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When You Are Shy All that Is Left Are Banal Words
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October 16, 1890 - Wellingtonshire at a Generic Dinner Party

The summer after Marie-Louise’s parents had passed away her godmother had convinced her husband that the best way to honor the late Mr. Skovgaard was to sponsor his favorite Danish quidditch team. Malou for her part didn’t think it truly necessary but had recognized it as the tactic it really was: a hobby. Mr. Bagshot had recently retired from the ministry and his wife had capitalized on his love of quidditch and the fondness of their old friend to give him a new hobby. Mr. Bagshot had taken to the task quite well and as such Malou was often asked to attend dinners in which the Bagshots entertained at least one member of the quidditch world. Although if Malou had it her way she likely would not attend such gatherings in the first place.

This evening Malou had been placed next to a quiet man by the name of Mr. Grimstone. She could not deny that the gentleman was pleasant on the eyes, although she suspected that was why Mrs. Bagshot had placed her next to him, in an attempt to remind her that there was still time to find a husband. Malou’s attempts to feign disinterest can come to naught on the subject with Mrs. Bagshot. It wasn’t that she didn’t want a husband, she just didn’t want the sort that her godmother felt she ought to have. They would only shackle her down and all the hard work she had put into her dream of becoming a healer would have come to absolutely nothing other than long days stuck in a drawing room wearily hoping for some new excitement to come about.

Her disinterest in such matches aside she was still expected to be polite in such company and so when Mrs. Bagshot looked to her right and Malou followed the cue to speak to Mr. Grimstone she was was forced to oblige. “How are you finding the evening?” Malou’s quiet voice began again the the banality of the subject, almost an obligation at events such as this.


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#2
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A Bartonburg dinner was one thing, a dinner in Wellingtonshire quite another. Nevertheless, he was in no position to turn down the invitation that had an evident business agenda to it, in spite of being sure he would know hardly any of the faces there.

Mr. Bagshot had had a hopeful number of questions for him earlier, but he had delayed any more business talk until after dinner, which left all the guests to chitchat. (And Elias to self-contained awkwardness for the time being, until the young lady beside him addressed him.)

“Very pleasant, Miss Skovgaard, of course,” Elias said, not for the first time tonight, with a dutiful smile. But by this point the evening must have begun wearing on him, because he knew full well he ought to have checked himself there. Instead, he added lightly - the words were tinged with sarcasm, but with any luck it would be taken for a joke rather than real complaint, or at least be quiet enough that no one else would hear it - “though I don’t think I will ever lose my sense of astonishment at just how long a meal can be made to last when people really put their minds to it.” He added a chuckle, as if he were joking. But he had been to enough dinner parties in the last decade to know the hallmarks of this kind: too many courses, too many platters (and too many forks); lingering over every bite as though their lives depended on it; whiling away in hours what could have been achieved in minutes, to considerably less effort and expense (and in less stuffy dress).

Not that he meant to be a miser about it, or unduly unsociable! It was just how business was done in these circles. Luxuries were perfectly allowed when this was how you made your living. Besides, it was more his own background to fault, probably; Elias had lived too long in the manner of scarfing down some too-hot stew to get back to work the faster, and these were rituals he would never understand quite as the natives did. It didn’t matter how many years passed, nor how far he had climbed in society: on nights like these he was forever a guest in a foreign country.


#3
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The gentleman beside her surprised her, she knew it showed in her gaze: a mix of surprise and amusement. “You jest, but there is more truth in your words than I should admit.” Marie-Louise’s soft voice had lowered even more, but she smiled at the words. The dinners of her set were an endless affair that she often felt she didn’t have the time for. There was chitchat before dinner (which she had never quite perfected, leaning often on Fallon’s help at any social gathering and floundering when she was not there), then there was the supper itself. She found the dishes a delight but the conversation endless and terribly drool. She spent much of her time working or spending time with her friend, why did she need to spend her few precious remaining hours in something as nearly pointless as a supper with people she hardly knew nor wished to do so.

