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The Bet
July 8th, 1889 — The Golden Hearth Theatre

Felicity slipped out of the backstage area and into the front of house with a bit of a stretch. Her fists raised high, her back arched, and an oh so pleasurable moan escaped past her lips with a sigh of content. Life was good, save for the corset, the night was near over, and the remaining patrons were quite literally being thrown out by William if they didn't have the coin for a spare cot. Most of them were too drunk to leave on their own, and the final number meant the show was over. What happened to them beyond their door was none of her concern.

She lowered her arms and took a look about. The place was a bit of a wreck. Dirty dishes scattered among tables set towards the back, rotten vegetables littered the floor, and butt imprints wore out what was left of the cushioned seats closer to the stage. She took a mental note to order some more straw and have Tugnug and Tookey re-stuff them, though that would be for another day.

Her graceful figure trekked over to the bar to order herself an ale which Nanny gladly gave over, and then she slipped off to her little alcove in the corner of the room to revel in a job well done, they had a full house tonight. A smirk danced over her expression and her hand slipped into her pocket and pulled out a deck of cards, shuffling them idly. She called out, "Anyone up for a game or two?!" Her words were more towards the staff, but if a patron sober enough to respond wanted to play, why not? All the more for her to gain!

Tag: @Reuben Crouch

[Image: qEjS5UV.png]

Ben didn't always go out to shows like this one, but when he did, he was never the first to leave. He certainly wanted his money's worth after paying the ticket price, so why leave early? He stayed until the end of the last number, and even afterwards was polishing off his drink while the half-giant usher started shooing people out. Ben hadn't had nearly as much to drink as some of the patrons, and that was purposeful; he wanted to be sober enough to enjoy the show — and frankly, although he would never say as much to any of the staff, he could get better liquor elsewhere if his goal was just to get drunk. Far better liquor. The Gold Hearth was a gem for what it was, but at the end of the day it was still a seedy little theater in the Hogsmeade slums. It wasn't the finest of drinking establishments, and as someone who regularly flirted with rich girls in order to get invited to parties he didn't really belong at, Ben was well versed in fine drinking establishments.

The fact that he'd been a semi-regular patron for the past few months meant the usher was willing to overlook him while he sipped the remaining half of his drink, and as such Ben was still at the back of the theater he heard someone ask if anyone was up for a game. Ben didn't know what the game was, but as his current level of inebriation there wasn't much he wouldn't be up for.

"Am I included in that offer?" he asked, striding forward into the more well-lit area of the audience seating.
The final act, Tookey, finished her song, thankfully. Felicity tended to put the girl last out of kindness. By the end of the night most were too drunk to make out the difference between a banshee and a siren, and even if they could their aim wasn't worth a damn which meant any flying produce missed the girl. She gave some applause as the half goblin curtsied and exited the stage.

Then a man appeared in the mid-room light. Felicity appraised him with her eyes. She had noticed him in her joint a number of times, and as she recalled he tended to be one of the few to treat the performers with a bit of respect, not to mention always stayed til the last act. She flashed him a smile. "A conscious patron, fancy that." She mused. The tip of her boot pushed a chair out into the light. "Have a seat."

"I notice you've taken a bit of an interest in our diamond in the rough." Just for a moment the cards were set down so she could light the candle mid table with her wand. The light revealed what the shadows cloaked, her beauty, and the look in her eyes stated she knew just what kind of card she was. "Felicity Gallagher, Phil's sister. You?" She said taking a sip of her ale. Chocolate locks framed her delicate features, and doe brown hues drank him further in. Her hands picked up the deck and she began to shuffle again.

Tag: @Reuben Crouch

Ben hesitated slightly over the phrase diamond in the rough. He wasn't sure whether she was referring to the establishment — which he would admit he had taken a bit of a shine to — or the goblin performer who had just finished. While he wasn't opposed to her having a chance to perform, or anything, he wasn't exactly keen to be set up on a blind date with her. He wondered briefly if he ought to try and correct a misconception while he still had the chance — and then the light illuminated the face of the woman who had spoken. Ben was charismatic and quick-thinking, but even so he was left momentarily at a loss for words. This wasn't exactly the venue one expected to find that sort of beauty, and it surprised him.

