Ravenna, at first so lost in thought, pushed open the door to the vestibule.
So. This was what they were making George do today. Ravenna tried to be sensible, to remember that George had broken into their secret laboratory, stolen one of their potions, and could have gotten himself killed in the process. The Emryses had to punish him, if only to make sure he didn’t do it again. If they did anything else, they would be just as remiss in their duties to George as he had been to them.
Somehow it just didn’t seem fair.
Maybe it was just the time. If it had only gone on for a week or so, Ravenna would have understood — she had understood. But maybe, now, they were only coming down hard on George because they had been so generous before and immediately after his grandmother had passed on. Before, he’d been able to leave school as soon as classes were done, provided he told the Emryses where he was going. When she was at her worst, he’d spent a few days at home with her. Afterward, he had had the funeral and another few days off. And now George was back — and his punishment had begun, or was picking up where it had left off.
But it still didn’t seem fair.
“What are you staring at?” George asked gruffly.
“I — um.” Ravenna rubbed her hands together nervously. “Um.”
“I haven’t gotten over there yet,” George said, nodding his head. “So the floor’s dry, if you’re afraid of slipping.”
“Thank — thank you,” Ravenna murmured, barely holding back a gasp. When was the last time George had been so nice to her — well, when he wasn’t trying to flirt with her, that was. But he hadn’t been trying to flirt with her since he found Lady Delyth.
She started to scuttle away, as much to escape from her thoughts as for any other reason — but she looked back. George, lacking any other option, kept mopping. He probably didn’t even notice that she was still standing there.
And why should he notice? It wasn’t like they talked much, now that George was hanging out with Lady Delyth. Not that Ravenna begrudged her his company. Not in the slightest! She could have him and his dripping wit and his sardonic smirks and too-clever-by-half winks. Ravenna certainly didn’t need them.
But sometimes, here at school, it was so lonely … she only got to see Dilys when they could go out for the evenings … Ravenna found herself scuttling back to George before she was quite properly aware of what she was doing.
“Um,” she said, trying to find something to say, “how — how are you, George?”
“How does it look like I am?”
“Er — I don’t mean right now. Er. With the mopping and all. I mean more … generally. Since …”
“Since Granny died?” George asked.
“Yes,” Ravenna admitted to her slippers.
“And why does it matter to you?” George asked, attacking a speck of dirt with his mop as if it had insulted him, his household gods, and his ancestors unto the seventh generation.
“It — well, I –”
“And what would you know about the matter anyway? I bet you never lost anybody close to you.”
“Well, no, I guess not, but –”
“Certainly not your Granny, who — who –” George dunked the mop head into the bucket with enough force to cause a minor rain shower.
“I never knew either of my grandmothers,” Ravenna admitted.
George paused. “You didn’t?”
“No.” She shook her head. “My — my mother’s mother, Igraine — she died shortly after my mother and Un–the King left Glasonland. And my father’s mother … I think she died shortly after my father did.”
George had not resumed his mopping. Instead he stared at the spreading puddle on the floor. “You mean — before he was resurrected?”
“Or maybe after. It’s not like Morgause told anybody what she had done. Not at first.”
“Your — your father’s brother can’t tell you?”
“We don’t talk much,” Ravenna squeaked. She vaguely remembered some exceptionally stiff visits when she was very little. But how could you form a relationship with people when all you had in common these days was blood? The shared past and upbringing didn’t count. Her father couldn’t remember any of it.
She watched George’s hair fall slowly on either side of his face as he kept his head down, thinking. His new haircut looked so much better than his old — not that she cared, of course. Not really. But she did have to look at it every day, and it was nice to have something halfway decent to look upon.
And why did her hand automatically go to her sensible, no-nonsense bun when she thought that?
George, however, was straightening, frowning. “That sucks,” he said, in the tone of a man pronouncing definite judgment.
“I know!” Ravenna gasped, amazed to find somebody who understood — and who wasn’t freaked out by the whole ordeal. “It’s –”
“But I never knew my father’s parents, either.”
Ravenna felt her jaw clack shut. “Oh.”
“Or his brothers and sisters. If he had any.”
Ravenna blinked. “If he … had any?” Richard Ferreira was an orphan? An orphan with a mysterious past? Odd. George had never said so before.
“Well, he didn’t have any full ones. His mother died when he was born, and he was her only child. But his father may have had by-blows.”
So … not an orphan with a mysterious past, then.
“Not that he — my dad’s father — would have even known about them, if he had them. He could have left them in any ports of call. He was a sailor,” George added with no little pride.
“Oh! Like — like your father?”
George grinned, that wonderful full grin that she — that she barely thought about at all, of course. Why would she think about it? “No. My father’s a captain.” The grin faded a little. “Or he has been, ever since we came here, anyway.”
“He — he wasn’t a captain before?”
