facetsofbethan: (Threnody's default setting : Arrogant)
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           Was she a librarian or a pirate? Looking at Threnody Winter, it was hard to tell. In truth, she was neither, but that was nobody’s business but her own, and she ensured it stayed that way. A tall, darkly lovely woman who looked far younger than her twenty years, her coal black hair parted at one side and falling sleekly over one eye in front, while at the back of her head two whip-thin plaits emanated from a ponytail; she nonetheless had the brisk, quiet air of a born organiser. The round glasses probably helped, too. In dress, however, she looked distinctly corsair-like: a loose, low-necked white linen shirt with large lapels and cuff, belted with a wide, jade green silk sash. Two slim belts with guns in their holsters crossed as they were slung low over each hip, with wider twins arrayed with various strange-looking implements crossed over her upper body. Loose black trousers were tucked neatly into slim suede leather boots with outsize cuffs, and she carried a large black canvas bag slung over one shoulder. Her face was pale and pointed; her lips full and red; the eyes behind her large round spectacles wide, deceptively beautiful and a rich green -grey- blue that conjured thoughts of storms at sea.

This morning those green eyes snapped with suppressed fury and the red lips were pressed tightly together against an outburst, rendering them –and her- quite ugly. She dozed fitfully in the plush interior of her carriage, and mused upon her possible actions upon arrival.

~***~

Threnody was broken from her catnap by the shudder of the hansom cab as it pulled up at its destination: Phoenix House, Fleet Street, London, and the driver opened the door. Tipping him handsomely, his basic fees having already been covered by her host, she strode quickly through the fog of the muggy early morning and inside the great building, in search of answers.

Inside, a tall, muscled man in immaculate black-and-white uniform, a discreet fire symbol embroidered in gold thread on his left-hand breast pocket, black hair neatly slicked, immediately materialised at her arm like a black-and-white genie.

“Let me take your coat, Miss Winter. Mr. Moneypenny is in conference; he’ll see you in no more than a quarter of an hour, and apologises for the delay. May I offer you a drink?”

Threnody hid her bad mood admirably; not only would doing otherwise have been rude, she also knew very well that this was a man whom it was exceedingly unwise to cross.

“Ah, thank you Gosling. A small brandy, if you please- I’ve had a hard night.”

“As you wish, Miss Winter.”

The butler bowed and left the room, subtly locking the door behind him. Threnody took in her surroundings; she knew this room, yet its size always surprised her. The room was vast: a third of the size of a football pitch, she estimated, with ceilings soaring at least fifteen feet away from the floors, which were tiled wood lavishly inlaid with woods of other opulent colours. An enormous candelabra, its multitude of candles glowing not with fire but with the new electric power, lit the room with a powerful, steady beam from its position in the very centre of the ceiling. Several vast fish tanks infested with jewel-like tropical fish were placed at intervals along the walls and in the gaps between the expensive furniture of dark wood upholstered in various rich shades of green, which littered the room like doll’s-house pieces scattered by some bored, wealthy giant-child. One of these chairs was occupied by a small fat man, his pock-marked face the colour of curdled milk, who was sweating profusely. Threnody sank down thankfully opposite him, on a plush, bottle-green sofa next to an immense aquarium. A pretty, curly-haired girl sat at the desk in the corner, typing rapidly; after a pause she looked over at the newcomer.

“What does Himself want you for, Threnody?” she enquired conversationally. Threnody examined her fingernails complacently.

“It’s more a matter of what I want him for,” she said. “He owes me for that last job- couple of hundred quid, by my reckoning.”

The secretary clucked her tongue against her teeth. “Bad job, that was. Himself was in a right fury when he found out about the court case. Just as well that Hubert Hamilton-Smythe got him off, or that idiot Melchett would have been for it. You know he actually tried to get a p’liceman to help him? As it was though, all’s well that ends well. But be careful how you phrase your- request.” Her typing did not pause one whit. “You know what He’s like about giving out money.”

