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Up Against The Wall
#1
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Late, 18th (19th?) January, 1890 — Rear of the Leaky Cauldron, London
“Bugger!” She exclaimed, rapping at the brick with a loosely-held wand. “Open up, wouldn’t you?”

She could have sworn the brick in question was the brick that would let her into Diagon Alley. (She was fairly certain this was the right wall; she certainly remembered ordering a drink or ...several at the Leaky Cauldron not so long ago, and she definitely hadn’t made it far since then.) Could her memory possibly be faulty? Thinking straight was becoming more arduous the longer she stood here, swaying slightly on the spot.

Merlin, she had done this countless times in her life; though perhaps during daylight hours, there was such a bustle of traffic in and out of the Alley that she often didn’t need to tap the bricks herself? Perhaps they changed every so often, like the passwords to common rooms at Hogwarts had used to. But if they did, who could expect her to keep track of that? The thought was outrageous.

She continued to tap at the bricks - not entirely sure, in her haze, which one of them she was supposed to be aiming for anymore. She felt her hand-eye coordination might be a touch off. Blast everyone who’d gone to bed at such a timid hour! Where was a hand when she needed it?

Just as she was on the verge of tossing away her wand in capitulation, however, Ester felt a change in the air of someone else’s breath, felt eyes on her. (Drunk or not, she was not a stranger to the sensation.) She tossed her head over her shoulder to test the theory, inciting a veritable rush of dizziness as she did. Whoever they were, Ester raised an eyebrow. “Enjoying the show?”
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Quite what her mother had been thinking by purchasing her tickets to The Gondoliers Marlena had no idea. She had never, to the best of her knowledge, expressed any interest in the works of Gilbert and Sullivan, nor indeed in musical theatre in general, and yet she had been presented with the gift at Christmas and her response had as a matter of form been positive. Thankfully her mother had also assumed she would want company and thus her friends had been roped into proceedings, which in Febby’s case was a balm and Begonia’s had been the usual blend of torture and delight.

After bidding the other two goodnight Marlena opted to enjoy the chilly night air after what felt like weeks in the theatre and walk the ten minutes between the Savoy and Charring Cross Road. Being around Begonia always required a cooling off before she returned home and she never felt entirely comfortable apparating in the streets of London – one never did know if they were being watched after all.

The pub was surprisingly active for the time of night but Marlena paid it no mind: after walking through some of the less salubrious streets of London nothing in the Leaky Cauldron was especially noteworthy. Parched from her walk she bought herself a drink, all the better to help her sleep after that racket, and knocked it back as she approached the backdoor, doubting anybody in the place would take it upon themselves to reproach her for being unladylike when even necking gin she was still the best behaved person in the place.

And outside the backdoor too apparently.

"It's no worse than what I've just seen at the Savoy." She pointed at the wall as she thumbed away a splash of gin at the corner of her mouth. "Is it acting up? Everything seems to be at the moment."


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#3
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Ester eyed the young woman who had floated out the door, wafting the scent of gin with her. Certainly not the sort to loiter in the Leaky Cauldron at this hour; nor the supposed kind to wander London alone. Not the sort of person, then, that Ester usually mixed with these days. (For starters, she was dressed far too conservatively.)

And she seemed far too sharp, as well, her tone made more matter-of-fact in friction with Ester’s drunken haze. What on earth else was acting up, anyway? “You tell me,” she said with a pout. She twirled her wand slightly as she lowered it and backed up to lean against the wall, tilting her head at the newcomer in an insouciant pose and quite forgetting, in the process of it, that the patch of wall she’d taken for her support was the place she had just been trying to get through.

(She was doing ever so well tonight.)

Still, it was the girl’s fault, for piquing her curiosity about the damned Savoy. Her domain was Holywell Street and all its illicit trade; but it was set just next to the Strand, and she was sure the stage was destined to be her next conquest, wasn’t it? Her mouth quirked upwards at the girl, observing her with interest as she rearranged her priorities. “What did you see?”


