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The Art of Small Talk by patronus_charm
Chapter 1 : Introductory Measures
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 18


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Chapter One - Introductory Measures


Shit. I cannot remember the intern’s name. Shit. Shit. Shit. I have somehow managed to survive the whole day without uttering it, mainly getting by with the use of you and such. Now, it's the end of the day, and the time where I feel I have to give him a congratulatory pat on the back, tell so and so whatever mistakes he made won't matter in three years’ time once he's finished Potioneer training. He then pops off to the pub to drown in his sorrows, and I'm done for the day.

Well, if I knew his name that’s what I would be doing right now.

I gaze up at the boy standing before me, taking in his appearance. Overtly blonde hair (must be dyed), nails scratching at the palm of his hand and a face so screwed up it looks more wrinkly than Granny Lucy's feet.

Right. Time for stalling tactic number one.

'So your first day went well, no major incidents.'

I let out a little laugh. Oh dear. I have just lost any possible street cred I may have possessed. I need to stop trying to be down with these children fresh out of Hogwarts and act like the ripe old twenty-four year old I am.

'If you count giving you the scarab beetle shells instead of the legs and nearly causing your potion to explode a minor incident, then becoming a Potioneer sounds good to me,' the boy, yes, he is a boy even if he’s legally an adult, answers.

Before you ask, I do not have short person syndrome. Five foot three is a perfectly reasonable height. Perfectly reasonable when not in the presence of sort of enemy Penelope Clearwater who is five foot nine.

Damn. I still haven't remembered his name.

The door to my office flies open, knocking over several jam jars standing beside it. I need not try and guess who it is; I can always tell it’s her, over-enthusiastic Eileen -- the current bane of my life.

'Cooey Audrey Tinley!' Reason one for dislike - she insists on using my full name as it rhymes. Reason two - she says cooey. 'It's report filling time. Young Draco has to come along and fill in his level one progress, target and wish form. We've got to pip, pop, poppety rock.'

There are a multitude of reasons on why I dislike like her in that last sentence, reaching at least three shouldn't be too hard. Then again, over-enthusiastic Eileen is also Eileen who is in charge of overseeing the personnel of the Potions department and unless I want her to be over-enthusiastic in cuts I have to be nice.

'What a, er, wonderful treat for, er, er, Draco.'

'Indeedio. Come along, Draco.'

Draco gives me a nervous smile before trailing out after Eileen. She appears to be so excited at the thought of filling out forms that she's waving her arms around and humming along to the tune of some Celestina Warbeck song as she walks out.

Wait a second. Draco. That is an unusual name. An unusual name I seem to recognise. I was given some info pack about him yesterday which I was meant to read but it somehow slipped my mind. I cannot comprehend why reading a sheet of facts would appear unappealing to me. It sounds like simply delightful stuff. As delightful as hanging out with Eileen in fact. Anyhow, I get the joy of reading it now while trying to figure why I know this Draco guy.

'Accio info pack.'

As soon as I utter those words, chaos begins. Sheafs of paper distributed randomly across my office begin flying towards me creating a mound of them upon my desk. A mound so great it begins to overflow onto the floor beneath, turning the oak floor white. A periodic table of elements flies off the wall, a globe tumbles over and glass bottles containing liquids varying in viscosity, colour and purpose are knocked down as the paper streams towards me like rain heading towards my hair.

A not so nice smell streams up my nostrils, tickling away at each hair as green smoke begins to billow around. This is then followed by a crackly sound which only grows louder and louder with every second that passes.

'Oh crap. What have I done?'

Talking to myself doesn't really help as it only draws attention to the fact my mental state is that of a second year when it comes to accidents.

'Aguamenti,' a voice cries from the door, the smoke ceasing to exist at those words. 'Potioneer Tinley, that's something interesting you have going on the floor. Is it a new technique for brewing potions?'

Jaw-dropping James is standing in my doorway looking jaw-droppingly gorgeous as ever (before you ask again, I am a fan of alliteration. It has a nice ring to it unlike rhyming.). Though it might be his jaw-dropping given what I’ve just done.

