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December 31st, 1890 — New Year's Eve at the Podmore Zoological Gardens

There were probably grander parties to be had on New Year's Eve, but this one had a major advantage in that Grace was allowed to attend as well as Verity. At least, it had seemed like an advantage when Ford had been sitting at home considering their options of invitation; whether it still seemed an advantage at the end of the night remained to be seen.

As an aside, Ford hated when those thoughts occurred to him. He loved his sister. It ought to have just stopped at that. He didn't want to be preoccupied with how Grace was comporting himself, or whether she was making a good impression on some gentleman, or whether she made a misstep on the dance floor. It was exhausting trying to think of everything that could possibly go wrong and head it off, and he would gladly have passed that responsibility on to someone else — but unfortunately, circumstances dictated otherwise. He had to care about that sort of thing, because he had to see Grace married sooner rather than later. Her happiness — all of their happiness — depended on it.

He was more worried for Grace than he was for Verity, of course.

"Have you seen Grace talk to anyone tonight?" he asked his brother, on finding him alone in a relatively low-traffic area of the party. He didn't specify who he meant by anyone, but Noble would know.

@Noble Greengrass @Cassius Lestrange
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   Cassius Lestrange, Grace Greengrass
"Not yet," Noble admitted; he angled himself upwards just for a moment, so as to get a better look around, but still could not see anyone with Grace. He ought to be paying a little bit more attention to his sisters than he had been; but there was a good chance that THE GIRL was here, and he needed a chance to talk to her in person and convince her to give him a little more time.

He hadn't seen her yet, either. Score zero for the Greengrass siblings.

"A shame that Mr. Fisk seems to be courting that redhead," Noble said to his brother, in more of an undertone, after spotting the man. The Fisks were halfbloods, and some people would have looked down on that. But they were also halfbloods who were related to the Minister of Magic, a mostly respectable family, and generally pleasant. Konstantin Fisk was established, gainfully employed, and not a terrible person - and therefor excellent for one of his sisters, except that now he was courting.

Hopefully that would not be the case for most of the men here tonight.

Ford wondered at Noble's choice of call-out for Grace. He didn't think that any of the Fisks would have been his ideal, whether their affections were otherwise engaged or not. It wasn't the halfblood thing, either (Ford did not think they had the luxury to care about such a trivial matter), but rather that he wasn't sure being the sister-in-law of the Minister of Magic would be a very fitting lifestyle for Grace. Maybe Verity, at a push, but even for her he wasn't sure secondhand splendor was the right avenue towards happiness. And then, the Fisks were a very large family, and not particularly wealthy, and — weren't they Jewish? Ford didn't mind that, but it would be strange to marry someone with a different religion than you, wouldn't it? In short: while Grace could certainly do worse, Ford was not likely to shed any tears over the loss of Konstantin Fisk from the marriage market.

As he was contemplating how to respond to the comment about Mr. Fisk, he spotted one Lachlan MacFusty wander over towards Grace. Fortunately, he kept wandering — he was apparently just passing by on his way to another conversation, not heading for their sister at all — but Ford had frowned at the possibility all the same. "Let's steer her away from any MacFustys," he commented under his breath. "I can't imagine Grace being very happy with a Quidditch player or a dragonkeeper."
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   Grace Greengrass
"No, I don't think that would go well," Noble agreed; the MacFustys were a disaster of a family, and Grace would have been miserable. Also, they lived on a weird island, and Noble was not into the concept of visiting his sister there. He angled himself upwards again, standing briefly on his toes - and sighed.

"She's talking to another debutante," Noble muttered to Ford. Having friends was well and good and important but they really needed Grace to communicate with at least one single man tonight. They were on a bit of a time crunch, and Grace was - well. She was lovely but she was odd and Noble was worried that the single men of the world were not going to Get her; they needed to find one who would. "One of the Fawley girls, I think."

