Pentagrams and Pomegranates
Part I: An Ideal Husband
Heroine x Hieronymous Grabiner; Damien Ramsey
By Gabihime at gmail dot com
Chapter Eight: Should Vanish From Her Clothes Into Her Bed
Amoretta was a wraith, a non-being, one who no longer leaves ripples in the passage of material time. Her physical body still existed, a monument of flesh and sinew and electrical impulses, but it was remote, and she felt no attachment to it. That it still existed was something she knew in the vague way that one knows that the ground is somewhere underfoot, even while one is falling. She felt her body nearby, knew it was shuffling along, clinging instinctually to the comforting arm of Hieronymous Grabiner, but she knew that its eyes did not see, only stared blankly forward. It moved forward when it was prompted, but it probably would not have moved otherwise.
Of course, Amoretta had not really detached herself from her body, although this was the only truth she could perceive, lacking a frame of reference. She had hidden so deep inside of herself that she had lost her relationship to the outside world.
The fear had driven her into the deep, elder parts of her brain, and she had not yet fully emerged. She felt she was dead, although logically she knew that she was still alive.
She felt she was a ghost, although paradoxically she was terrified she might meet another of her kind.
That's just ridiculous, she thought to herself tiredly. A ghost shouldn't be afraid of other ghosts.
But maybe it wasn't so ridiculous after all.
Human beings are afraid of other human beings, she mused. But being afraid makes you awfully lonely.
It was then that a warm spot appeared in her memory, as golden and familiar as a drop of honey.
Of course I'm afraid of being hurt, the headmistress had said. But I'm much more afraid of not being hurt. If you let yourself become numb to pain, you also become numb to joy.
She could not trade either in exchange for safety. She would not. It was a dull and stubborn truth, but it was etched into her bones, an indelible part of her being. She would not live her life in fear.
And so this is how she came back to herself, like slowly descending a ladder, rung by rung, until her feet were back on the ground, and she could feel the pull of Grabiner's arm, the real, physical weight of his presence.
He glanced down at her from time to time, as if impassively gauging her condition, and she trembled, but she tried to smile. He shook his head briefly at that, and she wasn't sure what to make of it.
He was escorting her through the main building along a path that had become familiar to her by now. Vague, half-remembered visions from her nightmares tormented her, and every time one of the phantom images passed along the edge of her vision, she shivered and clung more tightly to Grabiner's arm. Whenever he felt her tighten her grip on him, he murmured some soft words of comfort, reminding her that he was there beside her, and that she was awake. The burn on her shoulder had hurt awfully during the dream and even afterwards in the shower, but then Petunia Potsdam had done something to it, skillfully knotting spells together along the surface of her skin and then down into her bones.
The burn didn't hurt at all now, but the memory of the pain was now imprinted on Amoretta's mind. She feared that the pain would return almost as much as she feared the nightmare.
The school was dark and silent at this hour, with only a few courtesy lights burning to light the way through the halls. Of course, no one but the professors would be in the main building at this time of night, but still, Amoretta idly wondered what the gossip mill at the academy might have to say about Professor Grabiner taking her back to his rooms in the middle of the night. The wry amusement drove some of the fear away. She was certain her new sleeping arrangements were bound to be a popular topic of conversation. She wasn't sure if the news would break before the students left for their spring vacation tomorrow afternoon, but surely she would be questioned about it after the students returned from their break.
For Petunia Potsdam had made it very clear to her: things could not be as they had been before.
As they approached the old oak doorway that marked the boundary to Grabiner's inner sanctum, Amoretta was surprised to see that the door stood half open. He had clearly left the room in a hurry, not even stopping to close and lock his door. As they crossed the threshold of the room, Grabiner paused to look over his shoulder, out into the hallway.
"That will be all, Kavus," he said.
The blue djinni appeared as soon as his name was called, and Amoretta felt his eyes on her briefly, sensed his faint amusement. He was clearly still thoroughly entertained, although canny enough to keep this information to himself. He gave Grabiner a half bow before disappearing again.
If Grabiner had any opinions on his manus's attitude, he did not voice them. She thought he seemed tense and uncertain.
He guided Amoretta over to his desk chair and saw that she was seated safely, and then turned and closed and locked the door behind him, taking the time to lay two additional wards on it. He crossed the room in front of her and fetched a small box from one of the bookshelves. She wondered what he was about, but then he brought the little box back to the door and poured a line of white sand along the floor right inside the threshold. Then he did the same thing along the window sill of the room's only window.
Salt, Amoretta thought vaguely. He's salting the threshold. I guess he feels like he can't be too careful.
His salting accomplished, Grabiner took off his hat and casually threw it on the bedside table nearest to him and then paused to rub his temples and run his hand through his hair. As if suddenly remembering something he'd forgotten, he absently pulled the novel from the pocket of his robe and put it on his bedside table as well.
