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Welcome to Charming, the year is now 1893. It’s time to join us and immerse yourself in scandal and drama interlaced with magic both light and dark.

Where will you fall?

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Discovered today that spotted dick is a pudding with raisins in it. But more importantly that "dick" was the victorian word for pudding. — Fallin
His sister and her group were not yet performing, however. Instead it was a plain looking young woman that he did not recognize. She seemed to believe she was singing.
My Idea of Fun

You're cold and I burn
January 14th, 1893 — Hogsmeade, The Hog's Head

Baptiste loathed the English winter. Everything seemed to be perpetually wet. Rain and wind and sleet with none of the romance of snow-covered, peaked Parisian rooftops. Those nights when the puddles were deep and the rain incessant always left Baptiste contemplating whether he should just move back to France. But returning seemed like regressing; to accept that his career had come to an end, and, now, that was not true at all! There was still money to be made here, avenues to be explored, even if some of them looked like culs-de-sac.
Another sharp gust of wind slapped him so hard across his damp cheek that even the dim lights of the Hog’s Head (not his usual haunt) looked inviting.

Twenty minutes and a glass and a half of Merlot later, the cold had finally been pushed out of Baptiste’s bones again. The sweet wine had turned them nimble and soft, reflected in the subtle way he smiled down at the glass; only to himself, musing about the world and certain people within it.

Pondering whether to get a third drink or brave the cold outside again, he glanced up from his seat and over to the sparsely seated bar and couldn’t help but notice the silhouette of a sharp jawline, followed by a dark head of hair, all of it sitting on slender, almost feline, shoulders. Had this man already been here when Baptiste had ordered his last drink? He'd like to think he would have noticed him. From his seat in the corner, Baps could only see the back of him, the beginnings of a profile whenever he angled his head. However, the parts he could spot left him intrigued enough to leave his chair, a half-empty wine glass in hand.
He would order himself another and while waiting - he had done it often enough - he would chance a glance at the stranger’s face, and strike up a conversation.

Still a couple of feet away from the bar, Baptiste hovered for a few seconds, aimlessly shifting his weight from one foot to the other. Too slow to think he was limbering up for a sort of fight or race and more like he'd been dropped off and forgotten. His eyes darted back and forth between the barkeep and the intriguing patron, while he tried to identify some seemingly perfect moment to approach. It never came, of course, and after a few failed attempts at stepping forward, only to retreat again, Baps finally crossed that last distance to the bar, tugging his dark-grey sleeves, then his cutting collar into place. He slipped silently into a gap between two barstools, one occupied by the dark-haired stranger.
Eyes downcast, he let short but tidy fingernails drew a few circles on the glass in front of him, again trying to pinpoint the moment in which he should look up and say something.
Eventually, Baptiste did speak, mostly directed at his wine glass but loud enough for the other man to hear - louder than he intended, actually: “What are you drinking?” That seemed to have broken the spell, and Baptiste was finally able to look at the man. He liked what he saw.

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Monty was in a mood, again – he had been in a surprising amount of moods lately, considering how much Ishmael had been fucking doting on him during his turning – so tonight, with his own hunger finally creeping up on him again, Ishmael was inclined to take his time about it.

So he had been perched at the bar for a while already, making no move to meet any of his usual bloodbanks or to drink the untouched glass of firewhiskey at his fingertips, and just half-interestedly listening to a conversation taking place a few tables behind him.

That was, until he sensed someone approaching, someone shifting into the space beside him. Ishmael waited, silent and mostly motionless – partly to see whether the other patron would order their drink and ignore him and retreat again, and partly because the proximity (the smell of him; the sudden closeness of a heartbeat) had made Ishmael newly aware of the thirst scratching in his throat.

Trying to tamp that down, Ishmael looked at the hand tracing circles on the wine glass first, and then cocked his head a little further to survey the stranger sidelong. There was something... not quite casual about him, Ishmael decided. A little touch of tension in him, maybe, or something deliberate in breaking the silence. He raked his gaze over him again. Better dressed than most of the clientele here; neat and smooth and almost certainly wealthier; an accent that stood out, too. But if he was in the Hog’s Head and making conversation, Ishmael doubted he was all he looked like.

