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Launch Off (3/4)

BBC Sherlock

Rating: 15 (femslash, alcoholism, excess historians)

Spoilers: none

Disclaimer: Historians aren't like this at all, and nor are academic publishers.

Summary: What better way for Harry to impress Molly than to invite her to the Institute of Historical Research? Cheap wine and nibbles, bad speeches, and far too many peculiar historians...

Part 1, Part 2, Part 4

Harry was relieved when John and Molly arrived for the book launch, she'd half expected Sherlock to disrupt their plans at the last moment. Molly had a rather smart cream dress on, John was in his awful brown suit. But given that Harry was in her smartest trouser suit, and knew she still looked like a 17 year old boy going for a job interview, she was in no position to complain. Molly was here, it would be good, she could do this. She wondered for a moment if she should break the habit of a lifetime and try air-kissing Molly, and then stuck out her hand instead.

"Isn't this exciting?" said Molly. "And you've got copies of the book here?"

"Over here on the table," said Harry. "Actually, I wondered, would you like one? I get a few free copies I can give p-people." In reality, she'd already given away all her free copies, but Molly needn't know that she'd paid for this one.

"Thank you," said Molly. "And, er, would you sign it? Or is that not what you're supposed to do at this kind of thing?"

"I'd be happy to," said Harry, frantically scrabbling round for a pen. Why couldn't she have her belt-bag on, why did she have to wear these smart, useless clothes? At last she found one and thought, better be restrained. She carefully wrote: 'To Molly, with best wishes from Harry Watson."

It does look good, she thought as she handed the book to Molly. The stark black and white woodcut on the front contrasted with the bold scarlet letters of her name and the title: Authentic Woman: Phoebe Phillips and Whore Biography.

"Does John get a copy as well?" Molly asked.

"He's got his already, back at the flat. Except I suspect he hasn't opened it. You should have a look at chapter 8, John, there's some good m-man on man action." Oh shit, she thought as she saw John's face. Not a good start. She knew John got grumpy if you made too pointed remarks about gay men, despite having ended up with Sherlock. Why couldn't she keep her mouth shut? From the dirty look she was getting, John was about to retaliate. It wasn't so much that they didn't get on, as that they inevitably seemed to end up half-accidentally rubbing each other up the wrong way, always had.

"Well," said John smoothly, "I've looked at the acknowledgements, and I'm glad to see I get a mention at least. Given it's entirely thanks to me that you have a book to be launched." He turned to Molly. "Harry nearly managed to destroy the book when it was in draft."

"You said you weren't going to tell anyone," Harry protested.

"Molly has to hear this one, it's an absolute classic Harry disaster. It was some sort of editorial review, wasn't it? Just after I'd got back to London, they said she had to rewrite the first chapter completely. Harry flipped, and I got this text saying the book was no good and she was destroying it. I turned up her flat to find she'd deleted all her files, and had just started to burn the hard copy. When I appeared, she tried to put out the flames with her bare hands. So I took her along to Barts to be patched up, and only reminded her the next day that I had a complete backup of all her work that she'd insisted on giving me a week previously."

At least he hadn't said anything about her being drunk at the time, thought Harry, though it was a fairly obvious deduction. But as John looked coolly at her, she suddenly realised he wasn't trying to warn Molly off – he could have done that long ago, if he'd wanted to. He was reminding her just how near she'd come to blowing so many things.

She wasn't sure quite what to say, so she just murmured: "I'm afraid Chapter 1 is p-pretty crappy even after the rewrite, so if you do read the book, M-M-Molly, I'd suggest you skip that bit."

"I will read it," said Molly, "it looks interesting. But...are your hands OK?"

"My hands?"

"The accident. You burnt your hands, but they're OK now? No scarring?"

Her hands were unscarred, Molly knew that, had seen them, felt them...oh. She smiled at Molly. "They're fine now, no permanent damage."

"That's good, you have nice hands. The mortuary is horrible for your skin, so mine always look and feel hideous."

"You need to ask Sherlock about hand cream," John said unexpectedly. Harry gawped at him. "Seriously. He insists he has to keep the skin of his fingers soft, for maximum sensitivity when he's investigating, so he has some weird stuff he uses gallons of."

Best not to ask John exactly what Sherlock's hands felt like, Harry thought, and then Anna Maitland swooped down on her and dragged her away to talk about Covent Garden. She'd forgotten – it was her party, she had to talk to people other than Molly and John.


The speeches, which were the worst bit, were over quite soon. Mick, Professor Michael Dutton, who was brief and witty, and teasingly flattering about Harry. Someone from OUP, who she suspected hadn't read the book. Then Ruth Isaacs talking fiercely about paradigms and transgressive ruptures.  Finally her, giving an embarrassed and barely coherent response, and only remembering at the last minute to tell people they had copies of the book for sale right now.