After a brief glance around the room, he sighed and set about making the bed, as the sheets and blankets all lay piled up on the ground in a strange nautilus twist, as if he had extracted himself from them with some difficulty.
As if he sensed her intentions, he said, "Don't get up. I can see to this myself. You just sit," without turning to look at her.
"Yes sir," she said, and she just sat.
He got the bed back in order with little difficulty, but he seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time making sure the flat sheet was properly tucked in at the corners. It was how her Aunt Tulip made beds: hospital corners, she called it. When you made the bed for Aunt Tulip the sheets had to be so tight that a quarter dropped on them would bounce several inches in the air. If the quarter didn't bounce, one had to make the bed again. Amoretta didn't have any quarters in the pockets of her pajamas, so she couldn't see how Professor Grabiner's hospital corners might have stacked up to her Aunt Tulip's. He probably would not have approved of her checking, anyway.
At last he had finished making the bed and turned back to regard her thoughtfully. She sat, as she had been told. He was thinking about something. He shook his head once, as if clearing cobwebs out of his skull, and then he was shrugging out of his bathrobe, which he went to hang in the bathroom. Then he returned to where she sat.
"Do you need me to help you out of it?" Grabiner asked, and he was very frank, but somehow he also seemed distracted, as if he was turning something over in his head.
Amoretta flushed and stammered, "W-what?" Reflexively, she shrunk down a little in the chair, although she really couldn't have said why. She wasn't afraid of Grabiner. She wasn't even afraid of the question or its implications, but given her situation, the question was, at the very least, startling.
"Your robe," he said, frowning and offering his hand. "Unless you sleep in it, for some impossible to fathom reason."
"Ah!" she said, nodding, because in that context the question was not quite so arresting. "No, I don't sleep in it," she said, and was soon struggling out of it and nearly toppling out of the chair besides.
Grabiner sighed as he caught the chair and the girl and put them to rights again before there was a catastrophe. "That's why I asked if you needed assistance," he explained tiredly. Then he was helping her up and out of her robe. "Sit there," he commanded again, and she sat dutifully.
He took her rosebud smelling robe into the bathroom with him, and he hung it up over his own. Then he could not help but pause as he stared at the robes. It was such a simple, practical sign.
Things could not be as they had been before.
Running his hand through his hair again, he returned to find Amoretta still patiently sitting.
Well, now there was no more avoiding it. The only thing to do was take responsibility.
Grabiner cleared his throat.
"How much of dream warding did the headmistress explain to you?" he asked, hoping against hope that Petunia Potsdam had somehow made a full and complete summary to Amoretta, so they would not be forced to have any awkward conversations with one another over it. Despite his hopes, his actual expectations were very low. He did not count on Potsdam having explained anything of substance to her, and he could just imagine the headmistress's face as she tiptoed off to her own bed, giggling into the flowing sleeve of her bed jacket.
"She told me that I'd have to sleep with you," Amoretta answered candidly, wriggling her feet up and down inside her slippers.
Grabiner resisted the urge to groan and passed his hand across his forehead as he turned his back on her.
"Is that all she told you?" he asked, dreading the answer that he already knew in his heart.
"Yes?" Amoretta answered uncertainly, because she was fairly sure that this was not the answer that Grabiner wished to hear.
This time Grabiner did make a sound: air exhaled through his nose sharply, and he turned to face her frowning.
"The first thing you should understand," he said, raising one finger swiftly and deliberately, "Is that we will be sharing a bed strictly for the utilitarian purpose for which it was created: that is sleeping. Nothing else, do you understand me? I don't know what impression that woman might have given you, but this arrangement is a chaste arrangement."
"Are we going to be sleeping with a sword between us, like Tristan and Isolde?" Amoretta asked raising a hand to cover her easy smile.
"Marianne Amoretta - " Grabiner crossly began what was obviously going to be a long lecture on the proper attitudes and behaviors of a young lady, but Amoretta held up both of her hands weakly in surrender.
"I'm sorry, Hieronymous," she apologized, while still enjoying the joke discreetly, so as not to upset him. "I didn't mean to make you angry. I know it's been a long day for both of us. I really did mean what I said before. Professor Potsdam told me that I should expect to sleep with you, here, for the foreseeable future." Her cheeks turned a little pink as she shyly continued, "I'm sorry. I know it's trouble for you, and that I've disturbed you again, but, I - I wanted to come back. I missed you."
Impassively, Grabiner consulted his watch and then said, "I left you in front of the library less than twelve hours ago."