His curiosity was piqued. “Now that’s a good question,” Ishmael answered, smiling at the stranger – with a closed mouth smile and a secret amusement; he would keep the joke to himself, at least for the moment. No sense in baring his fangs before he knew what this fellow was after, if anything. Ishmael pushed his glass of firewhiskey carelessly away from him as if to suggest it wasn’t quite to his tastes, and nodded instead at the other man’s half empty wine glass. “Are you going to have another?”

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   Jean-Baptiste Labouchère

From the corner of his eye, Baptiste could see his arrival had not gone unnoticed by the stranger. A not unpleasant shiver ran down his back and he fought the corners of his mouth to remain composed and straight. He enjoyed the attention - he always had - even if it consisted only of silent sideway glances. It was too early to tell if that was all the other man was willing to offer. Perhaps he was tired, not interested or simply too nervous to start a conversation, though he exuded such calm that the latter seemed the least likely. But that initial curiosity; that first glance that Baptiste could feel linger on him for longer than to think it mere acknowledgement, had been enough to convince him to speak.

In some regards, the stranger’s eyes were a mirror of his own. Deep, dark pools. Glossy, black swirls that enticed him to look further. Longer. Baptiste hardly noticed how he was licking his lips, how his fingers continued to fondle the glass in front of him. Oh, how he wanted to dip his toes into the mind of the man before him. To gently push against the doors of it, perhaps take a peek through the keyhole.There was a sharp wit behind those eyes, he was sure of it. But beyond that, nothing appeared obvious about the stranger.

Legilimency had made Baptiste lazy. He didn’t have the stamina for smalltalk. Why should he spend time and effort on relationships with people when he had the solution at his fingertips? Besides…if he’d learnt one thing about his years in politics, it was that people lied. He himself lied all the time - he was sure the man beside him, now giving him a knowing smile, obfuscated the truth whenever he felt like it. The temptation to dive deep prickled in his fingertips, they yearned for that familiar motion. If he drew it against the wine glass, the man would only notice the intrusion by the time it was too late. Instead, they continued their steady circles. However tempting it was, Baptiste had to admit that the air of mystery suited the stranger, he wasn’t ready to dispel it just yet.

The other man pushed his drink aside - whisky or brandy, by the looks of it - and for a moment, Baptiste thought he had offended the man. Hot embarrassment threatened to flush his cheeks but before it could take any hold, the stranger reassured him with a ““Are you going to have another?” and Baptiste, who had tensed up for a moment, relaxed. He let his weight fall back against the side of the bar, hoping this had all go unnoticed.
“I think I will.” He pretended to think about it but not for too long. “It takes a while to find one I like. I’m quite…picky.” The words, even the pause, were - as were many aspects of Baptiste’s life - well-rehearsed (though he was of the opinion that it sounded far better in French). The next part, however, was fresh. Not many people Baptiste spent time with discarded half a drink: “You don’t like yours?”

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Ishmael wasn’t sure if it was his bloodlust he was seeing, oddly refracted in the mirror of the man’s eyes or there was simply another kind of hunger in the stranger, all his own. There was something in him – something almost familiar.

The other man had good control of himself, though. Ishmael noticed that sort of thing, in people; perhaps because he spent so much time with drifters and dissolutes, found himself picking up lost people haphazardly, like a long trail of strays. A put-together stranger at a bar was a rarer thing.

And he was picky, too. Ishmael smiled again – slow, indulgent. He shook his head at the latter question, huffed a laugh. “Oh, I’m the same,” he offered in explanation, and then leant forwards on his forearms to catch the bartender’s eye. “The same again for my friend,” he requested smoothly, nodding at the wine glass. With any luck, it wouldn’t be too forward; there was a possibility he would take offence to being called a friend already, or in the gesture of it. Only a small gesture, of course. Gesture, or suggestion. That would all depend on how the man reacted.

