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Julius Scrimgeour for Bella Scrimgeour.
The answer to the question "What happens when your family's reputation is a disaster?"
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Xylobium in Bloom
January 13th, 1889 - McPadraic Estate Private Gardens

The first week back at PSYR had been exactly as she remembered it and exactly what she expected from it. So Alexandra did what she had been doing since she was fifteen, she played the lady masked, did as she was told and kept her curious mind for home or her room once her roommate was asleep. And what a curious mind it had been. She hadn’t been able to get past the behaviour of the family’s new chef. Not that she was worried he meant harm, simply that his story didn’t make sense with the bad French yet fluent German.

Returning home Saturday morning lead to a day where she didn’t have time to even think about getting answers and by mid Sunday morning Alexandra just needed to get out of the house. Thankfully the governesses were too busy with the younger ones to offer to join her and her sister was too busy doing some form of art. But it could never be that simple. On her way out to the family gardens, Alex as intercepted by her stepmother, who was going on and on about the latest Witch Weekly. Out of sheer desperation, she promised to read it on her walk. Out of which promise she did, most of it at least.

Soon enough she found herself in the backer corner of the grounds, where her mother had had a range of flowers bedded. There was a long wooden bench under the shade of a large tree. It had been her relaxing space for as long as she could remember. Away from the family, but close enough her father wouldn’t toss a fit.

The WW was resting by her side forgotten as she observed the flowers and enjoyed the peace. At least until she heard footsteps approaching and her temper flared up. Had her stepmother actually followed her? She promised to read it.

“You couldn’t wait until I got back? If you must know, the quiz said I’m going to die alone” she snapped thinking it was the woman before turning to look at the person.

Alexandra turned bright red.

“Mr... Mr Koch... I’m sorry, I thought you were... well someone else...”

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The Witch Weekly had been one of Ahmet’s earlier introductions to English. It had certainly been... an interesting look into British upper class priorities, to say the least.

He liked to save a paper or two for when he thought his lot was shit.

But when he wandered into the garden, he was not contemplating the woes of fallen women who might never experience pregnancy again (though that did make fallen women sound mildly more appealing). His brow furrowed in confusion as a woman’s voice snapped off in English, and he looked to and fro ‘lest he hadn’t noticed another’s approach. His steps slowed. Was that...

It was. The quietly smoldering firecracker from the kitchen last week: Miss McPadraic.

“Sometimes dying alone is less lonesome,”
he said ‘conversationally’, though the corner of his mouth was quirked.

Not that someone like Miss McPadraic had that option.

His eyes flitted past her. Around her. No chaperone? Ugh, Allah Allah.

“I’ll just be a moment,”
he reassured, picking up his pace once more.
Alexandra nodded lightly, her head moved back around as her eyes glued themselves to the flowers. The young woman willed her blush to die away and for her heart to stop pounding in her chest. It was an honest mistake, and it wasn’t like the staff didn’t know she would snap at her stepmother and fight with her father. She had little doubt the chef would have been told all about it by now. Father might pay them well to keep family information private outside their home, but rumours still happened within the walls.

Besides. This might be her chance to get some answers. The thought of not being chaperoned didn’t even pass through her head.

She picked up the Witch Weekly and placed it on her lap, crossing her hands on top of it. “What brings you out here?” she asked in German since he seemed to be comfortable in that language.

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The staff were still shaken by the most recent departures, so to say. He had heard murmurs of the last cook’s fate, though not so much about the actual inhabitants of the house. Yet, anyway.

He didn’t slow when she made her intentions of conversation clear – if anything, he sped up. Last thing he needed was to look like he’d be knocking McPadraic’s daughter up, let alone one of the maids.

“Practicing your German?”
he called back, now crouching by a row of flowers.

He leaned in to sniff, then plucked a petal and rubbed it between his finger and thumb. Looked like a tulip, smelled like a tulip...
Alexandra watched him, slightly annoyed he avoided the question. Perhaps she was just spoilt by the maids who told her exactly what she asked for. Annoying and puzzling. Was it a natural response or was he just use to hiding?

“Would you prefer this language then?” she asked in French, head and eyes moving away as he dismantled the flower. “You shouldn’t do that, the flower will probably die now” she slipped back to English with a note of annoyance in her tone.

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Though it shared nothing in common with German or Turkish, some of the sentence was close enough to English that he could get some gist of it after contemplation. But she was already onto the next thing before he could sort it out.

She was not the first to fancy treating him stupid, and would probably not be the last... though he had noticed a decline in that sort of treatment since he had started working in higher-end cuisine. A lot of people had tried to speak to him in French, even in Manchester.