'Er, I guess you could class it as accidental experimenting.' I rub the tips of my thumbs together out of nerves, the circular movements apparently calms my blood pressure. Though I did read it in a Muggle scientific journal, so I’m not entirely sure of the accuracy. 'You know it's a very interesting technique - something I would recommend to all because you never know what discover from it.'

I allow myself to sneak a look up at James (it is a well-deserved one, after all) and see he's smirking at me, the lips curving upwards to frame his white teeth. Damn, why did he have to be the one to walk in then? Why not Eileen? Actually, scrap that last thought, she might have sacked me.

'I'll be sure to try it out some time, Audrey. If I do, I'll report back to you on the results.'

James tips his head down at me before wandering back out looking all suave and sophisticated. Healers do have that air about them though. Perhaps if I had become one instead of a Potioneer I would be as a cool as him. Then again, I can get away with that by saying I work at St. Mungo’s. People just don’t need to know it’s in the Potions department.

Right. What am I meant to be doing? Oh yes, finding out why on earth the potions intern seems somewhat familiar to me without setting the room on fire and embarrassing myself in front of the possible sex god of the wizarding world. A normal task in the day in the life of an attempting Potioneer who aims to conquer the divide between feminism and capturing men otherwise known as Audrey Tinley otherwise known as the person who talks in third person about herself and doesn't use mental full stops when doing so.

I grab a sheet of parchment which is the least splattered in potions ingredients and begin to read it. Words like 'probation period', 'dark activities' and 'links to He-Who-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named' begin to crop out from the swirl of black ink.

‘I'm teaching a Death Eater how to be a Potioneer,’ I say to myself, hoping that this is simply a dream and not reality.

'Er.'

Draco (aka supposed Death Eater) is standing in the doorway looking even more nervous than when someone came in earlier asking me to make a potion for a feminine hygiene problem. Even I felt awkward then given how the description the Healer gave was a lot more graphic than I wished for.

Right, back to ‘crap my mind ran away without me realising’ situation at hand.

‘Er.’

The competition of who can er the most within a minute has begun then.

‘Er, so you know I’m a bit of a hippie.’ Sort of true, though incense makes me feel sick if burnt for too long. ‘You know part-time vegetarian, feminist, don’t judge, don’t preach. All that type of stuff, as is the rest of the Potions department here at St. Mungo’s. Whether you’re a former Death Eater, a secret Celestina Warbeck fan or a murderer, you’re all welcome. Ok, perhaps not murderers, but the others are fine.’

Crap. Most Death Eaters are probably murderers too. Then again, I doubt they would have let Draco come here if he is one. I will use my expert (amateur) skills at face reading to find out whether he is one or not. Turning to him, I see Draco crack a little smile at me, his posture easing slowly out of its rigidity as it grows. Perhaps blabbering is a good diffuser of situations. It also seems that Draco is not a murderer.

‘That’s, er, good to know. Many people aren’t as liberal in their views as you are.’

‘I guess they aren’t. It’s a lot more fun being nice to people. Though I am a Hufflepuff, so it’s almost an innate thing.’

‘I’m a Slytherin. Perhaps that’s why I don’t know many people like that.’

‘Perhaps. Though you could change that. Hold a little revolution. It could be like the Renaissance in Muggle history when they overthrew the old Church’s ideas and introduced new scientific ones. That worked.’

Oops, I had gone and said too much. Again. That’s the story of my life - talking so much that I often wonder why I don’t just tape my mouth shut as it will save me from many embarrassing moments such as that. People who are Muggle science and history nerds aren’t often welcomed into wizarding society, hence why my Vesalius costume is still in its packaging.

Draco gives out a little cough, and I look upwards. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit one for needing to find a new swear word in a moment of panic, because shit has lost its power on emphasising the seriousness of the situation. Shit number two because I probably scared Draco a lot more than I intended to today. Then shit number three is that it's currently five o’clock. Five o’clock being the time I am meant to be meeting best friend Verity Liu for a discussion about the strategy we will use at George Weasley's party tonight.