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#4
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The Gondoliers,” Lena replied with distaste, rolling her eyes despite the darkness. It was definitely something worth expressing her irritation about even if nobody could see it – though this woman looked as though she’d been out here more than long enough for her eyes to adjust to the dark. Had she just stumbled? She was certainly moving rather languidly, not unlike the women Lena had passed by on Bedford Street so as to avoid the sea of unfortunate itinerants living around Trafalgar Square but the timbre of the woman’s voice didn’t match the vice she imagined.

Marlena Scamander was no idiot but she was young and in her world the notion of a nice, well-brought up woman becoming anything but a wife or a spinster was a little too much of a mental leap.

“It was dire. I could murder another drink but, well-” she glanced up at the black abyss above, wondered briefly how people lived without seeing the stars at all, and the light inside the pub glowed just long enough for her to catch a glimpse of the other woman’s smirking face.

“I really ought to go.”


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#5
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“Ah,” Ester said knowingly, understanding the young woman’s critical reaction and decidedly amused by it all the same. The Gondoliers. Ester had seen the posters, and that had been plenty. (The Gilbert & Sullivan sort was just a little bit too twee, in general, and certainly wouldn’t have the drama to sustain her.)

Ester perked up at the notion of another drink, even as the girl said she had to go. She didn’t know what had scared her off, precisely, but it could not faze her, for something always scared them.

It was always worth a try, of course, to have a little fun and possibly a free drink thrown into the bargain. “Oh, but you must stay and have another first,” Ester exclaimed, as if they were perfect friends already, leaning forwards a little to insist it. “The wall’s broken for now anyway,” she said artfully, supposing she would need a more steadfast argument to drag some well-to-do little bird to more late-night drinking. She fashioned her smirk into the most innocent expression she could muster. “Come and critique the show with me while we wait.”
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#6
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Under normal circumstances Marlena would have jumped over her own mother to investigate what had, or could, possibly have happened to the wall to make it inaccessible but she was also rather flattered at being invited to stay. As a rule she didn’t make new friends – Febby and Begonia had served her perfectly well for most of her life but now they were living different lives and she was, well, quite lonely. Tonight had only made matters worse: the things they had in common were dwindling every day and Marlena had been dreading having to approach new people.

Especially women. Men were impressed or confounded by her intellect, or they simply had to work with her so it didn’t matter whether they liked her as such, but women were far trickier.

“I suppose I could,” she replied, glancing at the wall one last time before making her mind up. “One or two won’t hurt and it’s not as though I’d know how to fix it,” she laughed, slightly offkey, and thought of three spells she could use to diagnose the stone.

“Lets go in before we freeze to death.” She offered her hand, having sudden vision of the little matchgirl frozen against a wall.


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#7
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There, then. She had quite convinced her. Ester did not linger long enough to let the other woman reconsider. With a smile, she curled her hand into the proferred one, and then pressed past in the dark to pull her back in towards the dim glow of the Cauldron’s interior.

“Gin, was it?” Ester proclaimed, half to her newfound company and half to the keeper of the bar, signalling for another for them each. She did not let go of the young woman until she had guided her towards a seat, and only freed her hand when she had perched upon her own. “Well, that’s much better, isn’t it?” Ester said, shaking the last of the winter cold from her shoulders, sure that the next glass would do well to warm her insides once more. And now that it was light, it allowed her a better look at this stranger, her eyes raking over her in something like intrigue. She had refined features and was well put-together, but even for all her matter-of-fact nature, some clear-headed assurance in her character, Ester could not fathom what a proper young lady like her would be doing walking out alone.

Or being so easily tempted into staying for a nightcap with a stranger, broke wall or not, but Ester was by no means complaining. “Shall we toast?” She said with a smile.