She ducked her head. "I know," she admitted. "I'm sure you think I'm awful and melodramatic and ridiculous. I'm sure I sound like an idiot, but I really did miss you. When you left me in front of the library, well, I wanted to go with you." She looked down at her feet. "I know we've got our own separate lives, and I know you want time to yourself, but after everything that's happened, it's like, it's like I'm uncomfortable when you're not around. I can't feel certain unless I know where you are, or at least that you're coming back for me. I know that I'm putting too much on you. I know that I'm expecting too much from you, and I'm really sorry," she said, and she felt like a very old leaf, brown and dried up until it's almost as wispy as air. "I know that I shouldn't keep depending on you - "
"You can depend on me," Grabiner interrupted her troubled confession with a simple statement. Then his mouth became a thin line as he stood thinking. "You are correct in stating that I cannot be with you at all times. I have responsibilities other than you to consider, my position as an instructor at this academy being a not inconsiderable one in itself." He paused for a long moment, and then when he continued it was awkwardly, as if he was unsure of what words he ought to use, as if they were all unfamiliar in his mouth. "If it gives you any comfort, you should know that I consider you my primary concern. You can come to me when you're troubled. You can tell me when you're upset. I - I'm not always the most patient man, and I am a poor source of comfort at best, but if I can ease your fears, then I will. You shouldn't try to carry everything yourself," he said, shaking his head and looking away. "It's too much for you."
"But isn't that what you do?" Amoretta asked, getting unsteadily to her feet. "You try to carry everything yourself."
He turned his back on her then and covered his eyes with his hand.
"Yes," he said tiredly. "I suppose I do."
When her arms came around his middle it was startling to him, as if it were an action that he truly could not have predicted. Amoretta held him gently but firmly around the waist. She had come up behind him in slippered feet and hugged him, like an assassin striking a fatal blow of kindness. What had given her the courage to hug Hieronymous Grabiner, she could not have said, but perhaps it was simply that he looked so weary from his troubles. She loved him, and she wanted his heart to be at ease. He was very still when she put her arms around him, and he did not move at all. He neither welcomed her, or dismissed her. She could not really tell if he was pleased or displeased, but she kept holding onto him regardless of what he thought about it.
"I want to help you with your troubles too, Hieronymous," she confessed quietly, her cheek against his back.
He laughed and the sound was bitter as well as pitiful. "You're just a child," he said.
"When you were my age, did you think you were a child?" she asked pointedly, still making no move to let go of him.
He laughed again and the sound was very raw. "When I was your age I was a damn fool who thought he had unraveled all the Great Mysteries of the universe. Let me tell you, girl," he said, his voice rising in anger and frustration. "I was wrong."
"If you were going to give me advice on what I ought to do, then what would it be?" Amoretta asked softly. She was really uncertain of what she ought to say to him in this situation. If she chose wrongly then she feared she would face a volcanic eruption on the scale of Krakatoa.
Grabiner's response was immediate, as if he did not even have to think about it.
"Don't get involved with me," he said.
Amoretta let go of him to put her hands on her hips. "Hieronymous, that's terrible advice!" she exclaimed. It was really shockingly bad advice. She couldn't have said what sort of advice she had expected him to give her, but the advice he had dispatched was so obscenely awful that it demanded comment.
He rounded on her because he had by now lost his temper. "I never claimed to be an authority on advice for lovelorn school girls," he retorted angrily.
He was so full of vengeful ire, standing there in his oatmeal brown pajamas and slippers, that Amoretta dissolved into helpless laughter and threw her arms around his middle again with artless familiarity, as if he might have been a beloved pet dog.
Grabiner discovered - or rather rediscovered - a singular truth: it is very difficult to maintain one's anger while one is being adored, no matter what the first party may think about the appropriateness of the second party's actions. He did not become gay and light-hearted, but his anger cooled and his frustration faded gradually.
But he did not allow himself to touch her. It had been a very difficult day, and he did not want to give away more than he meant. He realized now that he had put the gimmal ring on her third finger like an idiot. The tragic truth was that it had simply never occurred to him to put the ring on her first finger. He had been under a great deal of stress, but to make such a mistake -
But then, there is no lying to oneself. He was already unwilling to give her up to anyone, not a younger man, not a handsomer man, not a brighter man - if one such existed somewhere. It was easy to mock her and to call her a child, to call her silly or idiotic, but even he could not ignore how constant her heart was. He had not wished to ensnare her in a net of forty-nine lifetimes, but if he would be bound, it would not be to a friend. He had no experience with them. There was only one vow he knew how to make, only one vow he was willing to stake his life against.
"Hieronymous," Amoretta said as she interrupted his thoughts, "I love you." She smiled and it was sweet, but tempered by pain and understanding. She was weathering her own storm.
Then she drew away and obediently went to sit in the desk chair again.