"Reuben Crouch," he said after making a quick recovery. He took the chair she'd nudged out and set his drink down on the table, having all but forgotten it for the moment. "Delighted to meet you. I've heard so much about you," he said. The first bit was sincere, the latter merely flattery. Maybe he'd heard something about her before, but nothing that had registered in his memory — in any case, he hadn't had any reason to think her memorable before meeting her. Women generally liked to think everyone talked about them favorably when they weren't around, though, at least in Ben's experience, and there wasn't any harm in implying that was the case.
“Oh, is that so? I don’t get out much, my brother usually handles the publicity of this place, so I’m curious. What do they say Mr. Crouch?--"

The question didn't get so much as the space of a breath of air before Nanny came over, "Crouch!?" Felicity's eyes flickered over to the half hag whose own eyes were filled with desires untold, but Felicity didn't get a chance to let her down gently as the woman was all too quick to continue in a voice threaded with giggles.  "Oh my well how is the world's most eligible bachel--" She paused mid sentence as a look of utter disappointment flooded her features and recognition took hold, "Your not Mr. Aldous Crouch."

Felicity had to suppress a sigh at this point as she shook her head, "No this is a Rueben Crouch, and what you get for ease dropping. Now can we continue?” She asked Nanny who decided to go back to her cleaning in defeat. Felicity's eyes moved back to Rueben, "I'm afraid she's quite star struck with him, clips out all the newspaper's pictures of him." She sighed, "Wouldn't happen to be related? Dare say Nanny might think there is hope yet." She laughed teasing of course, it was a rather ridiculous idea. Slender fingers went to work on the cards shifting them about til she flicked a few back and forth between them to make one hand of two cards and the other of three cards.

“Are you a gambling man Mr. Crouch?” She asked setting the deck in the center of the table and flipping the top card over after she dealt them both in. Nine of clubs. She took a gulp of her beer, tongue trailing over her upper lip in an effort to chase down the froth in the aftermath. "The game is Ecarte. Mind you I don't play for coin, so I'll cut to the chase and ante up with a dare. Should I win the next three rounds you'll perform for my show tomorrow night what do you say?" She waited for him to put in his own proposal.  

Ecarte was a popular card game of the period using a 32 card deck. Each suite went from 7 to King with the Ace ranked between the ten and Jack.
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   Aldous Crouch
Ben was about to make something up to answer her question (easily and frequently done in this particular style of flattery) when he was interrupted by... what could charitably be called a woman, though she definitely had at least one non-human ancestor somewhere in her family tree. Ben tried his best to be open-minded about things like half-breed rights (half because he believed in them and half because an outspoken liberal political opinion would annoy his brothers), but he couldn't help the dread that settled in his stomach immediately as she approached. He knew that tone, and that giggle, and this was not what he'd bargained for when he'd sat down to a game of cards with a beautiful woman —

Except she wasn't talking about him at all, it turned out. Ben had no idea what to think of that, except... Aldous? Why the hell was she interested in Aldous? He was the definition of uninteresting, particularly to the opposite gender. The dictionary entry for boring may very well have had his picture in it.

"He's my brother," Ben admitted, head still reeling a bit from the unexpected turn the conversation had taken. He had to mentally move on fairly quickly in order to keep up with the introduction to the game. He nodded in response to her first question and mumbled, "Whenever I can get away with it." That really translated to whenever Art Pettigrew isn't around; his friend had a bit of a problem and couldn't participate (or, at least, couldn't participate now that he had things he needed his money for, like a wife and a baby), so Ben typically thought it was rude to indulge if the two were out together. Of his own accord, however, Ben hardly ever turned down a game of chance, and he never stepped away from a dare — which is what made the next thing she said all the more intriguing.