“Didn’t have enough money for a ship,” George said matter-of-factly. “He was saving up for one, though. The shop was keeping Mum and Dannie and … Granny, and Dad was sailing and rising through the ranks, hoping to become a captain and then make enough to save up for a ship of his own. He’d gotten to first mate when they heard about Albion. So my dad agreed to go, and Mum and Granny sold the shop and all of the wares they couldn’t bring with them, and they took Dad’s savings and came here. And because land was so much cheaper here than in Port Graal, they could buy a small house and a small shop, and Mum and Granny could go back to being tailors, and my dad could buy a small ship and start sailing on his own. The Dannie Darling,” George added.
“He named the ship for your sister? That’s so sweet,” Ravenna sighed.
“I guess,” George replied, just like … well, just like a boy probably would. Men. They just didn’t understand! “My mum wouldn’t let him name one after her. She said it would bring bad luck.”
“How?” asked Ravenna.
“Haven’t the foggiest,” George admitted. “Maybe she just didn’t want to hear the sailors all talking about a ship with her name … well, like sailors do. You know?” No, Ravenna really didn’t know, but she had heard — or read — stories. So she nodded all the same. “I don’t think them talking about Dannie like that was much better, but maybe Dannie was so little that didn’t matter. Or maybe Dad just did it and didn’t tell Mum until it was too late.”
Ravenna giggled. “That’s one way to keep your mum from complaining.”
Why did George’s shoulders suddenly slump? “… Aye. I guess.”
“George? What’s wrong?”
He scowled. “What makes you think anything’s wrong?”
“You just …” Ravenna twisted her hands together and tried her best imitation of a smile. “You don’t … look so happy.”
“Really? Gosh, I don’t? Can’t imagine what’s causing that.”
“Um — sorry.” And unlike most times when she replied sorry to George’s cutting sarcasm, this time, Ravenna meant it. She backed away. “Um — you know — I shouldn’t be distracting you. Er. I’ll –”
George sighed. “Wright! Can’t you take a little sarcasm?”
“Sorry. I just didn’t –”
“… Want to pry?”
“Then why did you?” demanded George.
“I …” Ravenna felt rather than willed her eyes to fall. “I don’t know. Look, I’ll leave you alone. If that’s –”
“Oh, for Wright’s sake. You’re too damn sensitive!”
Ravenna’s head snapped up. “Well, you’re a little sensitive yourself, George Ferreira! I was just trying to be nice! If you didn’t want to talk, you could have just said!”
“I did just say! And then you had to go get into a snit about it!”
“I am not in a snit!”
“Oh, please! You were about to creep out of here with your tail between your legs, pretending to be some martyr! If that isn’t a snit, I don’t know what is.”
“It’s not a snit! It’s — it’s just trying to leave you alone, since you don’t want to talk! Ugh! You are so infuriating! I can’t even be nice to you without you trying to make me miserable!”
“I’m trying to make you miserable? I’m the last person this earth trying to make you miserable!”
“Ha! A likely story!”
“Please! I’m not an arsehole! Not like Chris–” he started, and stopped.
Ravenna’s jaw slowly fell. “Chris–Christopher Swann?”
“Forget it,” George muttered, returning back to his mop and bucket.
“You knew about that?”
George stiffened. “I’m not blind,” he replied. “Or deaf.”
Ravenna looked away. She thought George hadn’t known about that. He certainly had been the only one of her age group not to treat her differently after Christopher had humiliated her. Maybe he was more of a gentleman than she had ever assumed.
Even if he was only the most irritating, self-centered, hedonistic brat imaginable.
“It’s just …” Ravenna said, mostly in order to be saying something, “you never said …”
George shrugged and returned to attacking the floor. “I didn’t think you needed reminding.”
“That was … kind.” And made her feel like an ass, asking how he was doing after … everything. “Thank you.”
He snorted. “Don’t mention it.” He paused for a moment in his mopping. “He hasn’t been bothering you lately, has he?”
“Christopher?” Ravenna asked, mystified.
“No …” He hadn’t spoken so much as two words together to her since that night at the Tricross. Odd. She would have thought he would be holding that over her head every chance he got. Maybe Christopher, too, was more of a gentleman than she ever gave him credit for.
“Good,” George replied, with all the finality and self-satisfaction of a judge banging his gavel. He seemed to hear it, too. He straightened, dunked the mop into the bucket again, and turned to face her, looking … sheepish? George?
“Er …” he murmured. “That is, what he did was cruel. So, he shouldn’t be bothering you more after doing it.”
“You — you think so?” Ravenna asked, smiling — not that there was any reason for her to smile.
“Why wouldn’t I think so?” George snapped.
“I — well, you always were with Christopher in school … and you and he used to play all kinds of pranks –”
“Not like that! Not — mean!”
“Smearing that honey on Sister Margery’s chair wasn’t very nice,” Ravenna pointed out.