He didn't have any words for her. He wasn't sure he would ever have any words for her, but forty nine lifetimes provided a long time to consider what to say.
He sighed again and brushed his fingertips across his forehead.
"Let me explain what happened to you tonight," Grabiner said, and he sounded more calm than he felt. "That mark you have," he gestured to her left shoulder, where the curse burn lay concealed under bandages and her pretty pink pajamas, "It's called a 'witch's mark,' although not all witches have them, most obviously. That mark is a curse and a brand. It was the work of infernal sorcery to burn that into your flesh, and it is not a mark that can ever be erased. Perhaps you've heard the phrase 'the devil's on your shoulder'? Well now, Amoretta, you have a personal understanding of what that means. The devil is on your shoulder," he finished grimly.
Sitting with her feet tucked into the rungs of his desk chair, Amoretta felt the blood leave her face as she gingerly touched the place on her shoulder where the bandages covered the mark that Damien Ramsey had left on her.
"That mark is a beacon for things unwanted by any sane person," Grabiner said, and his voice was very tight. "Mr. Ramsey clearly had very specific intentions when he cursed you with it." Grabiner frowned and the lines on his face were deep as he looked away. "That burn is an indelible personal connection between you and Damien Ramsey that can never be erased, save with his death. But mark my words: I will not suffer to see you afflicted for longer than I have to. When I see that boy again, I will kill him. That is the only certain way of nullifying the curse."
Amoretta was troubled, and her teeth grazed her bottom lip as she thought about things.
"You and Professor Potsdam seem so sure about what Damien intends to do," she began uncertainly. "But you won't tell me anything. Why can't - "
"It's because I am hoping against hope that it will not come to pass," he answered sharply, wheeling to look at her again. She shrank back a little from his harsh tone, and Grabiner shook his head, attempting to calm himself. "Forgive me," he said, and this time it was something strangely between a command and a request, "But it is something I would not wish upon anyone, the least of all you. I fear you will find out soon enough as it is. When you do come to understand what it means," he turned away from her and studied the ground, "I ask that you remember that no matter what choices you make, I will always be here, waiting." Then his voice rose in uncontrolled emotion as he nearly shouted, "But I will never allow you to purposefully hurt yourself, no matter what good you may think it will do."
Amoretta had no idea what he was talking about, although she had to assume that it was something to do with Damien Ramsey and the mark on her shoulder.
"Hieronymous," she asked, tilting her head to the side, "What makes you think that I'll try to hurt myself?"
"Because you're you," he answered in frustration, throwing his arm out as if the answer were plain, "Because you were apparently born with the soul of a saint and the mental capacity of a turnip. It's surely providence that I am here to look after you, because I am beginning to have paranoid delusions that the entire world is out to remove you from the face of this planet."
It was difficult to argue one's position when one had absolutely no idea of the landscape surrounding one. Grabiner had a considerable tactical advantage in this case, and it was really neither the time nor the place to argue the point. They were both tired and their nerves were frayed. She couldn't really blame him for being on edge. Considering what had happened to her yesterday evening on this very campus, a sanctuary considered beyond reproach, he had every right to be.
"I won't choose to hurt myself," Amoretta tried to reassure him, "I promise."
"Of course you won't choose to be hurt, but you'll be hurt just the same," he denied, turning his back on her. "It is plain to me that you never consider your own welfare. Don't make promises you can't keep."
"I have to do what I think is right," she answered gently.
"And I have to keep you from getting killed," he shouted in response, turning to face her again.
"Otherwise you'll be killed too," she pointed out with a weak smile.
"My only consolation," he muttered, then sighed and when he spoke again it was clear and clinical, as if he were lecturing in class. "Tonight you were haggarded: that is, you were ridden by a night haunt. You are particularly susceptible to being ridden by spirits while sleeping because of the witch's mark. While haggarded you will see much more terrifying visions and nightmares than your own mind could ever construct. There is a very real danger that a haggard dream could send you into cardiac arrest, although it is not really the desire of the night haunt to kill you. They feed upon your fear and distress, and so they would much rather keep you alive for as long as possible, feeding on your fear by supplying you with nightmares whenever you sleep. Of course, the mind requires rest to function. Faced with serial nightmares of unplumbed horrors, even a hardened person will eventually succumb to madness." He paused to look at her, his hands clasped behind his back, and then continued, "Over time, you can be taught some measures of personal defense, but you should know now that attempting to shut out night haunts completely is as futile as trying to shut out the very air. It is possible, certainly, but you would soon perish without it. The only way to shut out night haunts completely is to cut off the flow of magic to your person, and that would most certainly kill the both of us, as it would kill any living thing."
Amoretta shivered and was sorry that she had already given up her robe. It was very difficult to sit still and quiet in the chair while he talked calmly about her descending into madness, about the nameless things that rode her in the night. The memories of the terrible dream were still fresh, if vague. She wanted to cry.