Threnody admitted with a chuckle that she indeed know what ‘He’ was like. “Remember that time old Charlie Dooright decided he wanted a pay rise? He was lucky to come out of that room alive.”

“Mmm. But they say he does all right now- as well as a man with no legs can, anyway.”

The fat man in the corner whimpered for no apparent reason; both women raised their eyebrows in his general direction.

“What’s eating him?” asked Threnody carelessly.

“Oh, he’s got the appointment after you- and an appointment with the boys afterwards, by all accounts. Apparently he’s under the impression he wishes to leave us, and you know how Himself gets about saying goodbye.”

“Worst goodbye-er I’ve ever seen,” said Threnody seriously. “Far too sentimental about his friends, the old man is. What’s that phrase of his?”

“‘If I can’t have you, no-one can’,” supplied the secretary. “Or is that what he told last week’s girlfriend?”

“If he told her that, then she’s very last week by now,” said Threnody with a chuckle. “As in last week’s obituaries.”

The two young women were still chuckling over that piece of wit when Gosling re-entered with Threnody’s brandy.

“Mr. Moneypenny will see you in five minutes,” he told her. “Miss Pierce, will you be requiring anything?”

The secretary held out a hefty file bulging with documents. “Take this to Mr. Smytherby in room three when you have a moment, please. ”

The manservant accepted it. “Swann will see to it, I expect- I’m due for my break.”

Miss Pierce nodded. “See if you can find me a coffee before you do, please?” she requested. “Swann’s coffee leaves something to be desired.”

“Milk, usually,” commented Threnody. “He always seems to feel that just because he drinks his coffee black, so should everyone else.”

“I’ll see to it, miss,” nodded Gosling. Quietly he left the room, once more locking the door. There was silence for a while now, as Miss Pierce resumed her typing and Threnody nursed her drink contemplatively. Eventually she drained her glass, checked her watch and stood up.

“Oh- I almost forgot,” the secretary said suddenly. “The word amongst the staff is that Himself has another job for you and Felix.”

Threnody nodded. “I imagine I’ll be quite safe asking him for the money, then- important assets, and all that.” She looked at her now-empty glass doubtfully. “Any idea what I’m meant to be doing with this?”

“Giving it to me, miss.” A new butler, very like Gosling in looks but with blonde hair, had appeared in the doorway. “I’ll put it on the dumbwaiter, then show you in, Miss Winter.”

He ducked outside for an instant, then back in. “Let me take you through, Miss Winter.”

The secretary flapped a hand in brief farewell, already half-focused on her job as Threnody allowed herself to be shown through a pair of massive, imposing double doors.

~***~

Unlike the main room, Gilderoy P. J. Moneypenny’s office was small and dark and stank of his favourite cigars; she almost gagged as the pungent gas assaulted her lungs. Like the main room, however, the walls were exceedingly high, and combined with the narrow, dark wood-covered walls gave the impression of being at the bottom of an exceedingly deep pit. The man himself lounged behind the safety of a large, obviously expensive writing desk; a much younger man sprawled in one of two chairs in front of the desk, looking far too big for his seat. This was Theodore Felix Lee, who preferred his middle name to his first and was consequently known as Felix to all but his mother, who insisted on referring to him as ‘dear darling Theodore’- or alternatively ‘that lazy brat of a crotch-dropping’ when the old harridan was particularly peeved with her only child. At six foot seven, Felix was a lanky young man of twenty-three years, handsome in an awkward, gangly sort of way, with a charming grin, floppy blonde hair and wide, innocent blue eyes fully capable of charming both the birds from the trees and pretty young women (though not Threnody- yet) into bed. He was unflappability masquerading as laziness, and Threnody’s confidant, best friend and sparring partner- both verbal and physical, for beneath the lanky exterior both a sharp mind and brilliant pugilist lurked like a mugger in a dark alley.