But, Ahmet decided to play along. He tilted his head like a quizzical deer – and then, still much like a quizzical deer, popped the petal in his mouth and chewed.

He scrunched his nose. More savory than the tulips back home, but still distinctly tulip.

“Ever had tulip ice cream?”
Alexandra was not trying to treat him as stupid, it was more the fact he was destroying her mothers’ flowers for no good reason. That was until he placed the petal within in mouth. He was destroying them to eat them? She looked at him in a mixture of curiosity, horror and bewilderment. A confused smile played along her lips as she stood and walked to the edge of the flowers, although she kept an appropriate distance between them.

“Never. Sounds like an adventure. Do you make it?”

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It was hard to tell whether it was the petal or the look on Miss McPadraic’s face that made him chew with open relish.

“When the occasion calls for it.”

His eyes turned to Miss McPadraic’s mother’s prized orchids. He’d heard it said that consumption of orchids could make one’s other appetites quite vigorous. He’d eaten plenty of orchid-containing dishes, and drank plenty of tea with it, though he couldn’t say for certain whether the orchid had made him more virile than he’d already perpetually been.

His sex drive had decreased some. Was that because Europeans didn’t know what to do with flowers?

“Plenty that can be done with those, too,”
he said with a nod toward the orchards. “Once you’re married.”

Ugh. Now he was curious.
The weekly was rolled up and she held it with both hands behind her back, her gaze moving between him and the flowers. “Such as what occasion?” Alex asked with curiosity, mind wondering as to why it must be a thing. It could be fun to try one day.

The blush returned at his statement and she followed his gaze to the orchards. Alex wasn’t sure she wanted to know, despite the part of her brain that was telling her to question the man on what he meant. “Such as?” she finally replied, eyes scanning to make sure no one would over hear. If Father knew she was investigating that… well she would get into trouble. Again.

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“March to May, presumably,” he said with an amused look. “That’s when the best bloom, anyway.”

There was a certain after-taste magically grown tulips had, and he wasn’t particularly fond of it.

He raised his brows, still crouched by the tulips, and plucked the remaining petals from the flower. He rested a petal on his lips as though in thought, tongue darting out across the edge of the it before pulling it into his mouth. He then rose to stand once more.

“What do they teach a Rose?”
She nodded in understanding, a good amount of time away then. Perhaps closer to the month she could talk him into making some. If she remembered.

Was she a rose? She supposed she was at least in the terms of being a student there, and while she had perfected her lady mask, Alex had never truly felt like one. For example, asking the kitchen chef questions she shouldn’t be and standing near him alone to talk. Perfect example of how she went against everything she had learnt. Yet this is who she preferred to be. Even if it meant staring at a man she hardly knew as he ate flower petals.

“A Rose is taught social graces, proper etiquette and some academics like languages. She is taught what is socially acceptable behaviour such as listening while others are speaking and contributing intelligently, yet modestly. Basically we are taught how to be a good wife for a man who is highly involved with society” and she very much did not end it with a huffed laugh as she looked back at the flowers.

Alexandra really shouldn’t have said anything. She should have turn around and headed inside the moment he came across her.

Yet, Alex didn’t want to go.

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Miss McPadraic may not have laughed, and neither did he - out loud, at least.

“So, essentially,”
he said, in that German(?) accent, “you are taught how to speak without saying anything in English, French, and German?”

He raised the petals in his hand, looking about to eat another, but then looked back to her with smirking, lidded eyes before lowering his hand once more.

“Roses fade with the season...”
he turned, starting down the path opposite of her to take the long way around, “but I do enjoy a good rose water.”
“Essentially” she replied in German with a small smirk, looking back at him at the wrong moment. Alex once more looked away with a light blush. Was eating petals really that good for you? She supposed he was the chef.

“I suppose that’s why we are called roses, the season is when we are allowed out and are expected to bloom” she replied, watching him from the corner of her eye. “Is it much like rose tea?”

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There was method to his madness: by taking this route, he need not pass inappropriately close to make his retreat. Plausibly deniable passing paths was one thing; looking to be intentionally engaged in a conversation unsupervised, though...

Especially with her blushing and him smirking away over it.

“That would be more like chugging vinegar,”
he called back, meandering toward the other end of the garden. “Think extracts!”

Yes, yes. Essential information for a woman who would probably never be allowed to so much as touch an actual ladle.
“Oh…” not loud enough for him to hear, so she gave him a gentle nod before slowly making her way back to her seat. Making sure not to look his way again. So, he knew a lot about flowers and ate their petals. That was something towards the puzzle at least. Eventually she headed back into the house.

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