As if he realized how far he had pushed her, Grabiner crossed the space between them to put a hand gently on her shoulder, right over the mark of the burn.
"It's all right," he reminded her quietly. "I told you. I won't let anything happen to you. I can teach you things over time that will help you keep them off, and until then, I'll be your dream warden. I'll be your dream warden for as long as you need me to be. This is not something you should try to face on your own."
Swallowing hard, Amoretta nodded, and seeing that she was at least a little comforted, Grabiner continued.
"Strictly speaking, a dream warden is an outside party who shares a blood bond with the person afflicted - a witch's mark isn't the only thing that can make one susceptible to being ridden, " he said. "The dream warden acts as a guardian to the afflicted person, keeping night haunts and spirits from taking possession of them when they are in their weakest state, that is sleep. Our blood bond is not a familial one, naturally, but we share an oath bound in blood, and that is more powerful than even a tie of blood kinship."
Amoretta nodded again, and Grabiner proceeded.
"Warding someone's dreams requires close physical proximity, which is why the headmistress thought it best for you to be relocated here. I could hardly be expected to sleep in a room with three freshman students," he remarked dryly, and Amoretta flushed.
She didn't think Ellen and Virginia would have been particularly accepting of that arrangement either.
"If you do this, does that mean that you'll experience the dreams instead?" Amoretta asked worriedly, her fingers that had until this point rested patiently in her lap wrapping around one another in distress.
Grabiner closed his eyes briefly, because this was a question he had expected from her.
"No," he said. "It does not mean that. This is not a circumstance of equivalent exchange. My presence as a dream warden should be enough to dissuade night haunts from thinking that you are a particularly attractive target." He frowned and then continued, "But even if it did mean that I would face them in your stead, I would do it, whether or not you approved. You cannot face this alone. I will not let you."
"I wouldn't be willing to let you face it alone either," Amoretta admitted with a shy smile. "So let's be resolved to face it together, all right?"
Grabiner sighed and then nodded, saying. "Very well." Then he turned his back on her again and said, "There is one other thing. Dream warding doesn't only require close proximity, it requires that skin to skin contact be maintained throughout - "
Grabiner paused suddenly, as behind him he could hear the tell-tale rustling of clothing. He turned in a desperate attempt to stop the inevitable, like diving to catch a vase that is already destined to break upon the hard stone of the floor.
He found Amoretta with her hands on the buttons of her pajama top. She had already undone three buttons and was working on the fourth. He had seen the pale flesh of her collar bones and of her stomach the previous night, under much more dire circumstances, but somehow this was much more distressing.
"Miss Suzerain, what do you think you're doing?" he demanded, nearly shrieking in his building hysteria.
Petunia Potsdam was somewhere laughing. He knew that she was somewhere laughing at him, at this very moment.
She can probably hear me yelling, he thought distractedly. I should stop yelling. He found he could not stop himself from yelling.
"Hieronymous, you just said skin to skin contact - " Amoretta pointed out, pausing, her fingers still on the fourth button.
"Hands, Miss Suzerain, hands will suffice," Grabiner yelled, as he was clearly ready to tear out his own hair.
"Oh," Amoretta said calmly. "Well all right then." And then she began peacefully buttoning the buttons she had so recently undone.
Crisis averted, Grabiner passed his hand in front of his eyes again.
"Just get in the bed," he ordered tiredly.
Amoretta did as she was told, scrambling into the bed the same way she had the night before, and wriggling under the covers.
Grabiner paused by the nightstand to take off his watch and wind it. Then he crossed the room again and fished about in the lowest of his desk drawers. When Grabiner approached the bed again it was with a length of wide red ribbon. While it had several ritual purposes, he had never expected to employ it for this particular use.
"Give me your hand," he said, then corrected himself. "Your right hand, please."
Amoretta gave over her hand and with a little difficulty he bound her right hand to his left hand with the ribbon, winding it carefully up their wrists and then knotting it twice.
"There," he said, "That should keep us in contact throughout the night."
Then he leaned to turn off the lamp on the bedside table and found he had to stretch if he wanted to do it without dragging Amoretta halfway across the bed. He ended up dragging her halfway across the bed despite his best efforts, and she lay on his pillow, her hair mussed and completely in her face and her pajama top having ridden up to bare her stomach. He closed his eyes, gritted his teeth, and flipped off the lamp, plunging the room into sudden darkness.
Then Grabiner said, "Please remove yourself from my side of the bed," as evenly as possible.
He heard her murmur something indistinct in reply, then he felt her squirming away, pulling his left arm with her. He carefully sidled into the bed then, as if coming into further contact with her body might set off a chain reaction that culminated in a nuclear holocaust.