The further Marie-Louise got from the life of a debutante that she had so briefly considered after her parents death but had never once longed for, the more she realized she would never have been content with that type of life. She liked to be industrious, to put herself to work with even menial tasks. Her godmother, of course, maintained that this could be done by finding a cause to support. But Marie-Louise didn’t need a cause. She had enough of those already, between her work, her politics, and even these days her best friend. Then there was the matter that she didn’t care a whit for fashion and even less for keeping up appearances or hosting events. If she had cared about such things she would never have become a career woman, would never have rented a flat with someone from the working class, and indeed, would never have become who she was now. Which was precisely what Mrs. Bagshot had been concerned about when Marie-Louise had explained her plans to her all those years ago to become an intern at St. Mungo’s. But there was only a certain amount a godmother could say on such matters, especially so soon after her charge had become an orphan.

We shall have to endeavor some way in which to make it seem shorter.” She returned playfully, surprising herself. But she had learned some social skills in her work and through Fallon so perhaps she ought not to have been so surprised when she was able to speak with a potential ally. Perhaps the goal should be to escape instead of pass time quicker, but with Mrs. Bagshot’s steady eyes on the quiet pair Marie-Louise rather suspected that would not be a plan that would go well.
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#4
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If she looked surprised at his remark, it was not shock, and where he expected the edge of a frown, a little concealed distaste from her, there seemed only to be amusement. Much better, then, than he deserved. He looked at the woman for a moment digesting this, until he realised he was, essentially, staring. (And that the elder woman, Mrs. Bagshot, who had abandoned Miss Skovgaard to his company, was still watching out of the corner of her eye.)

If he hadn’t been uncomfortable before, being watched certainly augmented that feeling. What a treat this evening was.

But he might just have found a saviour in it, or at least a kindred spirit. Elias broke into a smile at her first remark, which widened at the latter. “Still, I probably should not have said it,” he murmured, obligated to apologise even if she did agree, but then added, bright with relief and this new little conspiracy, “...but if you have any suggestions to that end, I’ll admit I would be very grateful for them.” He swallowed his laugh so as to make it seem that their conversation had not wavered from small-talk. “I suppose you’ve survived more of these evenings than I have!”


#5
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To anyone else he likely should not have said such a thing, but Marie-Louise was grateful that he had. It showed a candidness that often lacked from such events. With a gesture she brushed aside his apology, letting him know that it mattered very little to her. She’d heard less polite patients on a daily basis, somehow there always seemed to be one that objected to a female healer.

More than I would care to admit.” She agreed with a solemn nod. “It seems no excuse I give is enough to escape such circumstances.” The blue silk of her sleeves bunched as she shrugged.

Perhaps we should keep count of the amount of society names Mrs. Turner drops each course.” She proposed, her eyes looking around the table and landing on the middle aged woman. Her family was old blood, of course, but had fallen down on their luck as Mrs. Bagshot had informed Marie-Louise as the two had spoken of the event after her arrival at the house this evening. Mrs. Bagshot always liked to keep her abreast of the guests who would be in attendance, perhaps because of her own knowledge of her goddaughter’s hesitations in the social world. Mrs. Turner, of course, was undeterred that their family had fallen on tough times, Mrs. Bagshot had continued, indeed her son had invested in a quidditch team abroad, similar to Mr. Bagshot, and hoped to see great returns. Mrs. Turner for her part did her best to remind the world, and the dinner party, of a great deal acquaintances that met more proper requirements than those in the quidditch world.

Marie-Louise continued to look around the table at the assembled guests, “Or perhaps we should see how many times dear Mr. Bagshot can mention the odds of success in his quidditch venture.” She suggested, although there was a great deal of fondness in her words. Mr. Bagshot might only be her godmother’s husband but he had always been kind to Marie-Louise and in fact had often been an ally of sorts in her conversations with his wife.

Then again, I suppose we could simply speak of ourselves as they wish us to do.” This of course was not entirely what Marie-Louise would like to do, but it was what was expected when a young lady was seated next to a young gentleman at supper. She did not miss that in the seating arrangements. Of course this did not mean that Mrs. Bagshot thought the pair might come to anything, but merely when looking at the assembled guests it seemed rude to place the youngest of the guests anywhere but near each other where they might at least have an entertaining evening. If such a conversation came about it might prove helpful to convincing Marie-Louise to attend more such events despite her own disinterest in them.