Grace talking to another debutante wasn't bad news at all, was it? Ford wasn't sure whether her nerves were just as problematic with other women as they seemed to be in more formal settings, but if she could make a good impression with someone's sister, that could be a mark in their favor. He searched his mental catalogue for the Fawleys and tried to think. There was a Mr. Fawley, some years older and already married, he thought, so no help there. One Miss Fawley had just become Mrs. Abbott this year, wasn't that so? And if he remembered correctly, Mr. Abbott had an unmarried brother — but getting a friend to introduce you to her sister's husband's brother was a bit of a stretch. Word had certainly traveled shorter distances before, but it was nothing they could count on doing them any favors.

"What about Verity?" he asked instead. He'd lost track of his sister after the last dance, but maybe Noble had seen her off with someone or other.
"I haven't seen her," Noble admitted, after another scan of the crowd - he couldn't catch sight of Verity. "But I'm sure she's dancing with someone." She had to be; Verity was determined. If she had her way she would manage to buy them out of (rented) house with her wardrobe, but she was going to find a man sometime this season.

"Do you have any plans for them for the rest of the month?"

"About a thousand," Ford answered with a shake of his head. He was being hyperbolic, obviously, but the business of his social calendar for January when compared to how he'd been spending his time while in mourning was enough to make his head spin. They weren't even in the lead-up to the season, but still there were dinner parties, art openings, a garden exhibit (in January, somehow?) and an orchestral performance to be attended. Ford had heard it remarked previously that a popular debutante might have something to do every day of the week during the proper season, but he had always thought that was a joke — seeing how well Verity could fill their calendar in one of the off-months had him suspecting that it might not be. Hopefully he'd only have to do this two or three season before the girls were all seen to; he did not think he could possibly manage if any of them waited until twenty-three to wed (and, of course, neither could his pocketbook, but that was a different matter).

"But none that seem particularly promising. Just going about and being seen at things. Oh — there's Verity," he said, pointing her out. "Talking to Mr. Scrimgeour. That's —" he hesitated. The Scrimgeours certainly did not have the best reputation; they did have money, but that was about all that was working in their favor. They'd managed to lose one of their daughters as an infant, fail to find her throughout her entire childhood, and then had that whole nasty business surrounding her when she'd reached adulthood. None of that had anything to do with Mr. Julius Scrimgeour, but knowing what he did of the character of Mr. Argus Scrimgeour, Ford could not help but be nervous about this conversational match. "Do you think she knows about Mr. Scrimgeour?" he asked his brother fretfully.
Ford was going to be busy for the net month; then again, so was Noble, because Ford could not chaperon all the girls on their own.

Noble's mouth twisted. "I think she knows about the Scrimgeours," he said, because if Noble and Ford knew about the Scrimgeours, then Verity certainly did. Maybe Verity was desperate enough to marry up that she was overlooking the scandal associated with the family?

Maybe they were just talking.

Noble felt a flash of irritation at their father, not for the first time; if Mr. Greengrass was alive, they wouldn't have to do this. If Mr. Greengrass had kept the family finances in order, it would all feel less urgent.

"We should consider making a list," he said after a beat, "Of the men we're acquainted with." Surely some of them would be able to take a Greengrass girl off their hands - and it would be easier for Noble and Ford to get men they were already acquainted with in the Greengrass house in the first place.

"A list?" Ford asked, raising an eyebrow. As someone who quite enjoyed being able to cross things off of lists (the finality and cleanness of it was appealing in a way life was often not), he could certainly see the appeal. A nice, long list could serve as a sort of action plan for them in the coming months. They could invite one gentlemen a week and remove them from the rotation once it became obvious they were not well suited for this particular task ( — ugh! task — he hated to make his sisters' happiness seem a burden but — well, at least the process was rather burdensome, and he couldn't help those sorts of words intruding on his thoughts). But would that be too transparent? And, would it involve burning out all of their friends long before they'd seen the girls married?

