Herbert was grinding his teeth, and his fangs kept getting in the way. "But Vati-"
"No." His father folded his arms, the dark cloak swirling around him. "You will keep to your manners. That means no pinning, no blackmail and no biting unless he asks for it first."
Herbert tried to shift his expression from annoyed to crestfallen, but it didn't work on the elder von Krolock. It never did, when there was a new girl around, and of course stupid Sarah had to be stuck on stupid Alfred and his stupid, perfect behind.
Fine, then. He did so have manners. Well, had. But it was like dancing, you never really forgot this stuff. It took just one attempt to do it again to get started.
And Vati hadn't said 'no pursuing'.
Herbert tackled the task as methodically as the driest scientists in the library books. Vati would be proud. Or exasperated, or both, which was best of all.
The point was that with Sarah... occupied, Alfred was free to roam the castle, but far too timid to actually explore. That left few enough places where Herbert could lounge around decoratively, his legs crossed at the ankles to show off new stockings, and be sure that Alfred would trip over him.
It didn't count as pinning if Alfred landed in his lap by his own actions, after all.
Of course, the boy's next action was to jump up, stammer and flee, but manners meant being satisfied with small measures fo progress, too.
Koukol was not much to look at, but he was an efficient servant, and Herbert told Alfred as much when he walked on the boy washing his clothes in the bathroom.
Unfortunately, it looked like Alfred did own several sets of that unimaginative outfit.
"He even knows how to wash lace to bring it back to whiteness without weakening it," Herbert informed the boy. "Just leave things on the floor, that's what I always do."
Alfred threw his wet shirt a doubtful look. "I think he'd spit on it," he murmured. His lips were twitching.
Herbert manfully swallowed down his delighted gasp.
3. Table manners
Herbert could tell the signs easily. The mooning at the window, the pale, shaking hands, wide eyes restlessly shifting with every movement of silken curtains.
"Would you like some food?"
Alfred's lips were pulled back over his fangs, which looked particularly fetching. Of course, he then had to wince and clap his hand over his mouth.
"Bottled," Herbert amended. "We restock each time there's a war, they happen often enough." He looked down on his fingernails mournfully. "Fresh blood is a... treat."
He was still sulking at Sarah over that, even if she was brilliant at curling hair.
The next step in Herbert's campaign required foresight, a letter to Aunt Erzsi, and coordinating his actions with Koukol of all people. Alfred had given in and stopped laundering his own clothes after all, and it was a pleasure to watch him (from the ledge outside his window) as he found his drab outfit replaced with something with much more style. Modern, as well, because Herbert knew that an outfit as gorgeously elaborate as his own required far more practice and panache to put on and carry off.
Still, even a modern coat on the boy gave Herbert the excuse to offer help with his bow-tie. Alfred simply stared at him with confusion, then nodded his assent, which was a vast improvement over screaming and running away.
5. Special occasions
The storm was shaking the roof over their heads, a large stone from a tower's rampart already victim to a lightning strike. Wolves were making a ruckus in an attempt to cut through the wind and thunder, and at times like these Herbert thought that Uncle Vlad's pets were only good for mediocre fur carpets.
Herbert was even less amused when his comfortable and safe perch under the stairs was invaded, even though Alfred had brought mulled wine.
"It's hard to hear your own thoughts," the boy offered wistfully. "In Königsberg, we used to have mulled wine and talk all night when storms like these came, because no-one could fall asleep anyway. Or someone'd read a book out loud, but they never asked me, because they only wanted to listen to the guys who bought the drinks."
Herbert would never, ever admit to giving the boy a pleading look. He would admit though that Alfred had a nice voice, especially when reading Heine.
By spring, Herbert was feeling good enough about his newest diversion that he decided to set his thoughts to paper.
"You write poetry?" Alfred leaned over with one hand on Herbert's shoulder.
Herbert pouted. "You've read my poetry already."
"Radgeber für Verliebte: Wie mann ein Herz gewinnt. Did you actually read the front page?"
That sent Alfred scurrying for the book, and blushing red when he confirmed the inscription.
Herbert was sure the dedication on the new edition would have him blushing even more. And it had been a very entertaining winter, with no boredom yet despite four months of stalking Alfred. Politely.
Sometimes Vati did have good ideas.