Ben picked up the card she'd dealt him and glanced at the corner of it while he considered her offer. "All three in a row?" he clarified. The odds seemed to be in his favor, unless she had a few cards tucked up her sleeve. "I'll take that bet — and if you lose, you'll be my guest for dinner," he offered with a flirtatious wink. Of course, be my guest was a little deceptive — he didn't have a home of his own and he couldn't very well invite her to the club, so it would have to be a neutral location, but Ben had no shortage of those. He'd been meeting people in little Muggle hole-in-the-wall joints around the country ever since he'd been old enough to disdain having to introduce his friends and acquaintances to Aldous.

Speaking of which. "You know my brother walks with a cane?" he said, apropos of nothing. "He can't dance. Not even a waltz. Not really most eligible bachelor material."
Felicity's gaze moved back to Rueben as the hag took her leave and she had to admit she was rather amused at the reaction Nanny had gotten out of him. "Yes, three of a kind, and you have a deal. Though are you sure you wouldn't like dinner with Nanny being the true Mr. Eligible and all? " She asked with a tease. "I never said I agreed with her." She reminded him hoping he'd let the proverbial old rope go. After all she wasn't playing cards with Aldous, nor had she agreed to go to dinner with Aldous, IF she lost.

Her gaze moved over her own cards just as the game began. She discarded two and drew two, still no good, and as the first round came to an end she laid her cards down to reveal a poor hand. "There are still two rounds." She reminded him. The second round she kept an even keel and won the match. Now it was up to a tie breaker.

"Have any talents Mr. Elligble?" She rather liked the idea of that title for him. After all he was handsome, charismatic, and who knew what else, but she was willing to find out. Her gaze looked to her cards and she bit her bottom lip slowly relinquishing it in thought, "Hmm." The third round had her in a bind, and she knew the IF had become a definite. Giving up the cards she let him win, and gathered the deck.

"So where exactly will I be your guest at and when?" She asked as she put the cards in her pocket and finished the last of her beer. A bet was a bet after all. Granted she was a bit apprehensive about leaving the theatre and it showed on her expression despite her desire to hide it.
Ben was fairly good at cards, when no one was cheating (which was only about half the time, given the crowds he tended to hang around with), and he wasn't surprised at the outcome of the match. That being said, he'd been too focused on playful banter while they were playing to give much thought to what the outcome would be if he won. He'd jokingly talked about his brief career as a professional Quidditch player when she'd asked about his talents ("The ceiling in here might be a bit too low for that," was one of the tamest jokes; "I can find a snitch better than anybody; maybe I'll show you someday," was one he probably would have forgone had he not already had a good deal to drink). But since he'd won the bet...

Normally he would have suggested a Muggle place — remote, cheap, with no one from magical society to see them and speculate about an unmarried man and woman spending the night with each other, even if it was only dinner — but seeing her look of apprehension, Ben thought better of inviting her somewhere secluded. The last thing he wanted was to make anyone feel uncomfortable, deal or no deal.

Taking a step back from the flirtatious manner he'd worn most of the evening and keeping his tone merely playful, he suggested, "Maybe we can visit La Maison de Crouch and you can bring a friend. Introduce her to my brother." He would have mentioned her by name if he'd caught it, but if Miss Gallagher had ever specified he hadn't been paying enough attention to remember. He hadn't been thinking of that brief interruption during the card game at all, but now that the idea had occurred to him he really enjoyed the idea of forcing Aldous to interact with (and to be obstinantly polite to, as of course he would, being Aldous) such an obviously odious woman.

Obviously odious to Aldous because she was by no means conventionally attractive and because Aldous would likely be put off by her mannerisms, her career, and her poverty. Ben had no personal experience with her but was willing to believe she was a perfect pleasant human being (er, part human being), when she wasn't raving about his brother.
Felicity smiled and laughed as he spoke of his prowess in the ever popular wizarding sport, quidditch, but made no mention of her own talents. Those he would have to work out on his own, or rather take a minute to observe, and observe he did-- but not what she thought he would. "Maybe we can visit La Maison de Crouch and you can bring a friend. Introduce her to my brother." He said as a sense of weariness flickered across her features. She visibly paused in thought, her features shifting into an inward monologue as she thought the invitation over.