At last they were both relatively well situated in the bed, and she was a tolerable, if not strictly comfortable, space away from him. But then she rolled onto her right side and drew her hand, and his by necessity, to her chest, and covered it with the one that wasn't bound up, curling up around it.
"I would prefer that you not do that," Grabiner said shortly. It wasn't as if he found the sensation unpleasant. That it was not unpleasant was admittedly worrying. It was certainly unfamiliar, yet it didn't feel strange. In this circumstance she was incredibly dangerous, and he did not understand her. It had been a long time since he tried to understand anyone. He could not say what he wanted from her, and did not want her to take away any incorrect impressions. He was not a man who gave away his heart, and by association his hands, easily.
"Oh," Amoretta answered back weakly. "Well, all right."
Then he felt her withdraw, rolling away from him and inching back to where she had been before. There was silence, and he could hear the sound of her breathing. He felt the fingers of her bound hand twitch nervously against his.
"Can I at least - " she asked softly, "Can I at least hold your hand?"
He answered with his own fingers, pushing them firmly through hers and giving her hand a steady squeeze. He felt her fingertips curling against the back of his hand, felt the hardness of the gimmal ring on his third finger pressed into his skin, and then he heard her make a small sound of relief, as if she had been holding her breath.
"I'm here for you," he reminded calmly, then added, "Just please, stay over there."
"All right," Amoretta answered peacefully. "I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable. I guess I just got too excited. I really don't get the chance to touch people very often, not like I really mean it, I mean. It's easy to give hugs out to friends, or just to be friendly, but that's different. Uncle Carmine and Aunt Tulip never really touched me all that much when I was growing up, except to give me spankings. Oh, don't think they weren't good to me, because they really were. I only got spanked when I was really bad. I guess they were just letting me save my hugs up for when I saw my father."
"Your father?" Grabiner asked absently, happy to have a relatively safe topic of conversation for this peril-fraught situation.
"Noir Suzerain," Amoretta answered brightly, and Grabiner could hear the affection in her voice. "The Black Diamond. Black Diamond Suzerain. He's a professional gambler. I told you that before. Don't you remember?"
"Vaguely," Grabiner admitted.
"Since papa had to travel so much for his work, he left me with Aunt Tootie and Uncle Carmine when I was just a baby," Amoretta explained. "He came to visit as much as he could, and I always made sure to give him a lot of hugs whenever he did."
"And your mother?" Grabiner asked thoughtfully. He could not say when he had ever spoken with her at any length about her past.
"I don't have a mother," Amoretta replied cheerfully, squeezing his hand in return. "I was torn from the thigh of Zeus."
"Dionysus had a mother," Grabiner patiently pointed out. "It was Semele."
"Then I suppose I must have one too," Amoretta admitted, "Because everybody does, don't they? But I've never heard of her. Papa doesn't speak of her, and neither do Uncle Carmine and Aunt Tulip. That's all right though, because I know that papa loves me more than enough to make up for it."
Grabiner laughed at this without meaning to, and it was a strange, bitter sound.
"Hieronymous?" Amoretta asked, concerned, and rolled toward him again.
He caught her shoulder as she rolled toward him and his hand slipped down her arm as he felt her wince in pain.
"I'm sorry," he said quietly, "But please, stay over there."
Reluctantly, she retreated again slowly.
As she did, he said, "I hope you never lose that innocence, although I know you will."
If she was worried by his harrowing prediction, she gave no sign of it, and although he could not see it, he could hear her smile. "If I lose it, then I'll just have to replace it with something better," she said decisively. She paused and then she continued shyly, "I ought to tell you right now that I move around sometimes while I'm asleep."
"That's all right," Grabiner said evenly. "That's what the ribbon is for. Our skin should remain in contact no matter how you may toss and turn."
"No," she said, and he could hear the pillow rustle as she presumably shook her head. "That's not what I mean. I mean, well, sometimes I get scared of the dark, or I just get lonely, and when I'm half asleep, I move around. At home I used to get out of bed and go curl up in the corner of the living room, behind the sofa. At boarding school I had my own little room, and there wasn't really anywhere to go, but twice before Christmas I crawled into Ellen's bed and once into Virginia's. So if I move around at night, I'm really sorry, and I don't mean to make you upset or angry - " now it all came out in a confused rush that left Grabiner's head spinning.
"Do you mean to tell me that you crept into Miss Middleton's bed in the middle of the night and she is still friends with you?" Grabiner interrupted her in disbelief.
"She didn't want to let me stay at first, but then I started to cry, so she let me. She's much nicer to sleep with than Virginia. Virginia just elbowed me in the face a lot," Amoretta volunteered honestly.