Gilderoy Moneypenny, by contrast, looked like a toad too big for the lily-pad on which it squatted, for all his lavishly expensive clothing. At the tender age of fifty-seven, the man had at least four chins, eyebrows that met in the middle- consequently making him look as though a furry black caterpillar had draped itself lovingly over his eyes, which were beady-black and glittered with a grim intelligence- and was at least as wide as he was tall, though this was not much of a feat as he was only ‘five foot three and a brick’, as Threnody’s mother never used to say. He had no wife and no children; a habit of starting many of his sentences with the conjunction ‘now’; no-one knew how he had made his money; and he was known (though not to his face) to his mass of employees as ‘PJ’, an epithet which served to disguise the fact that they were all quietly afraid of him. Now, however, he was at his most charming as he stood to greet her. “Ah, my dear Miss Winter,” he welcomed her; Swann quietly bowed and left the room, shutting the door behind him.

“Mr. Moneypenny, Felix,” she said coolly. “What’s all this about?” Felix, plainly as mystified as she, could only shrug apologetically.

“My dear, you will insist on getting straight to the point. It’s not at all attractive in a woman. Now, please sit down and I shall explain.” As far as Moneypenny was concerned, charm clearly equalled greasiness; Threnody bit back an acid-tongued retort with difficulty.

“First of all I must apologise deeply for underpaying you both for the marvellous job you did last time I –ah- enlisted you to my cause. I can only assure you that it will not happen again, and the accountant who made that ghastly error is no longer in my services.” Two plump rolls of banknotes hit the desk; Threnody and Felix grabbed one apiece and flicked quickly through the crisp new twenty-pound notes, ensuring that none were missing. They traded discreetly raised eyebrows; ‘PJ’ was never this good about handing out money.

“It’s all there, I can assure you,” Moneypenny smarmed; both nonetheless completed their count. “Now, what do you think of Swann? He’s quite new –I hired him last month- but I must confess that I like him.”

“I’m afraid I haven’t really met the fellow, so I can’t comment.” Felix came suddenly to life. “It was Gosling who showed me in.”

“He doesn’t lock doors,” commented Threnody slowly. “Not quite up to Gosling’s standard, but he does very well for someone new.”

Her superior nodded. “Doesn’t lock doors, eh? I hadn’t noticed. That will have to be rectified immediately if he’s to stay with us.” He raised his voice. “Swann!”

The butler immediately stuck his head in. “Sir?”

“Come in properly, won’t you? There’s a good man. Now, Swann, Miss Winter here has brought it to my attention that you don’t lock doors behind you when you are showing my guests through, and I felt I ought to bring this discrepancy to your notice immediately. Now, I’m afraid I really must insist upon you locking all doors behind you, no matter how trusted the guest, how full your hands, or how rushed you are. It’s simply good security, and if I’m once more made aware of your not doing so, I’m afraid I shall have to- let you go.”

“Yes sir, sorry sir,” the butler said immediately. “I do apologise.”

“There’s a good man. Now, off you trot, and we’ll hear no more about it.”

“Very good, sir.” Swann was the picture of a good servant, but he shot Threnody a distinctly nasty look as he closed the door behind him, this time locking it immediately. Neither of the men had noticed, and she felt she had already got the poor man into enough trouble to bring it up.

“Now, to business!” Moneypenny rubbed his greasy hands together greedily; he loved this. “Do either of you recall meeting James St. John? Tall, clever, lead the Misinformation Department.”

Threnody dimly recalled a vague impression of a swarthy, clever, handsome man, a mouse-like blonde wife with a hidden sharpness about her.

“Dark, wasn’t he? Had a fair-haired wife? Clever fellow,” put in Felix.