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#6
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Elias glanced at Miss Skovgaard with new interest at her mention of escaping - he had taken her quietness for shyness in company more than he had reluctance to be here before they had started speaking. He wasn’t sure whether this ought to make him more relaxed or on his guard - as though he were in any danger of being a bad influence.

He did his best to stifle the snicker in his throat, turning it into a hasty clearing of his throat, at the suggestions of a way to pass the time, a pair of them at the mild expense of the other guests. Stupidly, Elias fancied he would have been pleased enough had someone instructed him to fold his napkin into new shapes or to polish the cutlery while they were all sitting at the table, just to give him something to put his mind to in between courses. Undoubtedly, Miss Skovgaard’s suggestions were more entertaining.

“You know, I think we could manage both of those at once,” he mused, careful to keep his eyes from flickering too soon to her subjects, “if you keep a tally of Mrs. Turner’s dear society friends, and I listen out for Mr. Bagshot.” (Or both combined, though he was no expert of society families to be of much help there, hardly knew his Prewetts from Lestranges.)

“Though we probably ought to keep talking as well,” Elias said, with a hint of teasing, “else our total, silent concentration will make them think we’re up to something.”


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"I shall keep a weathered ear then." A smile slid over her lips as she nodded her agreement. At her right side a footman stepped up to take her plate and Marie-Louise shifted to be out of the way. While she had grown up being waited on at meal times between Hogwarts and her own living situation she had rather outgrown the custom and always found herself giving the footman a wide berth and a grateful smile when the time came to change their course.

Marie-Louise found herself chuckling, ducking her hand over her mouth to keep from attracting too much attention to their conversation and thus having to endure what she found so amusing and might it be shared with the whole table. "I suspect my lack of silence may have already alerted them." She admitted, noticing Mrs. Bagshot's eyes on her once again. "Although I suppose at this point it may seem even odder to fall silent." Her light blue eyes flitted back to the gentleman next to her, ignoring the questioning glance of Mrs. Bagshot. Her godmother would likely be so pleased to see Marie-Louise out of her quiet shell that she doubted she would do anything to jeopardize it. A success with Mr. Grimstone was a success for Mrs. Bagshot. Likely she was already wondering how many dinner invitations she might send to the gentleman without seeming too forward. Whatever her reasons Marie-Louise was grateful their hostess said nothing despite her attention on them.

"Mr. Bagshot mentioned you are a broommaker?" If they must keep talking she'd rather speak of him than herself. There was hardly anything to speak of when it came to herself. She hardly was the type to discuss fashions and fabrics endlessly, nor the type to boast of her attendance at the latest balls and society teas - indeed those she rarely attended. First off the cost of a new ballgown each event seemed an extravagance, especially as styles changed each year. Second, the company was rarely worth it. While Marie-Louise had a fondness for music, the melodies of a live orchestra were enough to tempted her occasionally, she would much rather a concert or an opera than an event that required chatter. Besides, even if there were a great deal of subjects she might wish to speak of about herself, it was hardly polite not to express interest in the gentleman beside her's own interests. "Are you working on any new projects then?"

A few seats away Marie-Louise heard Mrs. Turner's soprano voice declare that they had just visited with the elder Mr. Bellchant and that they were seeking a wife for his son. Of course, she continued on, it was such a shame about his daughter. "One." Marie-Louise commented quietly, straightening her napkin to be even with the edge of the table, watching it with rather more interest than a square of fabric might quarant.


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#8
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“You might be right,” Elias remarked, at the notion that laughter or silence were equally incriminating, in this case. Better to pretend they had surrendered to the social niceties, and that there was no ulterior motive or unusual entertainment in their small talk.