‘Er.’ There I go again. ‘Very good first day Draco. You really excelled yourself and showed a lot of promising talent which will lend itself to you becoming an excellent Potioneer in the future. Very promising… Anyhow, I simply must dash. Urgent meeting and all that jazz.’

I give Draco a small wave before running from the room. I really need to spend less time with Eileen. Her way of speech is beginning to affect my own, and that simply isn’t a good thing. The next thing will be me saying tally ho.

*

I run through the crowds of shoppers in Diagon Alley who are searching for things in the January sales. The odd shop is still bedecked in the festive green and red despite it being the eighteenth and, as Granny Lucy would say, a time for Christmas to be thankfully forgotten for the current time and not to remerge for several more months.

The fluorescent colours of purple and orange pulsate in my eyeballs, pulling me out of my thoughts and letting me know that my trip has been a successful one. I glance up at the signage beaming down at me, the flashing lights hurting my eyes, ‘Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes’. No wonder Verity is rarely ever unhappy working here, as this certainly stands out when compared to the other shops.

Pushing the door open, I give a little nod to Beatrice the shop assistant here, before heading to the back of the shop. Entering the little office, I am greeted by Verity blabbering away in what is probably Mandarin while she jabs her quill into the parchment, puncture marks visible all over.

‘Is everything alright?’ I ask gingerly, trying to peer at her face which is currently being hidden by a thick sheath of black hair. Or, as it should be called, a thick sheath of pain, because as she notes me standing there, she whips her hair back and it slashes into my face.

‘Well, everything is alright for me, but for the German Minister of International Co-operation his ancestors are in for a bad one. I cursed them all the way back to the eighteenth generation.’

I give a small nod to that; it’s just Verity’s half-Chinese side coming to play. It tends to happen when she’s angry and given that’s one of her most common moods, it’s not that exciting when she begins yelling out in it. Obviously she doesn’t know that I think that otherwise my ancestors would have been cursed all the way back to the twentieth generation or whatever. As I don’t particular want to chance their peace in afterlife it’s best to remain silent.

‘What did he do?’

‘Nothing much. Just being the usual annoying self that he likes to be. Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes would have a great opening but time and time again we’re told no… Oh well, I shan’t bother you with that. It’s tedious stuff really. Nothing much of interest. Well, nothing like what I have to tell you in regards to tonight.’

Oh dear. I should have kept her talking about the German Minister for longer. Anything will be better than what she is about to mention. If I can just think of a way to stall it for a moment longer all will be fine.

‘You see.’ Nope, moment lost. ‘There’s this charming person I really think you should meet tonight. George and I were talking about it a great deal yesterday.’ They are the biggest pair of gossips ever to have existed, no joke. ‘We really do think that his brother, Percy, would be the perfect match for you.’

I can’t help but laugh at this point. I mean, I’ve heard some crazy suggestions from her in the past but this tops them all, quite frankly.

‘Percy Weasley? Percy Weasley? Percy-‘

‘Audrey, if you’re going to repeat his name again I may hit you. It’s not that fascinating to require it to be said three times. It’s rather plain if I’m honest.’

‘Sorry Verity.’

‘Don’t worry. But what’s wrong with Percy though? He’s rich, successful, charming, fairly mature, serious and only one year older than you so a perfect match.’

I fix my best scowl on my face (apparently it’s not very good and something akin to a chimpanzee being fed a banana which isn’t quite ripe) before tuning into my girl power side and attempting to let rip at Verity without feeling too bad.

‘Point number one. A woman, or a man for that matter, does not need to have a partner to be content. Us singletons are united in our aim of enjoying being single without having people constantly meddle in it and have it messed up and make us tied into a relationship where we are forced to ponder what to buy our other half for Christmas, whether they love us and make an attempt at looking nice. We live in the twenty-first century, Verity; I do not need a man.’

Verity pushes her hair back before staring down at me (she’s only five foot five but can still do it easily) and placing her hands on her hips. Verity is going into angry mode then. I really should learn Mandarin because when she starts interspersing Chinese swear words in-between normal words in angry mode, it would make understanding what she's saying a lot easier.