“That’s him- good man, he was, we were rather close as a matter of fact. Now, unfortunately he and Cathaline –that was his wife- were killed in the line of duty last month; nasty car-bomb attack near Ottery Saint-Catchpole, I don’t know if you remember. Messy business. Now, even more unfortunately, his will left all his money –and he’d a tidy sum- to his boy, Leonard, whom he’d asked me to look after in the event of an emergency like this. However, he neglected to mention this in his will, and a misbegotten great-aunt and godmother has swept in, grabbed the will and the boy, supposedly to look after them, and moved herself into the family home, Catchpole Hall.”

“And you’re telling us this because?” Threnody prompted.

“Because, my dear, she’s not an aunt at all. She’s an impostor, put there (I have reason to believe) by the rival operation led by that dreadful scruffy upstart, Muskerton, partly for the money but mostly to score points against me, particularly since the slattern has had the barefaced gall to put it about that there is no will. Now, I want you two in Catchpole Hall by the end of the week- you’ll be St. John’s estranged sister and her husband, fiancée, whatever. My point is, you go in, get the will and the boy, and get out, preferably killing the aunt on the way, though that’s entirely a superficial point in the plan and you needn’t attend to that if it’s too much trouble.”

It was Felix who asked the crucial question. “How much?”

“Fifteen grand apiece if you’re out by a week tomorrow, with a bonus of five hundred between you if you kill the aunt without being detected. Come back without one of the crucial items, and you’ll both be on half.”

Despite themselves, both Threnody and Felix whistled in awe; the boy had to be worth at least a hundred thousand for Moneypenny to offer so much.

“You must really like that kid, sir,” Threnody said dryly.

“That’s my affair.” Moneypenny said shortly. “You’ll take the job, then?”

Felix laughed. “We’ll take anything worth that much money, sir- eh, Threnody?”

“Most definitely. We’re on.”

“Excellent. Now, here’s what you need to know…”

~***~

When Felix and Threnody left the building an hour later, both were filled with the heady rush that comes from being tantalisingly close to a large amount of easy money, despite the grey drizzle of a London morning posing as summer.

“Well, what do you think?” Threnody asked at last.

“I think we’re on easy money here,” Felix laughed, gallantly protecting Threnody from the invading rain drops with a massive black umbrella. He became suddenly serious. “My only concern is that this job appears entirely too easy; why’s PJ offering so much money?”

“I can only imagine he’s discovered the delights of opium- but whatever it is, you won’t catch me complaining. Come on, Felix, how hard can it be? We go in, we get a kid and a will, we get out.”

“And on that note, I believe we’ll have to part,” murmured Felix. “Here’s my cab. You’ve got a ride, haven’t you?”

“Of course. He’s one of PJ’s- I asked him to wait.” Threnody let out a piercing whistle, and the cab appeared as if by magic.

“Ever the polite one, I see. Well, goodbye.” The pair traded a firm hand-clasp; to be any more familiar, in the middle of the most respectable part of London, was to invite trouble.

“Goodbye, Felix. See you Tuesday?” Not wanting to keep the driver waiting, Threnody disappeared into her cab.

“Tomorrow it is,” Felix called to her. She waved to him in acknowledgment and farewell; he could only watch, his own carriage forgotten, as her cab vanished into the foggy drizzle. “My love,” he whispered through numb lips, knowing she couldn’t hear him now.

~***~

It was an uneasy woman who met ‘Mr Jonah Jameson-Jones and Miss Cornelia Arbuthnot’ as they arrived at Catchpole Hall that Tuesday evening, though she gave no sign of her anxiety. In the semi-darkness the Hall was an imposing place: dank, dead and decrepit, it loomed over Threnody and Felix’s carriage. Indeed, the building was very good at looming altogether, a battered old grey giant who still retains his nobility despite the best attempts on his dignity by the upstart weeds that strangled their way up the walls. Not quite a wreck, it was still battered enough for Threnody to suppose that either the place was impervious to all attempts to repair it, or the former owners hadn’t been fond enough of living there to care. The full moon was a cruel light, shamelessly highlighting the house’s worst defects; the place seemed to pull away from its light like a model who knows she is past her prime yet is forced through poverty to work nonetheless.