"Amoretta," Grabiner began dangerously, "Are you quite sure you're asleep during these episodes?"
"Mostly," Amoretta sniffled defensively, "I don't like being alone," she confessed. "Sometimes I get scared. There's nowhere for me to go, here. I can't go sleep in a corner if I get afraid. I'm tied to you. The only place I can go is closer to you. Just don't be angry if, if I get afraid. It's not like I want to make you hate me, I just don't have anywhere else to go."
This time it was Grabiner who rolled toward her, pulling her close to him with his unbound arm. Amoretta trembled for a moment, because he held her very still. His body was warm. He smelled like an animal, like another human being. It was the simple comfort of contact, to push against his familiar bulk and be drawn in. It was vis insita, the romance of inertia.
"Then come here," he said with some deliberateness, then he paused and added, "But don't expect - "
"I won't expect anything," she interrupted him with some force, and then she shivered, but his hand was on her back, warm and familiar, and so she slowly calmed down.
She pulled their hands to her chest again and curled up against him, her forehead against his shoulder.
"I'm sorry I'm an awful mess," she admitted, sniffling again.
"Don't apologize," he said shortly, then let go of her and rolled over again onto his back. "You are who you are. I don't ask you to be different."
"I'm very happy," Amoretta said a little awkwardly, although she really meant it.
Grabiner covered his eyes with the back of his free wrist and said, "I know."
After some time, despite the strangeness of their new arrangements, they both found sleep.
It was very early the next morning when they were both shaken into hazy consciousness by Grabiner's alarm clock. It was still as dark as pitch in the room, indicating that it was perhaps even before the songbirds had woken up.
Grabiner grumbled incoherently as he rolled to reach for the alarm clock and found himself quite on top of Amoretta née Suzerain, the angry alarm clock caught in his hand.
"Hieronymous," she whimpered pitifully, still only vaguely awake herself, "You're heavy."
The alarm clock was still jangling angrily, but there was no light in the room to see the time. The ribbon binding his left hand to Amoretta's left them in a considerable confusion of blankets and sheets, and although she did not find his presence on top of her to be particularly welcome, as this circumstance was less romantic than it was crushing, the horrid, incessant noise of the alarm clock made it rather than her his first priority. After all, a few more moments surely would not kill her.
"Bear it," he suggested, in a tone that did not really indicate that it was a suggestion. "I'm trying to turn off the damned alarm clock."
Of course, it was darker than a tomb and he only had one hand. He traced a pattern in the air and called up a light so that he could read the alarm clock. It read four thirty in the morning, just as he had suspected. He swore and it was disgruntled rather than enraged. He flipped the clock over and then with some difficulty he shut it off, then threw it unceremoniously onto the floor, where it landed with an upsetting clang.
Finally satisfied, he took a deep breath and then rolled off of his wife, who whimpered again with relief.
"Go back to sleep," he suggested, and he sounded as cranky as a sulky child. "We don't have to be up for another hour."
"Why was the alarm set so early anyway?" Amoretta asked, yawning.
"I forgot to reset it last night," Grabiner muttered into his pillow. "I don't have to meet you at the door this morning."
"Hieronymous," Amoretta cried dizzily, throwing her unbound arm over him. "Let's get married!"
"We are married," he reminded grumpily, and shoved her arm off.
"I know," Amoretta murmured dreamily, and then snuggled back against his shoulder. His only response was to mutter something vaguely.
They had, at least, one more solitary hour of quiet before the hurry and bustle of the day.
After an hour had passed, Grabiner consulted his wristwatch with the aid of another witch light. His timing was so uncanny it was as if he had an internal chronometer. On this day of all days he could not afford to be tardy for anything, not and retain even the final limp shreds of his formerly distant, forbidding persona.
If he were late this morning, people would talk.
He would not allow it to be whispered that he had been late because he had lingered in bed with his young wife. He would not take it for granted that the news that he had taken Amoretta back up to his room with him had not already run through the entire campus like a wildfire through drought-dry grass. After all, any number of girls had seen him in Horse Hall in the dead of night, and the girl did have two roommates - although now he supposed they were former roommates. Grabiner sat up in bed and stretched to flip on the bedside lamp and by necessity, a drowsy Amoretta was pulled against his back.
"Wake up," he ordered, glancing over his shoulder at her sleepy face. She was rubbing at her eyes with her free hand. He turned back to her and began to work on the knots binding their wrists together. He made short work of them and was soon flexing his wrist and his fingers. They were a bit stiff from having been held in one position all night long. Amoretta was not fully awake yet, so he took her by her right shoulder and shook her a few times. "Wake up now, Amoretta. You can't sleep while I'm not here to ward you."
"All right, Hieronymous, all right!" Amoretta relented, sitting up in bed, her head flopping forward almost limply. She yawned and then stretched.