That said, Miss Skovgaard was already taking the lead with her tally, which made him grin. The change of course almost had him scared to move, lest he upend a plate or elbow the serving footmen accidentally - but once it was safe to breathe, he glanced back over to answer her questions. “I am,” he said sheepishly, not that her blue-eyed gaze seemed likely to judge him for it, after their shared discomfort at being here. “And oh, always,” he added, trying to temper his enthusiasm for what had always been as much a passion, a life’s work, as a means to a living. And that could keep him rambling for hours at a time, almost unprovoked.

“At least when I have the chance to between training an apprentice and expansion into the international broom markets -” at this he cast his eyes to Mr. Bagshot, who had mentioned the quidditch team again, and traced his first tally mark, subtly, as a signal on the tablecloth between them, trying not to crack up in the midst of remembering what he had been saying. “And, that is to say, plenty of these projects ultimately turn out to be absolute disasters, so I oughtn’t count anything too early,” Elias explained cheerfully, always half-expecting the next trial to be the one that crashed and burned. Literally, sometimes. He still usually tested prototypes himself first, so on his own head be it. Suppressing another smile, he drew a second invisible tally mark. Mr. Bagshot must have sensed the mention of broomsticks. “Did I hear that you work, as well?”


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Marie-Louise's perceptive gaze did not miss Mr. Grimstone's pause when the footman cleared his setting. She couldn't blame him, she doubted after all, that a broom maker had footmen that hosted such a formal event at his own home. Indeed, with no servants of her own, she didn't think it judgmental to assume that Mr. Grimstone likely had nothing more than a housekeeper and butler, if he even had that himself. A simple life, was often more rewarding, she had found for herself when she had managed to make her own first loaf of bread successfully, and if Mr. Grimstone were equally minded she could find no fault with that nor would she find fault if he did employ safe. Both had their trails and tribulations, she knew.

"Do you mind if I ask what types of projects?" Malou asked, knowing that for herself speaking of her own interests when she felt uncomfortable helped. Few people wished to indulge in conversations of healing methods though and as such she rarely had such kindness shown to her. But she would endeavor to make Mr. Grimstone feel the comfort of a subject he was familiar with. She, after all, knew exactly what it felt like to feel out of place, which she rather suspected Mr. Grimstone was feeling right now with how spoke and how he moved around the servants - or rather did not move at all.

"That sounds like quite the balancing act." Malou admitted, her lips quirking up as she watched his fingers mark a tally. "I am sure less of them are disasters than you make it out to be." She assured him, knowing very little on how a project on a broom might be a disaster. Did one not merely enchant the broom to fly fast and steady? Mr. Bagshot must have hit his stride for Mr. Grimstone drew another invisible mark between them. Once Mr. Bagshot hit his stride in a subject, Marie-Louise was well aware of just how long he might speak on the matter. Mr. Grimstone might just win their little competition after all. If it could even be called a competition, although now that they were tallying the subjects it rather felt that way as Marie-Louise found herself hoping Mrs. Turner might drop another name again. The woman did not disappoint, mentioning both the new Mrs. Lestrange's wedding and her cousin's in quick succession. Malou gently tapped a slender finger to indicate the double tally before she picked up her fork and knife to put into the lamb before them.

"I do." The fact that nobody had mentioned her career was telling. Easier to mention the oddity and try to brush it off then to indulge in the details, Marie-Louise found herself silently thinking. Well it had come up now and she felt no such hesitations so she decided to elaborate. "I am a healer in the spell damage ward at St. Mungo's." There was a small amount of pride in her tone at that, at acknowledging the fact that she had chosen a profession that was difficult to obtain and one she knew she was good at. Despite that she knew it didn't sound boastful simply a statement of fact, a quiet rebellion that lifted the words that society might wish to hide. She might as well have it all out before her because she certainly would not marry a man who would wish her to relinquish her hold on her career - not that that was what she was looking for in Mr. Grimstone of course. Only that she might as well eliminate the fact now rather than down the road. She was glad when her thoughts were interrupted by Mrs. Turner's mention of a tea party she had attended at Mrs. Hermione Longbottom's. "Four." She murmured quietly keeping her gaze on the plate of food before her.


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