‘Right, Audrey, we will set this matter for once and for all.’ Ooh is she going to pull me outside and demand that I draw my wand and duel like in the olden times? I’ve always wanted to duel so I won’t say no. ‘Point number one, there was no need for you to say point number one if you are going to merge all your points into one big point so all the ideas are coagulated and hard to understand. You do that too frequently for my liking, and it is high time that you stop this annoying habit.’

Verity wanders over to the door before pushing it shut. Oh Merlin, is there going to be screaming and shouting? Perhaps I should make a batch of Voice Quietening Potion and put some into her tea one day. The Silencio charm is effective but then it sort of gives away what you’re trying to do which is a bit of a downer in terms of remaining friends with the person.

‘Point number two, you have not had a man since that small fling with Jerome from your Potioneering school, and that was three years ago! Three years ago! You cannot state that singletoness is the way for you if you have not experienced the other way for such a long time. Point number three.

Verity pauses before shaking her head a little.

‘Well, it’s not entirely a point but I like the system you’ve developed for getting your ideas across so I will continue with it anyhow. If you give Percy just one chance, I promise that I will not let rip about your love life for another six months.’

Ok the first part made sort of sense but I am not tolerating the whole six months things.

‘Six months? Are you kidding me? I will not date Percy Weasley for that long, and it is not entirely due to me not preferring the life of being single. Need I remind you who he dated during Hogwarts? Well, judging by your lapse of judgement it looks as if I need to. Penelope Clearwater, that’s who.’

Verity waves her arm around again like McGonagall does to first years to shh them. Merlin, she can be patronising at times. Well, most of the time now that I think about it.

‘Penelope Clearwater doesn’t matter. Yes, we didn’t exactly get along with her and her friends during Hogwarts but that can be forgotten now. We are mature adults who don’t need to dislike each other over some petty dispute over who sent a Valentine’s Day card to whom.

‘Pah,’ I remark. ‘Forgotten! You certainly weren’t at the end of her Jelly Legs jinx. It meant that trying to get down the marble stars was lethal. The amount of injuries I entailed from having it cast upon me doesn’t make me want to forget her anytime soon.’

‘Yes, yes,’ Verity soothes me. ‘It’s all very well having a hatred of Penelope but just because Percy happened to date throughout some of Hogwarts doesn’t mean that we have to tar him with the same brush. I thought you were all for second chances and all that jazz?’

I let out a mumble which resembles something close to yes, hoping that would shut her up for a while.

‘Exactly. Now, no more remarks about Percy or Penelope. He’ll be at the party tonight as he’s George’s brother so I expect you to talk to him. If you don’t I’ll be having words with Jemima, and you know how persuasive she can be.’

‘Fine.’

‘Good. See you at eight.’

Taking that as a sign of dismissal I happily walk out of her office. Jemima isn’t all that much of a threat now that I think about it. With her being the chief cause of all the trouble with Penelope as Sean O’Brady sent her a Valentine's Day card and not Penelope in second year meaning wands were drawn in Charms. I’ll just remind her of that, and she’ll leave me alone. Oh well, I don’t really know why I’m quibbling over this. I need to get ready.

*

As I approach George’s house, I can already tell what type of party this is going to be. With the windows practically vibrating due to the way the music pulsating out of the house, then the drunk stragglers either making an escape from the party or trying to enter the house. Both purposes are fairly similar for a drunk person meaning differentiation between the two is rather hard.

I’m not even sure what this party is for or how all those people link up to it. I think it’s something related to George and Verity’s plans of expansion into Europe, hence the anger at the German minister. Then there’s the fact that the pair of them simply love hosting parties so this is a simple excuse to have one.

Deciding that I probably should adhere to the correct etiquette Granny Lucy taught me, I amble up the stairs, carefully dodging round the pools of different coloured liquid. I don’t spend too long examining them. As I spend most of my day handling different chemicals and potions, it’s fairly easy to suss out what they are from the smell of them.

I press my recently painted green finger against the bell while waiting for George to answer. I have to say, I do admire his spell work. His house is right in the middle of London, yet no Muggle police or neighbours are coming along ready to yell at all of us for the noise.