Her gaze danced over to Nanna, who she knew would be more than appreciative for the opportunity to meet Aldous. They then slipped down and then back up to him. The inner diatribe having ceased and filled with an appreciation as she stood and slipped around the table. Her finger tips brushed the grain of the wood, trailed up his arm arm with a feather's touch and gave his shoulder a squeeze. She bent over him, the heat of her words on his ear, "I'd like that."

She straightened up and moved from behind him to beside him leaning against the table as her hand reversed it's journey and fingers passed over his own digits, ever careful to stroke the longest finger between finger and thumb in what would seem like idle amusement. "Though perhaps another day, granted soon, but  it's quite late for dinner Mr. Eligible, I dare say even too late to safely trek past our door." The slums had many things that went bump in the night.

"Perhaps, you would like to stay here for the night?" Her voice was like silk and her smile divine. She let the question linger in his mind before adding, "We have a few spare beds in the back." Did he really think she'd make it that easy for him? Her smile broadened and her hand left his to push her hair back, the slender nape of her neck revealed beneath thick dark brown ringlets, though the tease left her voice and her eyes headed off across the room to nothing in particular. "Besides, I may need you to prove your snitch finding capabilities for me tomorrow, dodgy buggers." She laughed and let her hair drop looking back to him. "We lost two during a traveling act we hosted six months back, they occasionally flicker into view, but haven't caught them yet. The bludgers were a bloody nightmare, nearly took out the front row." Her head tilted. "So, what do you say?" Her gaze dared him once more, didn't he want to play more than just a card game?

She absolutely had him for a minute there. No way in hell Ben was turning down an invitation to stay the night with her (his mind had jumped to wondering what sort of undergarments a woman like her might be wearing — certainly something sexy, if she worked at a vaudeville place, right?) He wasn't planning to pay extra money to spend the night in a room full of sweaty, drunk men, though. He only grew more disappointed as she spoke of catching snitches literally. Maybe his flirting throughout the night hadn't gone quite as well as he'd thought, or maybe she was just a step ahead of him and playing hard to get. Either way, it seemed clear that he'd plateaued for the day.

"I think I'll manage my way home," he said, keeping his tone jovial despite his disappointment. "Nothing in Hogsmeade is more dangerous than what I've come across in foreign crypts, I'll wager," he joked, referencing his career as a freelance Cursebreaker. Had he told her about that while they were playing? He couldn't recall now, but he supposed it didn't matter. She'd know now, at any rate.
She saw the delight in his eyes til she spoke of less desirable activities and laughed, her voice carrying it's own melody. That was fun, and that was what she was all about. Her body leaned over him once more as he sat there, hands drawing down his chest and pressing into his flesh just beneath the fabric. "Just think if you can show me how to find a snitch, then I very well may be interested in taking a ride on your broomstick." Her finger tips paused just above the hem of his pants, her breathe was hot on his ear, and followed by a little nibble. A delightful hum and then a kiss on the cheek. "Goodnight Mr. Eligible, and though I'm not into the whole dead thing, I sure would like to see if your still a Chaser after all." If that wasn't a big enough hint then she figured he was about as dense as the wall.

Her presence withdrew from him all together, fingers curling to nails which lightly clawed upwards before she stepped backwards and turned away heading no doubt to the back of house where her room was. "If your interested do stop by tomorrow, until dinner, tah-tah!" She called back and then a door was heard closing. A clear of the throat from the half giant usher emerged, "No stay, must go." He said with a grunt to Ben. Then as if in a cruel taunt a fluttering glitter of gold with wings as rapid as a humming bird flew before him. It was indeed a snitch.

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   Ophelia Devine

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