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#8
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The brief gleam of moonlight outside had not done the other woman justice but now in the glow of the pub Lena was beginning to regret her choice. Her new friend had taken them through the pub like a hot knife through butter and Lena had the sense that this was far from an unusual night for her – indeed many patrons of the pub were casting glances towards them that suggested to Marlena they were not only despairing of the other woman’s character but becoming dubious of her own.

“To broken walls?” Lena suggested wryly, conscious that several of the men were edging closer with strange looks in their eyes, though the other woman seemed either not to notice or care. Fucking Merlin perhaps she was a doxy after all? One whose appearance and voice were at odds with the company she apparently kept but nevertheless someone to be pitied and avoided at all costs.

“Or something more fun?” She asked, feeling like a rabbit in front of a fox and quite unable to stop herself putting her neck in it’s jaw. She was only human after all and the warmth of the pub coupled with being able to see the other woman properly were not particularly conducive to making good choices. She knocked back her gin feeling at this point she might as well.
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#9
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If there was any alteration in the younger woman’s attitude - brought on by bringing their interaction into the light - it was to her credit, Ester decided, that she had not backed immediately away as if afraid of catching something. Or it was blissful oblivion, but Ester wouldn’t begrudge her that either.

Besides. She was already proving a little more interesting a subject than Ester had expected; she shifted in her chair to regard her better, her mouth curled upwards and her eyes not leaving the stranger for a moment. “Well, that all depends on your idea of something more fun, doesn’t it?” She countered, resisting the urge to smirk a little too fully. Whatever could the girl suggest? Nothing terribly shocking, at any rate. She knew the careful lines within with young ladies were brought up, the limits of the middle-class imagination. She did not mean to corrupt them all, of course - but all the same, she was interested in this young woman, dissatisfied with her evening of musical theatre and daring enough to sit here with a perfect stranger at this hour, oblivious or not.
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#10
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Marlena felt lightheaded. To say the evening had escalated would be an understatement but in fairness her earlier predictions of how tonight would go had no included knocking back gin with a possible harlot. Would she have avoided this had she known?

Lena knew herself enough to know that she very emphatically would not have done that.

“Er,” she said cleverly, cursing herself that the mind she had always been so proud of seemed to have filled itself with entirely inappropriate answers. How long had it been since she had first kissed Begonia and yet she could still recall the soft press of her lips and how that had made her feel? Was it that memory that had swayed her into coming inside the pub with a woman she ought to know better than to associate with.

Lena couldn’t stop the flush that burned up her neck, displaying an embarrassing lack of control she wondered if she would ever learn.

“What do you like to do?” She asked, deflection her only weapon remaining.


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#11
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That had stumped the woman, then. Ester eyed the rising flush on her skin through lowered eyelashes. Or perhaps it hadn’t.

“Oh, all sorts, but the best things can hardly be spoken of in company,” she demurred, making some show of decorum... although it was slightly betrayed by quite how close she leant in towards the young woman to murmur it.

Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a cloaked gentleman whisk through from the doorway to the wall - no longer playing up, apparently - although, as it happened, Ester was no longer in any hurry to end the night here.

“Nor should a enchanting young thing like you be out so late, not here,” Ester added sternly all of a sudden, as though she had had nothing to do with waylaying her in the first place, and as though what she suggested next was the height of innocence. “We should really be drinking at mine.”


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#12
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The shudder that passed through her body at the low, sultry tones was enough to confirm to Marlena that she truly had been wanting for company over the last few years and hadn’t even noticed it. It was quite impossible to mistake the other woman’s meaning – or at least she hoped it was. Visions of soft skin and illicit kisses filled her mind and Lena felt warmth swell in the depths of her stomach. 

Merlin, what if she was a prostitute though? Was there a polite way to ask?

“Your…your home? Is it especially far?” Lena asked, face flushed. “I could buy a bottle of gin here to take with us but I don’t know that my funds could stretch further,” she said, unconsciously licking her lips, trembling at the ghost of a kiss she may only be imagining.


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