Satisfied that she was now well awake, Grabiner put his feet into his slippers and then stood up on the chilly floor.
"I'm going to shower and get dressed first," he said crisply. "I ask that you respect my privacy." It did not really sound like he was asking. "Feel free to wash up and get dressed afterward," he said, and then disappeared into the bathroom.
"But I don't have any clothes to put on," Amoretta pointed out when he reappeared, clean and clothed.
He paused, one hand on the familiar cloak that hung by the door.
"I suppose that's so," Grabiner admitted, his eyes roving restlessly around his room. "We'll have to fetch some things up here this afternoon. You're to spend the day resting anyway, so your pajamas ought to suffice for today, but," he reminded sharply. "Under no circumstances are you to sleep. If you find yourself very tired, get up and sit in the desk chair. I will come by at lunch and sit with you, so if you feel you must sleep, sleep then. I won't be finished until this afternoon. I refuse to dismiss my students early, even if it is the day before spring break begins."
"You're brutal," Amoretta commented affectionately.
Grabiner took it as a compliment as he swept on his cloak in one motion, buttoning it at his shoulder.
"I am consistent," he replied. "Be sure to rest yourself today, because tomorrow you belong to me," he said seriously. "We will study grammar from morning until night. No breaks, not even for good behavior, although I do not labor under the impression that you have any idea at all of what those words actually mean. You asked to be educated. I will educate you."
"Will you hit me with a ruler if I fail to live up to your expectations?" Amoretta asked cheekily.
"Don't think I wouldn't consider giving you a swat if I thought it would improve your personality," Grabiner remarked dryly, picking up his watch from the bedside table and winding it before putting it on. "As it is, I have the feeling it would only encourage you." His eyes swept the room again, before coming back to rest on her. "I will leave Kavus at your disposal, and he should be willing to fetch anything you need." He paused, considering, then raised his voice slightly and said, "Kavus, you are to fetch Amoretta whatever she requires for the duration of the day."
The djinni appeared at once and nodded, although he did not say a word, preferring to silently observe the domestic tableau, smiling his familiar, faintly amused smile. The manus could say a great deal by not saying anything at all. If he sought to aggravate his master, he was at least passingly successful.
Grabiner frowned at the djinni and turned his attentions back to Amoretta, who sat on the bed with her knees drawn up to her chest.
"Read what you like to amuse yourself," he waved his hand idly at the books that filled every nook and cranny of the room, "But I hope I do not have to tell you that you shall engage in no magical experimentation without supervision." He paused again and regarded the djinni. "Kavus, if Mrs. Grabiner seems intent on fiddling about with magic beyond her ken, you will inform me at once."
The djinni nodded again and made a slight bow.
"As you wish," he said.
"Hieronymous, I do have a little sense," Amoretta said defensively.
"Yes," Grabiner said appraisingly, "A little sense is about the measure of it. I have no desire for you to be the cat that was killed by curiosity," he remarked. "You now have charge of my life as well as your own, Amoretta, so no foolishness."
"Yes sir," Amoretta answered, a little put out.
"Good girl," he said easily, reaching for his hat. He said it as if it were the most natural thing in the world, although assuredly, he hadn't said such a thing for years and years. Practically, he knew that he had no time to dwell on this change in his character if he was to have time for breakfast before class.
"I'll have the kitchen send something up for you to eat. I suppose it will be broth and toast again, until you get stronger," Grabiner said, then he paused at the door. "I would have liked to take you to breakfast this morning," he said shortly. "Last time," he paused somewhat awkwardly. "Last time things did not turn out as I had planned."
"If you take me to breakfast in my pajamas, people will talk for the rest of the year," giggled Amoretta, hugging her own knees.
"They're going to talk for the rest of the year anyway," Grabiner advised seriously, setting the hat carefully on his head, and then pulling it down to adjust it. "So best get used to it. We'll have breakfast together tomorrow, on my honor."
"Asked to breakfast by Lord Halifax himself!" Amoretta teased, and she was pleased to see that her teasing elicited a wry smile and a sideways glance from her husband as he dismissed the wards on the door with his fingertips.
"I already asked you to breakfast," he reminded with grave authority, "And I am a man of my word. Feel privileged," he said glancing over his shoulder at her idly. "I wouldn't allow anyone else alive to call me that."
"I am privileged," Amoretta answered simply, her hands folded over her heart.
Grabiner turned back to look at her, his feet on the line of salt, his hand on the knob of the door, and sighed.
"You really are a silly idiot," he commented, but his tone was warm and familiar, not harsh and not cruel.
"I'm your silly idiot," Amoretta reminded with a smile, and he shook his head as he shrugged his shoulders lightly.
"Yes," he said, "I suppose you are."