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Dressed To Suppress
30th August, 1888 — The Destiny Hotel, Aphrodite Soiree
If Calliope had spent most of the cocktail portion of the evening mingling as though she were on a mission, one could hardly blame her: she had to work in double time tonight, because Loretta was here with her. (Well. Both because Loretta was here, and because she simply had to quietly remind the guests here tonight how she had recognised Miss Valentine months ago at the Sanditon, and so really, all things considered, she had probably had some sort of hand in the triumph of this evening. Probably.)

This was the perfect opportunity for Loretta to make something of herself at long last, at any rate, and Calliope was - utterly selflessly - determined to make it happen, because if anyone required a light nudge or a hefty kick in the right direction, it was her ungainly little sister. That Odira had married well years ago had been quite the fluke, so she did not even expect that much of Loretta - and if Loretta proved a hopeless case, she supposed she could bully Barnabas Skeeter into taking her. Offering to shrink her a little might do the trick.

Mr. Skeeter was to be at their table this evening, it appeared, as well as the Scamander sister she didn't - didn't care to - know, and some more promising company in the Mulcibers and Mr. Longbottom. If Loretta was lucky, she might have a chance to be Mrs. Loretta Longbottom - but perhaps that would take more that luck alone. Calliope was pleased to see that Witch Weekly would have the most becoming view across the table over dinner - her, excellent, should she expect a special feature? - but this satisfaction flickered slightly to realise that this meant Loretta would be under close scrutiny from them, too. This could very well ruin her whole reputation, having a socially awkward sister!

Calliope turned away from the seating board placed near the doorway of the hotel dining room, drained her cocktail glass, and then made a beeline back to where she'd left Loretta with a harmless-looking friend. Once she had politely clasped her on the arm and dragged her away, she pulled up and looked at her sternly. "Have you looked at the seating chart yet?" She asked, pursing her lips slightly to demonstrate that it was a rhetorical question - because of course Loretta should have done that by now, so that she could see herself fit to get through their dinner.

Loretta had been spending a majority of the cocktail hour trying to make it look like she wasn't here at all. She didn't know how Ismene was able to handle such things so grandly. And Calliope handled them like she was a predator and the pillars of society her prey. It was a mix of awe inspiring and frightening for someone like Lorrit.

Her nerves were even more frayed when she had seen that they would be sitting with the people from Witch Weekly. How ghastly the magazine was! She had a subscription for the fashion pieces and was often scandalized by the various bits of gossip they spun so freely with no care of the consequences in the subjects lives.

Loretta had relaxed somewhat in the company of a friend but was almost instantly tense again when her elder sister led her away. "Oh, yes!" She declared, probably a little too enthusiastically because at least she had done one thing right. Well, she thought so? She felt a need to prove that she had seen the seating chat, even so. "We'll be sitting with the Witch Weekly people, the Mulcibers, Longbottoms, Miss Scamander, Mister Skeeter and a couple of other gentleman."
[-] The following 1 user Likes Loretta Browne's post:
   Elias Grimstone

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Calliope did not understand how Loretta could sound so cheery about it, even if she had proven not entirely useless. Still, she scarcely expected knowing the names of the company they were set to be in had been enough time or grounding to prepare her sister for the reality of this: Loretta had never appeared to function well under pressure.

"Then you understand the severity of the situation," Calliope intoned, keeping her voice low so as to prevent the rest of the party overhearing their discussion of strategy. "Witch Weekly, Loretta. One negative impression could drag down the whole family and the rest of your chances, you know," she impressed (what sliver of a chance of marriage she had thus far possessed, that was, which was - debatable). "I don't want to see a fork out of place, or hear a single awkward silence  - or any umms and ahhs for that matter, they'll think you have a stutter," she began, wondering how much time she had to tick things off before the guests all went through. "Do try not to bring too much of yourself to the table."

[-] The following 1 user Likes Calliope Zabini's post:
   Roberto Devine

Loretta was almost immediately frazzled when Calliope spoke about Witch Weekly. She did not want to be the cause for the Browne familys name to be dragged down. Oh, Merlin. She was almost immediately fretful. "I'll try my best, Calliope," Loretta said, already quite certain that she would probably commit all of the sins mentioned despite her best efforts. "What do you mean by too much of myself?" Ugh, society life was hard.

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Dear Merlin, even Loretta’s assurances were unconvincing!

Calliope had always thought their mother was an admirable woman, but she really oughtn’t have had so many children, when she had so clearly lost her touch with all her progeny post-Calliope. Odira and Gideon had countless flaws between them, and Loretta was lacking in all elegance and charm, and, indeed, was only saved from being the titled disgrace of the family by the horror that was Prudence.

