Who: Taliesyn Robards, Emelda Vane
Where: Vane House
When: 10 December 2001, morning
Emelda was known for being scatterbrained and something of a daydreamer — a reputation that was entirely justified, as this morning she’d gone to work without her folder full of notes on the article she was currently working on. Shaking her head over how silly she was, she Apparated back home, arriving at the foot of the stairs.
Now, had she left the folder in her bedroom, or on the dining room table…? As she stood there, lost in thought, a movement at the top of the stairs caught her eye and she automatically looked up. It took a moment for her brain to process what she was seeing. There was a man there, crouched over.
Tali thought everyone had left or he never would have arisen. Romilda had tried to coax him out of bed, even going so far as to threaten to toss his clothes out the window, but his look of abject betrayal made her relent, and she departed alone.
After what he judged a safe period of time Tali had snuck out to the bathroom for the world’s quickest shower — get in, lock bathroom door, conjure up chair to stick behind door for extra security, shower and get out, smelling like some kind of girly soap — and that would have been the end, if he hadn’t stepped upon the squeaky floorboard on his way out. He remembered his offer. Well, why not?
He had shed his jacket and was inspecting the floorboard when he heard the scream. The sound went straight up his spine. He stumbled to his feet and whipped around, leaning against the wall for balance.
“Taliesyn?” Emelda gasped, clutching at her chest. “You startled me.” Understatement of the year. She’d seen a strange figure in her house and wondered if the same person who’d Imperiused her into stripping off her clothes had come back with a more sinister intent. Terrified witless might be a more accurate description.
Trying to summon up some Gryffindor courage, she raised her chin and asked imperiously, “What are you doing?” Her voice only shook a little.
“Fixing the floorboard.”
“Fixing the floorboard,” she repeated stupidly. “May I ask why?”
“Because it squeaks,” said Tali, continuing his run of giving completely accurate but perhaps, wholly unsatisfying answers. He hadn’t moved from his wall-clutching position. It seemed like a contest in who could be more unjustly afraid of the other. He would probably win, now Emelda had gotten over her shock.
Emelda raised an eyebrow. She wasn’t sure if this expression would have the effect it usually did, given that she was standing at the bottom of the stairs looking up at him, but at least she was starting to recover somewhat. After all, this was her house and Taliesyn was just a guest. “I imagine a squeaking floorboard makes nighttime assignations somewhat difficult,” she said dryly.
Tali gulped. Did he also blush? Probably. What a stupid, no-good, traitorous face.
“I don’t know about that. I wasn’t here,” he said as evenly as he could. He peeled himself from the wall slowly and lowered himself down to kneel, eyes always on Emelda. “I’m just going to fix this and I’ll… leave.”
“I hope you are better at carpentry than you are at lying,” Emelda said conversationally. She wondered why Taliesyn was being so coy. He was dating Romilda now — he’d better learn quickly not to be so easily embarrassed.
She remembered that she’d left her folder in her bedroom, and climbed the stairs, pausing when she stepped on the squeaky floorboard on the landing. “I also hope that your intentions towards my sister are honourable,” she added, unable to resist teasing him just a little.
“Well,” he huffed, “you can’t prove I was here.” Was there any incriminating evidence? He’d left her door open and he’d made the bed. Wait, was that damning? Maybe Romilda was the type to leave it in a clumpy mess — which is what Tali himself did when he didn’t expect anyone else to see it.
“Also my intentions are always honourable, always.” Apart from last night, of course. Good thing he wasn’t there.
“I’m just going to fix this because she asked.” She had done nothing of the sort. “And since I am here, I suppose I could do other things. Got any stuck doors? Leaky pipes? Blocked drains? Cracked plaster…” ‘stop talking now’, his brain tried to command, but he was on a roll. Oh why did he ever decide to read The Big Fat Book of Household Maintenance?
He rattled through a dozen more projects. “…broken roof tiles? Peeling wallpaper? Draught proofing? Firewood chopping?”
He took a breath. “Not that I’m insinuating you aren’t perfectly capable of chopping your own firewood, of course. But I thought I’d um… offer. I am at your service.”
“You are a catch,” Emelda told him, very much amused. “But I do not think Romilda would be very happy if I wore out her new boyfriend by making him fix things around the house. She would probably prefer it if you conserved your energy for other activities.”
Was this too cruel of her? No, she decided, it was friendly teasing… and maybe a little bit of payback for scaring her (even though it was unintentional). Besides, Taliesyn went a delicious shade of red when he blushed.
If he could see a mirror, Tali would call this one ‘electric crimson’. Honestly, they may as well use his face for colour swatches. ‘And here are the all reds, as modelled by…’
“I have no idea what you are talking about. I know absolutely nothing about these other activities,” he declared. Hard to sound statesmanlike when he was on his knees trying to pry out bits of nail. “And really, wear me out… I can do both just fine…” he muttered to himself.
“You won’t be making me fix things. I offered and you can simply fail to decline.”
“I think our house is in pretty good shape, thank you.” Not that she’d notice if there were problems. Emelda’s mind was usually too preoccupied with other matters. Anyway, things like creaking floorboards gave a house character.
“I would love to stay and chat, but I really cannot stop,” she said, moving towards her bedroom door. “I need to get back to the office. Are you not working today?”
“No, I took the day off to do up your house,” Tali replied matter-of-factly. “Joking.” Though honestly, if Emelda had actually said ‘yes, go and do all the things you mentioned’, he would’ve. He’d just list it as leave for urgent family matters, or something.
“Library opening hours are… flexible.” He did like his job very much. A few extra screws drilled in place, some talc powder between the grooves and some putty to cover up and the boards would creak no more.
“You could put me down for a Quibbler subscription. If you want.”
“Just checking you were still gainfully employed. Only the best for my little sister, after all.” A little smile quirked up the corner of her mouth, but it was true. If Emelda thought that Taliesyn didn’t deserve to be with her sister then she wouldn’t be standing here chatting to him. Luckily for him, she approved.
Emelda paused at his next words. “Really?” She was more used to people mocking her job than supporting it. “Is that what you want?”
Not particularly, thought Tali, but he kept that to himself. He wasn’t stupid. “Yes. Of course. Why don’t you give me three, I’ll put some in the library.”
Choosing to believe he was sincere, Emelda beamed at him. “All right, I will. And thank you for fixing the floorboard, Taliesyn. Please feel free to have nighttime assignations whenever you want.” Now, it really was time she grabbed her folder and Apparated back to work before they started wondering where she was.