When she'd finished, she made a beeline for Molly, who was looking impressed, and John, who looked like he was trying to stifle hysterical laughter.

"Hold out your hand," he demanded, as she came over. "Come on."

"Only if you do," she retorted as she did. It was somehow weirdly comforting that John's hand was shaking slightly as well as hers, she hadn't been the only one stressed out by the last ten minutes.

"Are you always nervous about public speaking?" Molly asked kindly.

"I'm fine in lectures and talks n-normally," Harry said. "It's just talking about m-myself, and I n-n-never kn-know what to say when people are saying I'm wonderful." 

"Wish I had that problem," said John cheerily, "but I really thought I was going to lose it when the OUP bloke was talking. Do they have special classes where historians learn to talk about 'whores' with an entirely straight face? Honestly, Harry, what a title. It's a good job Mum isn't here."

"It's a perfectly reasonable title," Harry replied. "And do you kn-know why it's 'whore biography'? Because I can actually say the bloody title and not stammer."

"Have you ever considered not writing about prostitution when you can't even say the word?" John demanded. Fortunately, before the whole thing degenerated completely, Molly broke in.

"So, um, who was Phoebe Phillips, and should I know about her? I didn't quite follow what they were saying..."

I must try and keep my answer to under three hours, thought Harry.  "In the Georgian p-period there's a sudden cluster of books written or supposedly written by disreputable women, courtesans, prostitutes. Phoebe Phillips' m-memoirs are one of them. People have presumed they were fake, p-possibly written by a m-m-man, a lot of the accounts are fictional. But I found records in the Old Bailey database that m-matched some of the incidents very closely, showed the book was based on the life of a woman called Phoebe M-Murray. And then I had incredible luck and found a cache of letters by M-Murray and her family. So we have her view, and the official reports, and her supposed m-memoirs and we can see how they all fit together, or tell different stories."

"You mean it's like if you've got lots of witnesses for a crime, you can compare their accounts?" said Molly.

"Just like that, except n-normally you never have enough evidence to kn-know clearly what happened back then. But just this once, we can really get a feel for what a woman of this class was like. I kn-know Phoebe Phillips, I understand her."

"That's amazing," said Molly.

"So much of it was luck," said Harry. "if it hadn't been for the fluke of those letters-"

"Which you spent years looking for," John broke in. "Every e-mail I got for about 18 months seemed to start: 'Hi, John, I'm in the archives' or 'I've just been in the archives', or 'I'm writing quickly before I go off to the archives.' And I probably don't need to read the book, I've heard so much from Harry about Phoebe Phillips over the years."

"I didn't know what else to write," said Harry. Because  I didn't want to talk about the war, she thought, or tell you how scared I was about you. And you couldn't drink when you were in an archive or a library, it was easier then.  She added: "But I am now through with Phoebe Phillips once and for all."

"Are you going to write about that highwayman?" Molly asked. "Highwaywoman, the one who dressed up as a man. You told me about her, him. I can't remember the name."

"Jack Hunter," said Harry. She'd told Molly about him at the party, hadn't she, and she'd remembered. Which was...wonderful. She felt a sudden wave of confidence. Molly thought she was interesting, well, that  Jack Hunter was, at least. "I finished  him off a few months ago, as it were, the article's in p-press right now." Mustn't offer her an advance copy, she'd already forced a whole book on the poor woman.

"The next thing I'm doing to do," she went on, "is something on murder and m-marriage. Husbands killing wives, wives killing husbands."

"You do have the most horrible taste in subjects, Harry," John said. "Have you ever thought of writing about normal, happy people?"

"They leave less evidence behind. And do Sherlock's cases have lots of happy, n-normal p-people in them?"

"Can't say they do," John admitted. "But prostitution and domestic violence-"

"P-people have always been interested in those," Harry said, "P-p-practically the first Greek play is about a wife killing her husband. And do you know the origin of the word 'p-pornography'?"

"No," said Molly.

"It's from the ancient Greek, means 'writing about whores'. I'm just following in a long tradition."

"So the next time someone asks me what my sister does," John said, smiling, "I should say you're a pornographer? How did I end up related to someone as crazy as you?"

"You live in a flat with body parts in the fridge," Harry retorted, " You have to hide Sherlock's experiments when I come round. I'm n-not taking lectures on normal from you. I'm sorry, Molly, we're just a strange family."

I've just been asked to give a talk at the next pathologists' annual meeting," said Molly brightly, "about making mortuaries more family-friendly."

John's face cracked fractionally before Harry's, and Molly's soon followed. I haven't seen Molly laugh properly, Harry thought, through her giggles, she probably doesn't get much chance to in her job. This was so wonderful, she wished this moment would last forever...