“You remember that?” George grinned — and sobered when he saw her glaring. “Well. Um. It was nicer than the first idea.”
“What was that?”
“Nails,” George replied matter-of-factly. “Hey!” he protested when Ravenna gasped. “Hey, we didn’t go through with it! And I figured that it would be … um, too mean.”
Ravenna’s eyebrow went up.
“And, all right, maybe a little hard to put into practice, since we’d have to steal the hammer and the nails. And the chair, and then switch it back. But! I was the one who convinced the rest of the guys to go with the honey.”
“It would be easier to get the honey,” Ravenna admitted.
“Yeah — and the idea of Sister Margery walking around all day with a chair stuck to her ass was wicked funny, even if it didn’t quite happen that way.”
“Sorry. Bottom,” he replied — but there was a twinkle in his eyes.
“George!” Ravenna shouted — but there was a giggle in her voice.
He grinned at her — and she grinned at him — and she really needed to back off before she did or said something stupid. “Er,” she said, “Well, maybe I should — leave you alone — let you finish. You know. So you have enough time to get ready so you can go out.”
George snorted. “Yeah, right.”
“Do you honestly think I’m getting out tonight?” There was sarcasm there — but somehow, it wasn’t biting or cutting. It was just … George’s way of talking. That was all. “I’m never getting finished with this floor.”
“Are you sure? Can’t you –” Ravenna looked from side to side and lowered her voice. “Use magic?”
“Professor Naomi took my wand when she said I had to do this today.”
“Oh …” She was about to leave … but she couldn’t. Not when George was being denied yet another night of fun. And maybe a night of fun was just what he needed, all things considered. “Well …” She looked from side to side again. “Maybe I could, for you.”
“You can summon a Servantus?” George gasped.
Ravenna stared at him. “No …”
“No? Then how are you going to use magic?”
“I know a floor-cleaning spell?”
George blinked. “They make floor-cleaning spells?”
“Why? Why not just use a Servantus?”
“Well, not everybody can summon a Servantus. And sometimes … sometimes you just need your floor cleaned. Or your bathtub, or your dishes.” Or your close stool, she thought, blushing, not courageous enough to say it. “It works on all of them.”
George leaned back on his heels. “Prove it.”
Ravenna rolled her eyes. “I don’t need to prove anything. And don’t think you’re tricking me into anything, mister! I was going to do it anyway.” Ravenna rolled up her sleeves, took a few steps back, and aimed her wand at the puddle and bucket.
And George watched.
Ravenna tried to assemble the spell in her mind — and stopped. “Would you stop?”
“Staring at me like that!”
“Like you — oh! I don’t need you putting extra pressure on me!”
“I’m not putting any pressure on you at all, sweetie.”
“And don’t call me sweetie!” Ravenna stuck her chin up. Then, focusing all of her burning embarrassment on the puddle — and trying very hard to ignore George’s raised eyebrow and half-grin — she pointed her wand and whisper-shouted, “Lava solum!”
The puddles disappeared in a puff of flame.
“Holy shit!” George swore, jumping back. “Wright, Ravenna! You were supposed to clean the floor, not –”
“Look at it,” Ravenna replied, head cocked to one side, hand on her hip.
George looked down. So did Ravenna. She watched George’s reflection grin.
“Sweet! Hello, freedom! Delyth, you are not going to be by your lonesome tonight!”
… So he was still seeing Delyth. Not that it mattered, of course. Really, Ravenna wished them both joy of each other. Not that she knew what they saw in each other —
George bounded about the room like an excited jackrabbit, collecting mop and bucket and putting them together to give back to the Emryses, no doubt. Really, Ravenna had better just go. She started to edge her way out of the room. After all, she’d served her purpose here. And she had to do her hair if she was going out. Even if she was only going to be playing chess and giggling with Dilys, she really ought to —
“Ravenna?” George asked, and Ravenna spun around to face him. “Y-yes?”
“Thank — thank you.”
“Oh.” Ravenna felt her face begin to grow rather — pleasantly warm. “It was no trouble.”
“You still didn’t have to do it.” George hesitated. “You didn’t have to cover for me the other day, either.”
“Oh … oh, it’s what any decent person would have done.”
“Aye, right. Tell that to the Emryses.”
“Well, maybe they would see things a bit differently, since … well, it was their potion.”
“Maybe. Anyway, thank you.”
“You’re — you’re welcome. Anyway, I should –”
“Hey –” George touched her arm, lightly — but it stopped her as surely as a brick wall dropped into the middle of her path. “If Christopher or any of those arseholes bother you again, you tell me, all right?”
“Because I’ll set ’em straight. I promise.”
“George, you don’t — you don’t have to do that.”
He shrugged. “It’s only what any decent person would do.”
And Ravenna grinned.
“Then, thank you, George. Thank you very much.”