars are right.  I'm not suited for the field.'

     Vivienne bent down to fasten the sides of her satchel together and pick up a second bag hidden behind her side of the bed.   She walked around Bill, pausing at the doorway without turning around.   'I want you to know... I had a lovely time up until... I... nearly killed you.'  She left quickly.

     Bill stood there in the empty room for several minutes.   He felt overwhelmed and empty at the same time.  Eventually, his normal practicality and humour began to reassert themselves; as he left the Inn for a dearly-desired shower and meal -- he couldn't decide which he wanted most -- he muttered under his breath, 'Good thing I never owled Mum.   She'd be crushed.  I yelled at a lovely, nubile witch just for nearly getting me killed -- how could I be so insensitive when it could have led to grandchildren?'

     Datayrus's streets felt lonely as he scuffed his dragonhide boots over the hard-packed sand leading back home.   No more on-the-job dates, never again, he swore to himself.   One day, he might find the right woman who could appreciate his career -- but until then, he only wanted to hazard his heart, not his hide as well.   He had time to find her; and until then, he always had his dreams.

//
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