Which, of course, was the point at which John abruptly stopped giggling, and said: "Good job Clara isn't here." Harry would have thumped him, if Molly hadn't been watching.

"She wouldn't be pleased about the book?" asked Molly. "Even though it's dedicated to her?"

Fuck, thought Harry, but she could hardly explain about publishers' schedules.

"Me getting a book p-published she'd be p-p-pleased about, but n-not about a p-whore, because she likes n-nice history books about n-n-nice subjects."

"What was that one you had a terrific row about?" John asked. Why the hell had she let John come without Sherlock, it was actually turning out more embarrassing. "Clara's mother gave her the book as a present, and then she asked why you couldn't write something like that? Something about duchesses?"

"Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, Amanda Foreman's biography of her. I think they made a film of it as well," Harry said. "N-not my sort of history at all, but Amanda Foreman's glamorous enough to be a TV presenter, so Clara was impressed." That sounded bitchy, didn't it? "I mean Foreman's OK as a historian, don't get m-me wrong-"

"Wasn't she the one who posed naked for a photo once?" Molly asked, "behind a pile of her books? It was ages ago, but I remember that."

"Oh God, yes, I think she did," said Harry. She couldn't decide if she was pleased that Molly liked pictures of naked female historians, or worried that it was pictures of Amanda Foreman she liked. And John was just about to say something appalling, she knew he was. She kicked him on the ankle.

"Ow!" John yelped. "Stop that Harry, you've got to behave. We've got trouble coming. Look over there."

Harry looked round. The Director of the IHR, whom she rather liked. And Mycroft Holmes, whom she definitely didn't. What was that creep doing here?

"Good evening." Mycroft smiled insincerely, as he came up to them. "Please excuse me for having to interrupt your book launch so rudely, but I need to borrow Dr Watson. John, I mean." He added, with a twinkle that made Harry want to kick him to death, "It'll be handy when they finally promote you to Professor, Dr Watson, it'll save a lot of confusion."

He was an extremely well-informed creep, of course.

"There's n-n-nothing definite yet," Harry said, folding her arms, "and it m-may well n-not happen at all."

"Oh, I don't think Professor Trainor will change his plans now, at least I'm certainly not expecting him to," Mycroft replied smoothly. "I'm sorry I haven't had a chance to read your book yet, I've heard so much about it. Anthea's got the e-book version on order, but OUP are sadly slow in releasing it."

"So why do you need to borrow me?" John demanded, "given I'm a doctor, not a library book?"

"A certain important foreign personage has just arrived in this country. A member of the Elphberg  family, you might remember having dealings with one of their subordinates a few months ago?"

"Oh, you mean-"

"No details, please," Mycroft broke in, "at least not here. But this person would like some more information on the results of Sherlock's activities. Your report was...on the sketchy side."

"I'm sure Sherlock can fill him in," John replied calmly.

"It is official Foreign Office policy that Sherlock does not meet any foreigner above the rank of count," said Mycroft. "If it were feasible, I'd prefer him not to meet any foreign dignitaries at all, you can't imagine the diplomatic incidents we've had over the years. If you were able to come right now, Dr Watson, Her Majesty's government would be grateful."

"It's n-n-not anything dangerous, is it?" said Harry, and could have kicked herself at that point.

"The only risk is that your brother may be bored to death," said Mycroft. "And I presume there's a certain danger of that for him here, as well."

"Not at all," John said cheerily, "We're just having an interesting discussion about pornography, dead people, and naked historians. I'll come quietly, shall I?" Mycroft snorted, and turned away, and John followed in his wake.

"Who was that?" Molly asked.

"Sherlock's brother. Have you not met him?" Harry asked. "His name's M-Mycroft, and he's something very important in the government and a pain in the...n-neck."

"I can see a resemblance now," said Molly, "though he's nothing like as good-looking as Sherlock, and he seemed much less nice."

Harry tried to think of a response to a sentence that included the words 'Sherlock' and 'nice' and failed. Besides, she was feeling particularly guilty, now that Molly had lost John for support.

"Are you finding it boring?" she asked. "I'm sorry, I probably shouldn't have invited you, it's just a load of historians talking shop, and I have to circulate and meet people."

"Well, my party did have Mike Stamford and Gareth Pritchard, so I can hardly complain," said Molly, "but I did get someone trying to tell me rather a lot about the Enclosure Acts...a bit more than I wanted to know, really."

My poor Molly, thought Harry, rapidly scanning the room. Was there anyone here working on something that wouldn't bore Molly to tears? Then she spotted the back of a huge figure with a crew-cut.

"Come over here and talk to my friend Scott," she said. "He writes about p-pirates."