In the middle of the door, there’s a small piece of oval glass so I take the chance to have one quick look at my reflection before George comes. My brown hair lies flat against my head with no attempt at all to style it; whenever I do try it just leads to me looking like I back combed it. Then there’s my badly applied makeup paired with a pair of purple dress robes I randomly pulled out due to running late. Some say weird to the look, but I say unique.

‘Ah, Audrey!’ George slurs out, wrapping his arm tight around my shoulder. ‘Pleasure to see you… Big plans tonight, big plans. Have a drink.’

George practically shoves my face into the tray of Firewhiskey he’s holding making it a little hard to refuse. There are even small, brown droplets of whiskey running off of my nose.

‘Erm, thank you. Have you seen Verity around?’

‘Circulating, running around in circles…’

‘George, haven’t you had enough to drink by now?’ Angelina, his girlfriend in all but name, announces, joining him in the doorway. ‘What would your mother say? Let’s get you some water. Oh, hi Audrey.’

‘Hi Angelina.’

She gives a small smile in return before heading out of the hallway and down at the corridor, tugging George along behind her. I follow her lead and begin to head off down the corridors, ignoring the bodies jostling around all over the place. I’m not exactly sure how I ended up being friends with them. Probably due to Verity. She introduces me to most people having mastered the art of small talk and insisting I do too. She always spews about how it will be useful and everyone needs to know how to do it but I hate it.

Bah, small talk more like big talk given the amount of preparation it requires. In my world, there would be no such thing as that.

‘Oi, Audrey, Audrey, Audrey, over here.’

I turn and see that Verity has grasped Percy Weasley by his arm; his ginger hair shining brightly gives him away. Please don’t say she’s kept him especially for me. That will be awkward beyond belief. I hurry over, not looking forward to finding out why I have to be there.

‘This is Percy, Percy Weasley. Percy, this is Audrey Tinley. Talk, because I need a drink.’

Dumped straight into the small talking then.

‘Hi Percy what do you do for a living then?’

Phew, that isn’t as bad as I anticipated it to be.

‘I work for the Ministry.’

A pause. I am expecting a response to appear any minute now but it doesn’t. Seriously, I thought that was how small talk worked, one person asks a question, the other replies and asks a backup question and tada conversation occurs. Apparently, I’m wrong.

‘Ooh, how interesting. I work for St. Mungo’s in their Potions department. It’s a rather interesting job, really. Finding out what medical problems people have and thinking of a way that you can treat them without making it too bad for them in the long run.'

‘How…wonderful.’

Another pause. What to do.

‘So are you enjoying the party, Percy?’

‘No. I do not to tend to frequent these sorts of places. My brother led me under false pretences stating that there would be people of education and people like me who I could talk to. It appears that I was wrong.’

Ok, Percy clearly has a bigger broomstick up his arse than at Hogwarts. He is not going to get away with this.

‘So studying potions for three years, having to have a vast knowledge of Muggle chemistry to find out which chemicals blend well together and having to handle multiple ingredients and all of their effects when giving multiple potions to someone is something which requires little education?’

Bam and that’s how it's done. Telling people the truth, mind, not small talk. I don’t think that offending people is included into the meaning of small talk.

‘No, that’s not what I meant.’ He’s getting all red and flustered now. ‘I meant, I meant. I meant someone who could understand how not to offend people. You would never find anyone like that here.’

‘That’s rich coming from you. I have to go and speak to someone. Goodbye.’

With that, I stroll away from Percy, triggering a tsunami like wave of anger from Verity for ditching him. Oh well. If I can’t get passed introductory measures with Percy there is no hope of us ever being a couple. What a shame.


Author's Note: Yay I have another new story! I hoped you liked it, because I really enjoyed writing it for NaNo. What did you think of Audrey, like/love/dislike? What are your first impressions of Percy? Bahaha, making him be mean is way too much fun.

Small side note in case you didn't know, Vesalius was a Flemish dwarf who liked to cut up bodies to learn about anatomy. :P

Please, if you want to be lovely, leave me a review as it would mean so much to me! Even if it's just one line, that would be fab. ♡ Thanks for reading!

The lovely CI is by milominderbinder over at TDA!


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