Red wine looked enough like Ishmael’s drink of choice to be tempted to order one, too, at least as a prop for sitting here while he waited to see whether the stranger might reach a more... open-minded level of drunkenness. “It’s rare to meet anyone with taste in a place like this,” Ishmael remarked, angling himself more towards the stranger now to give him a look, somewhere between curious, conspiratorial, and impressed. “Sebastian,” he added, tossing off an introduction almost carelessly; too forward again, but when everything that came out of one’s mouth was a lie, pushing a boundary here and there was far too easily done.

Friend. Baptiste certainly didn’t know many people who used that word with him these days. His heart did a little bounce at the sound of it, and he felt a little embarrassed. Was he so starved for attention? Yes, he answered his own question without much pondering, perhaps he was. After all, that’s why he’d come here, hadn’t he? To the Hog’s Head but also to the bar itself. Conversations during the day were few and far between but each of them had been miserable. People haggling and using him without so much as a ‘Thank you’; everyone looking out only for themselves. And yes, that certainly included him, as well. He brushed the pity he felt for himself and the well-respected life he used to lead aside. Perhaps it was only the wet January mist that was leaving him needy and disgruntled. He accepted the words and the offer of a drink silently but with one corner of his mouth quirked up into a half-smile.

“C'est pas vrai...”* Baptiste mumbled dryly against the rim of his glass. The Hog’s Head was a filthy, old shack compared to the places he used to frequent. But he didn't get a chance to dwell on his gloomy surroundings, as the man across from him had apparently decided that the title of 'friend' also demanded a name.

“Sebastian.”, he introduced himself with an appeasing look that had Baptiste fight the urge to stand up straighter. Normally, he would have done one of his grander introductions, the exotic lilt and complexity of his full name, Jean-Baptiste Labouchère, always doused him in a cloud of mystery and importance. But the Hog’s Head wasn’t the place for full names, and, no matter how the rest of this night might pan out, there were already plenty of rumours about him going around. He could do without adding another one to the list.

“Baptiste.”, the Frenchman offered instead and without much hesitation. Slowly, steadily, the English had altered the sound of his name with their ignorance and mispronunciation, until, one day, the sounds had infiltrated his own mouth. He loathed himself for the way it sounded now.
To wash away the bad taste, he stuck out his hand in greeting. A relic from his old Ministry days. Although Baptiste did not think much of fortune telling, he was of the opinion that palms, just like minds, could reveal a lot about another person. Were they cold or clammy? Did they have calluses from years of manual labour? Was the handshake timid or firm and full of determination?

“What brings you here then, Sebastian?” He drew out the name, letting each syllable roll over his tongue before washing them down with a large swallow of wine. As if the bartender had been watching them (he hoped he wasn’t), the fresh glass arrived only moments after.

*“You don’t say...”

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Ishmael had to grin at that dry mumble, the sarcasm and the French. He oughtn’t grin too much, not yet – he did not want to give the game away until it was too late. Hopefully the man – Baptiste – hadn’t caught anything in the flash of teeth.

And Ishmael could hardly deny the proffered handshake, so, without missing a beat, he clasped the other man’s in his, sure that he felt as deathly cool to the touch as he always did. Baptiste felt warm in comparison – but maybe that was all he would think of it, too. Because Ishmael also let the contact linger a fraction longer than a handshake ought, pressed his hand a little more firmly, another momentary flicker of greed. (He could feel his pulse in his wrist, and didn’t know how much longer he could wait tonight.)

Eventually, Ishmael let go, and gave himself by the time the gentleman finished this next glass – that was more than enough time to ensnare him. He quirked an eyebrow at the question. Looking for my escape for the evening, I suppose, Ishmael answered, in fluid French (from his stint in Paris last century), and threw Baptiste another small smirk. And a way to warm up. In spite of his best efforts, Ishmael couldn’t help his gaze trailing down from the man’s face towards his collar.

A nice private drink would warm him very nicely, if only he could secure the invitation. A quick drink in a shabby room upstairs or outside in the cold would work just as well, but Ishmael would not feign otherwise: he wanted more. He suspected Baptiste lived somewhere nicer than the slums, was a valuable connection – and, besides, he was sure the stranger would want something, too. He dragged his gaze upwards again. “And you?”

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