Mrs Murgatroyd Henbane was a tall woman of roughly sixty; though past her prime, she must have been striking when young, and some of her good looks had not been lost to her: high, sharp cheekbones, a fine nose, clear bright-blue eyes and a thick crop of silver hair. She stood tall and straight as a ruler in the shadows of the doorway, watching the newcomers covertly with eyes that glittered with a cold purpose. Even when thinking about her, something demanded she be given her full title; no-one would ever have dreamed of calling her simply ‘Murgatroyd’.

The coach pulled up to the porch with a clatter of hooves and wheels, but Murgatroyd Henbane stayed resolutely hidden as the driver slithered down from his perch to set in place the steps and open the carriage door for the couple.

Felix disembarked first, dashing in an elegantly-cut suit, for once contriving to forbid his gangly frame from stumbling over anything. Threnody followed, sans trousers for once in her life (instead having cursed her way into a hated corset and elegant crimson dress), her hair fashionably piled up in curls on top of her head, no overt weaponry, and altogether the perfect model of respectable womanhood.

Still the false godmother refused to appear.

In the end it was not until the young couple stood arm-in-arm on the gravel driveway, their cases clustered around them, that Murgatroyd Merriweather Henbane deigned to show herself; when she did, however, she was the perfect hostess.

~***~

The dinner put before them was marvellous, each and every one of the twelve courses excellently cooked; Felix and the godmother ate ravenously but Threnody, constrained by the unfamiliar constricts of her corset, ate very little. Felix exercised every grain of his considerable charm on their hostess and it seemed to work; her deep caws of laughter reverberated around the room at frequent intervals.

The boy, Leonard, appeared for dinner: a scrawny, moon-faced ten-year-old with a shock of red-gold curls and a perpetually perplexed expression negated by his wary, calculating pale blue eyes. Threnody immediately labelled him ‘a kid to watch’; judging by the look Felix shot her over Leonard’s head, he felt the same. Like Threnody, the boy ate sparingly, earning himself a half-hearted rebuke from his ‘aunt’. Immediately he had finished, Leonard was hurried from the room by a mouse-faced nurse with such speed that it was a few minutes before Threnody had even noticed he had gone.

The old lady appeared to feel all respectable persons were abed by midnight, and her word was clearly something not to be ignored. Feeling the implied rebuke in her tone, Threnody and Felix dutifully obeyed, Felix yawning hugely as they left.

The pair were roomed at opposite ends of a long, oppressively dark corridor on the first floor; ‘the old hag’ (as Felix termed her when they snatched a few moments of private conversation) clearly felt that affianced couples were not at all trustable, even when guests in another person’s home. Had it been anyone but Felix, Murgatroyd Henbane might have had a point, Threnody mused as she undressed. As it was, however, the man was too much her friend, too much of a brother and a comrade, for her to even consider any romantic attachment to him.

Free of the imprisoning corset, at last able to breathe properly, Threnody would never remember closing her eyes.

~***~

Once again, her breathing was restricted, but this time by a muscled hand with a chloroform pad; Threnody’s eyes flew open but immediately threatened to close again as the chloroform started to take effect.

Don’t breath! her half-asleep mind screamed. Don’tbreathedon’tbreathedon’tbreathedon’t-

