Chapter 76 - Styrax & Gaudy Muggle Porcelain

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∞ 76 ∞

STYRAX & GAUDY MUGGLE PORCELAIN


So far, Valentina had been supplying Lucius with tea and cakes or biscuits during breaks in his work, when they would have relatively reserved and somewhat clumsy chats. Strangely, the inexplicable closeness that had developed while Valentina was in Lucius's care, after her near death experience seemed as though it had truly gone for them both and remained forgotten. Their familiarity and the quality of their conversations in this new relationship were however improving. Sensing that Lucius HAD hurt his back, but was just too proud to say –he had made an excuse the day before as to why he couldn't come– Valentina decided to cook a full meal for him as a thank-you for his ongoing help. When he arrived she said "no work" and pulled him inside.

She spent all of the previous day and the morning preparing everything and had spent a relatively large portion of her small earnings on the ingredients for the meal, but wanted to make it extra lovely, both for 'Lucian' and because it was such a pleasure to have someone to cook for – someone who could appreciate nice food. A very old and delicate, white, knitted lace table cloth that had belonged to Olive Celestine was spread on the table. Several small candles placed in colourful, Moroccan tea glasses were lit and scattered around the kitchen and Mimi's fancy porcelain was out.

There were four courses:

*A simple avocado, watercress and endive salad with chive flowers and a cilantro vinaigrette to start;

*thick, homemade pappardelle, with oyster mushrooms, broad-beans, capers and fresh thyme for the main course;

*a pear and roast hazelnut tarte, made with a layer of her own wild blackberry preserve on the bottom for desert;

*and to finish, strong coffee in dainty cups, served with thin rectangles of homemade membrillo and dainty, white-frosted calissons bought from the fine confiserie in Angers.

It smelled unusual in the kitchen – something Lucius had smelled before that gave him a slightly uncomfortable, nostalgic feeling that he couldn't place. It was the styrax resin Valentina was burning. She had found it in the boxes with the moroccan tea glasses, when she was looking for Mimi's porcelain and Olive Celestine's tablecloth. In contrast to Lucius, it gave her a tranquil, romantic feeling. She thought it might be a little too much and probably clashed with the scents of the food (and maybe it seemed like she was trying too hard to heighten the ambiance of the lowly, little cottage) but she was so excited to have her refined guest, she couldn't help herself! There was a time when these things that gave pleasure to the senses were just a normal part of her life and she would never have even considered, much less deliberated over, what was 'too much' or had any anxiety and self-doubt in planning an everyday meal for a friend. Times had really changed.

She worried too if Lucian would feel awkward that she had gone to the trouble and protest (either because the aristocratic Swedish/Englishman didn't feel comfortable enough alone with her in an intimate setting, or because he knew she couldn't –or worse, thought she shouldn't– easily afford a nice meal). She had planned what to say to ease things over, but to her relief, he wasn't awkward about the meal at all.

Lucius didn't protest. First because: he was used to a four course lunch and had no idea either way, of how much trouble went into preparing it. Second: however reticent as he tried to remain, because he knew better than she did that they were somehow closely connected at this strange, strange level, there was no point in denying it as far as simply sharing a meal. Third: in Wizarding culture not to accept another's hospitality was seen as so terribly ungracious. The only reason one would not accept an invitation for a meal in such a situation, would be because the guest did not trust the host; in Lucius's world, refusing or putting up a fuss when Valentina had been so kind to prepare food for him, was tantamount to accusing her of some sort of foul play, like poisoning (or poor hygiene at the very least). Fourth: he was famished! And if the rest of her food was anything like the little cakes she made him, there was no way he was going to pass it up for the plain, grilled salmon and steamed vegetables Idunn had him on lately...

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