"I see what you mean, but... Goodness, what if someone saw it?" Ford asked, dismayed by the very idea. "They'd figure us out at once." Us was perhaps the wrong word here; this wasn't actually Noble's job and they were both very much aware of it. He'd done more than enough in helping smooth things over through the move to Hogsmeade.
The potential for embarrassment felt less pressing to Noble; lots of families had lists. There might be different reasoning, but lots of families were trying desperately to get their daughters married off.

"We don't necessarily have to write it down," Noble said; privately he was thinking that he could keep it in his workshop, but he also didn't want any of his family finding it or having a reason to go in there. "But we will need some sort of guest list for Grace's coming out eventually."

Merlin help them when that came around.

Noble was right (he usually was), but that didn't make Ford feel any better about the inevitable list. That was one unappealing task out of many they would have to undertake for Grace's coming out. Ford wasn't looking forward to any of them, but at least putting together a list of invitations didn't have an associated cost. Well, printing them and sending them had some minor cost, but it was nothing they couldn't handle with proper planning. The new dresses for each of the girls and the refreshments and the decorations and the quartet for the dancing, on the other hand...

"I suppose if we start now it won't be quite so daunting later," he admitted reluctantly. "But I don't think I know anyone I'd want our sisters marrying," he continued earnestly. Most of the people he knew and liked were his age or Noble's age, which was Officially Too Young to be in a position to marry, and he'd never been very good at getting to know older men. The ones he knew at all were the ones who had been particular bullies at Hogwarts, which... weren't ideal brothers-in-law.
Not for the first time, but for the first time with consequence, Noble thought that Ford was a little delusional about their sister's prospects. The Greengrasses were a good family, with a good name, but a good name could only get them so far. They were on a timeline here, shuffling accounts around and living off of credit and wheedling the girls out of a too-ostentatious budget at the modiste's. And it was not as if either Verity or Grace were entirely perfect.

Underneath that, Noble was not convinced that Ford knew what he was looking for in a brother-in-law.

"Well, eventually someone will be good enough," he said, because now was not the time.

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   Fortitude Greengrass
"Right, of course," Ford agreed. He did not think he was being particularly picky or unreasonable in considering what sort of man he would feel comfortable entrusting his sister's happiness to for the rest of her life, but it had occurred to him that the lack of men he knew and considered fair matches was slightly problematic. Surely good marriageable men existed, though; the problem was only that he wasn't particularly well acquainted with many. But they would turn up, if he was diligent about being out and about in society with Verity.

"It's just — they have to be kind," he said firmly. "The whole point of getting them married in the first place is that it's meant to see them happy."
That wasn't really the point, though.

Noble wanted them to be happy. Obviously he wanted them to be happy. But that wasn't the point; their finances had made sure of that.

"And taken care of," Noble said, "Happy and stable." How hard could it be to find men who were inoffensive and financially fine to take care of their sisters?

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In Ford's mind, taken care of was part and parcel to seeing them happy. He might not have particularly cared about running out of money if he didn't think that it was going to make his sisters miserable, sooner or later. He certainly wouldn't have been in any hurry to see them married if he didn't genuinely believe that it was for the best. Three quick marriages would keep them from ever having to experience this sense of dread that lingered over him any time the issue of money came up — but they had to be three quick marriages to the right people. He wouldn't trade a few months of discomfort now for a lifetime of unhappiness to come.

Of course, if things came to light and it became widely known that the ladies had no dowries to speak of, they might not marry at all, so the idea of bartering between weeks of uncertainty in the short term and years of hostility in the long term would become rather moot. If they got through this ordeal without seeing Verity married, Ford had no doubt that he'd be the recipient of plenty of hostility for every minor misstep he'd taken that she could have perceived as costing her a husband.

Ford let out a long breath. "Sometimes I get the feeling I could die trying to untangle this mess."

He did not mean literally, of course; he wasn't suicidal. It was just that sometimes the obstacles they faced seemed so massive that it felt as though he could work at them his entire life and still be left with a pile of problems years down the line. Which was fitting, he supposed — presumably his father had been in the process of creating this catastrophe for his whole life, so it tracked that it would be the business of Ford's whole life to try and mend it.

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