Threnody thrashed violently to escape the restraining hands; taking a wild guess as to where the owner of the hands was, she lashed out with her fists and was rewarded by the satisfying thump of her hand connecting with someone’s skull. The hand slipped away from her mouth and nose and she staggered out of bed, gasping both for breath and with shock, groping her way to her glasses and to the- thankfully modern- electric lamp on her bedside table. It bathed the room in a lukewarm haze, illuminating the unconscious body of a servant whom she dimly remembered having been serving at dinner. It took her sleep- and chloroform-numbed mind several seconds to realise what was going on: Murgatroyd Henbane must know who they were, and dispatched these goons to dispose of them. Having assured herself her prisoner was unconscious, Threnody got dressed, thinking as she did so. Could they get away with pretending nothing had happened? Ought she to wait the night out, and leave immediately after breakfast? But what of the boy, and the will? Could they leave tonight? She would gladly leave without the will if they could only leave this awful old house. PJ would be furious, of course– it had to be pretty important for him to threaten to halve their pay- but then PJ generally was furious, for a wide variety of reasons. She would go to Felix and see- Felix! Since they had attacked her they’d certainly have gone for him as well; and Felix was a much heavier sleeper than she was. She retrieved her favourite pistol from her lingerie drawer where it had become entangled with her lucky knickers, removed the latter, spun the pistol chamber to check she had a full load of bullets and snapped it shut. Thus armed, she opened her door and slipped silently along the inky blackness of the landing.

Felix was not in his room. His bed had been slept in, but there was no sign of a struggle and a cold fist clenched around Threnody’s heart as she touched the hollow where his body had lain. It was still warm- he might yet be alive!

~***~

Threnody’s captive was rudely awakened, courtesy of the pitcher of ice-cold water she dashed in his face. Immediately he felt something even colder at his neck- the steel barrel of her gun.

“Where is my friend?” the lady demanded softly, her voice dripping with danger. “The gentleman who arrived with me just before dinner. I recommend you answer well, you won’t get a second opportunity.”

“He- he’s in the attics, tied up and knocked out, but he’s alive!” gabbled the servant. “Get the boy an’ then the girl, the mistress said, but- but she never said you was fighters and you wasn’t to be harmed, not by us leastways!”

“Good answer.” Threnody’s was the coldest voice he had ever heard. “Now, where are the will and the child?”

“I dunno for sure where the will is, but the mistress keeps all her papers on the third floor, in an office off her bedroom. It’s locked, and I dunno who’s got the key. The- the little master’s in the nursery on the second floor, directly above this room.”

“Very well. And the attics?”

“Keep following the main stairs until they stop, then go along the landing until you find a spiral staircase. Up there’s the attics. P-please don’t kill me!”

Threnody didn’t dignify his bleating with a reply; the butt of her pistol crashing down on his head was answer enough. Now she armed up fully, retrieving weaponry from every conceivable hiding place as she packed her suitcases; they would need to make a quick getaway after this. She gagged her (now deeply unconscious) prisoner with a pair of tights she had holed before dinner, using another pair to secure his hands behind his back. The chloroform pad with which the unfortunate man had attempted to knock her out she pocketed for emergencies before slipping out and quietly locking the door behind her.

Felix was her first priority: the money and everything else could go hang unless he was safe. Consequently Threnody mounted seemingly endless stairs until there were stairs no more. She was not interrupted; her only companion was the cloying silence. Nevertheless she kept her pistol drawn at all times. When she came to the spiral staircase she paused; she was no great lover of heights. But Felix was up there; she could not leave him. Cursing mentally, she began to ascend.

Felix was so close to the top of the stairs she almost fell over him: a crumpled rag-doll body slumped on the floor, looking absurdly young, his wrists tied tight. Threnody crouched beside him and checked his pulse; she herself almost crumpled from relief as she felt the steady, if faint, throb at his temple. She produced a knife and slit the ropes that bound him; he stirred slightly as she began to massage his wrists to make the blood flow back to his hands. Eventually she judged that she had done her best for his hands, but he had still not regained consciousness. Threnody fumbled in her pockets until she found her smelling salts, which she thrust under his nose. Their foul stench did the trick; Felix spluttered unto consciousness with a start and would have shouted if not for the pale hand pressed to his mouth.

“Felix, you idiot, it’s me,” she hissed. “Can you stand?”

Felix shook his head to clear it and winced as a bolt of pain shot through him. “You’ll have to give me a minute, my head feels as if it’s about to fall off. What have I missed?”