“I mean,” Calliope asserted, with a no-nonsense glimmer in her eyes, “you must be a better version of yourself.” (Or anyone but herself; that would do just as well.) “If anyone asks you questions about yourself,” - heavens, she pitied their company at the table already - “and I cannot save you by engaging them myself,” (she was a saint, she knew, so Loretta need not praise her for her boundless goodwill) “you must conjure up a pretty lie or two. No talk of books or doilies; if they ask you of suitors you may of course play coy, but pretend there have at least been some - and you shan’t give them any fodder for false gossip about the family, so don’t sit there like a useless lump, but distract them with questions in return if you must.”

How the Hufflepuff would remember all this to implement it, Calliope had no idea, and not a great deal of faith.
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   Loretta Browne

Ugh, Loretta had no idea what to do or say now. If she didn't need to breathe in order to be alive, she might have not even dared breathe. How could she be a better version of herself? She could barely even be herself without it causing some sort of offense to her sister.

"But what if they like doilies?" Loretta asked timidly. She did make such pretty ones - among other things. Was she permitted to talk about those? Though she supposed a man wouldn't really care to discuss the difference between the variety of knitting stitches that existed in the world and how they differed from crochet. And how working with lace was a complete nightmare.

This was all too much to remember. Couldn't she just pretend to faint and then go home?

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All those instructions, and all Loretta could do was look at her like a lost lamb. How did the girl function in the world? How had she not died yet? Odira might have gone and lost her mind, but at least she had had half a mind to lose.

"Damn it, Loretta," Calliope said, under her breath and through gritted teeth, fighting both the urge to roll her eyes into the back of her head and to bury her head in her palms in sheer exasperation. "I will strangle myself with a blasted doily if you don't take this seriously," she impressed (or better yet, strangle Loretta if she didn't wake up). "What do you want for yourself, to be branded 'Miss Browne, Gawky And A Bore'?"

"I am," she assured when Calliope demanded that she take this seriously. It wasn't like she wanted to be publicly shamed as being ungainly. "Of course not. But I'm not poised with people like you are," Loretta pointed out. "Maybe it will be best if I mainly speak when actually spoken to? Then the worst that they might say is that I am demure." Which was true.

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"I suppose," Calliope said, wrinkling her nose in defeated agreement. The problem was Loretta inspired no confidence that she would actually be able to speak even when spoken to. And demure would only get her so far.

"Do tell me how you ever expect to get married," she chastised, with a click of her teeth and a drawn-out sigh. Demure was fine, to prove she was a well-bred young woman, but too much shyness would only mean she was forgettable. The same went for clumsiness: oh, the odd stumble over one's feet was a cheap way for a girl to garner a man's attention, Calliope had seen endless evidence of this, a real bait and hook - but do it too often, and people might begin asking whether one didn't suffer from some terrible illness.

Well, she would have to work harder on Loretta. Perhaps if this matchmaker failed to manage it, she would just have to hook a man for her sister by herself. For there were all kinds of fish in the sea, and all kinds of fishermen too: surely one of them would be willing to go digging for a clam like Loretta.

"I think I shall be a spinster," Loretta said truthfully. The idea didn't seem so bad to her. It wasn't that she didn't want to get married, of course. But it seemed rather unlikely as each day passed. "Would that really be so terrible? All husbands seem to do is die." Calliope's had died, Odiras had died. It had to be rather traumatizing an experience to go through.

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Loretta sounded so confident in the idea of spinsterhood that Calliope could almost mistake her for being proud of it. Ugh. Truly a hopeless case. How they were at all related, she would never fathom.

"And?" Calliope inquired callously, impatience eroding any veneer of sympathy she might have shown. She was practised enough at pretending she had suffered for her husband's death, for loss of him - little did the rest of the world know she would have suffered more to have him, and have to tend to his incapacities, or have his schemes come to light. She felt no pity for Odira either; her husband had been a real milksop, hardly someone anyone should grieve long for.

But thinking of grieving put her in an ill-humour, and Loretta's self-effacing nature was exhausting. "Then what have you to fear from marriage?" She asked snidely, her tone lowered but razor-sharp. "You needn't worry. Your husband will probably be dead before he even has time to perceive how bored he is of you."

Calliope rolled her eyes. "Now come along. It's time to eat."

"Calliope!" She shushed, looking around to make sure no one had heard her sister. She might not have understood her sisters need to make a splash on society but she doubted Callipe would want people saying she held no respect for the dead or some such nonsense. Loretta certainly would not want it said of herself!

"All right, sister," Loretta said, still mildly perturbed as they made their way to the table. Maybe if she was really lucky, Witch Weekly lady would take just enough notice of her to please Calliope but not enough to realize how awkward Loretta was.

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