Threnody shrugged; if he could be so matter-of-fact about it, so could she. “Not much. Someone tried to drug me via chloroform and got knocked out for his pains. Clearly, they succeeded with you- by the way, we’re in the attics.”

“They didn’t get me that way- I’ve had chloroform before and it’s never given me such after-effects. Must have been the dinner or the wine- but wait, you had the same as me.”

Threnody mulled that over for a moment. “True, but I hardly ate anything because of that damned corset so I can’t have had enough to knock me out- but which would explain why my head’s pounding.”

“But this is all rather beside the point.” Felix attempted to rise and wobbled dangerously until Threnody stood to support him. “Leave off, Threnody, I’ll be fine.”

Unwillingly, she let go of his arm; a knot in her gut that she hadn’t noticed before loosened as he stood firm without her aid. Felix would be all right.

“What’s the plan?” he asked briefly. Threnody considered.

“Well, you’re not in a fit state for much, so you’d best get your things together, then go down to the stables and wake our driver. I can find the boy all right- I think- and I’ve a fair idea of where to find the will, so I’ll get them and meet you outside.”

“I told you, Threnody, I’m fine!” snapped Felix. “Where’s the boy?”

“You get us killed, and I will never speak to you again.”

“So helpful,” Felix said, his face straight. “Where’s the boy?” he repeated.

Threnody gave up. “Second floor nursery directly above my room. I don’t care about him, but see to it you don’t get hurt, all right?”

“I’ll try my hardest, Mother,” he said dryly. She pointed an accusatory finger at him.

“Don’t push it,” she said sharply. “Not after this.”

Yes, mother,” he snapped. “Honestly, you make it sound as if I tried to get myself kidnapped and tied up!”

“No, you reserve doing that for when you’re with your girlfriends, don’t you?” Threnody retorted. She opened her mouth to say more, noticed the warning signs that usually preceded a famed Felix outburst and held her tongue. She had no idea why she’d said that; nor why she suddenly felt so angry. “Sorry. Look, never mind,” she said hastily. “C’mon, let’s go.”

They descended the staircase in silent single file, with Threnody in front. At the bottom they clasped each other’s wrist by way of farewell.

“See you afterwards, all right?” said Threnody uneasily.

“All right,” said Felix. “Good luck.”

So it was that when they separated, it was without another word; Threnody along the third floor landing, Felix slipping down to his room on the first floor.

The lack of obstacles to her journey unnerved Threnody somewhat as she moved quietly along the landing in the flickering light of the one lamp, wishing she’d enquired as to exactly which room ‘the mistress’s’ bedroom was. Thankfully most of the doors she encountered were unlocked, but all had hinges that screeched forbiddingly as she nervously nudged them open. Concluding that the lady of the house was hardly to sleep in a room with screechy hinges at the doors, Threnody desisted in her attempts to open them at the first hint of protest from the doors. At the first locked door, she paused to scour her pockets for a small piece of chalk, with which she marked one doorpost before continuing her search. At length she came to the end of the corridor without having discovered any more locked doors, and so made her way back to the one she had marked, searching her many pockets once more- this time for several long strips of metal. Lock picking was not one of Threnody’s particular talents, but long practice and continual necessity had taught her enough. Besides, this lock was an easy one. She was inside in less time than it had taken her to find her tools.

The bedroom was spacious and scrupulously clean: no cobwebs dangled from the four-poster bed (not slept in) or small crystal chandelier (cold and therefore unused). Another door led off to the left, and Threnody, who had expected Murgatroyd Henbane to be in bed, was at her most nervous as she entered. She wondered whether or not she should lock the door behind her, but decided against it for the sake of a quick escape route. The office door was a more complicated affair: it was secured by four basic locks of a rather higher calibre than on the main door, plus two padlocks. Sighing, for she emphatically did not want to remain here any longer than was necessary, Threnody got to work.

~***~ 

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