"He'll tell you it's because he's interested in forms of democratic self-organising collectives, but actually I suspect he read the Ladybird Book of Pirates or something similar as a kid and got hooked," Harry said. "Basically, a lot of us are historians because we want to dream about being m-more exciting people than we are. David Starkey would really like to be ruling England, Christopher Andrew wants to  be a spy...m-maybe Amanda Foreman dreams of being a duchess, for that m-matter."

"So do you secretly want to be a Georgian prostitute?" Molly asked, smiling tentatively.

Oh shit, thought Harry. Why is there no way of going back and editing my conversations?

"I want to be someone leading an interesting enough life that my m-memoirs are worth faking," she blurted out. "Not just a boring n-nerd sitting in a library."

"Oh, Harry," Molly said, with such tenderness in her voice that Harry could barely refrain herself from suggesting they went off for some historical re-enactment. (Even a lesbian could learn a lot from eighteenth-century erotica). But she was supposed to be behaving, so she took Molly over to Scott instead.

"Scott, this is Molly Hooper from Barts, she's a pathologist there. Molly , this is Scott McGrath, formerly of Tennessee, now of the University of Hertfordshire."

Scott smiled benevolently down at Molly. "You're from Barts? I was e-mailing your lot a few months ago, wanting to know how easy it was to kill a man by flogging him with a cat o' nine tails."

"It was you contacted Tamjid, was it?" said Molly, smiling back. "I don't think we could really find much information. Were the Wellcome any use?"

"They give me a bit," said Scott. "But I'd better explain the background. There's this privateer I'm interested in called Nine-fingered Hughes..."



( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 21st, 2010 05:26 pm (UTC)
Now I want to read Authentic Woman: Phoebe Phillips and Whore Biography!
Another lovely chapter - it's great to see Harry's confidence increase :)
Dec. 22nd, 2010 07:44 pm (UTC)
I'm afraid that doesn't exist - but the 'memoirs' do - details at the end of the final section.
Dec. 22nd, 2010 08:58 pm (UTC)
I confess to having googled her as soon as I finished reading the chapter!
Dec. 21st, 2010 06:32 pm (UTC)
enjoyed this very much - poor Molly finding out more than she wanted to know about the Enclosure Acts made me laugh out loud. loved Harry's account of historians and their motives, and John's cheery response to Mycroft, too.
Dec. 22nd, 2010 07:52 pm (UTC)
When it comes to historians and their motives...I found this quote after I'd written the story, talking about a radio programme presented by Royal Holloway's Professor of the History of Early Modern Ideas:

As a youngster, Justin Champion loved adventure novels which were jam-packed with sword play - The Three Musketeers, The Prisoner of Zenda and Scott's Waverley series. He has always been intrigued as to why men felt the urgency to defend their honour in such a dangerous way. In this programme, he tracks the history of the duel, its influence, some particularly pivotal duels, is shown how to sword fight and thinks he's found the reason why duelling eventually ceased as a practice in the UK.
Dec. 21st, 2010 08:43 pm (UTC)
TOTAL WIN!!! Sorry, only capslock can express my enthusiastic delight! My God, it has everything: plausible historical detail, spot-on refs to historians - and even Rick Trainor making a showing!!! So much love... I found I kept expecting Penny Corfield or Tim Hitchcock to put in a brief cameo!

Gorgeous, gorgeous writing which I am memming with the fire of a thousand manuscripts...
Dec. 22nd, 2010 07:57 pm (UTC)
I thought cameos were going too far, especially since I don't know any C18 historians. But I couldn't resist the hope that Mycroft has his beady eye on Rick Trainor and his activities.

But please, step away from the burning manuscripts right now, or Sherlock may be forced to try and rescue them. (That's actually a lurking plot bunny at the moment).
Dec. 23rd, 2010 09:50 am (UTC)
Ha! Oh Mycroft, how I love you!

Quite right about cameos - my comment was more a tribute to the realism of your prose! Pitch perfect throughout.

This is a thing of utter beauty.


Dec. 21st, 2010 09:49 pm (UTC)
A member of the Elphberg family

[Jaw drops] Is it some sort of official rule that you have to mention something of special significance to me in every instalment?

I'm getting a bit worried now in case Scott swoops in on Molly just when things are going so well.
Dec. 22nd, 2010 08:00 pm (UTC)
I promise I'm not secretly recording your particular interests and then incorporating them into what you read on the internet. That's Mycroft's job. But a lot of my fics have literary in-jokes at some point in them, and we obviously share some of the same reference points.
Dec. 22nd, 2010 09:15 pm (UTC)
And it was Mycroft who mentioned the Elphbergs! It all makes sense!
(Deleted comment)
Jan. 13th, 2012 01:07 am (UTC)
"Have you ever thought of writing about normal, happy people?"

"They leave less evidence behind

So true (and so sad, of course, leading to a somewhat skewered picture of the past); so much love for Harry and her one-liners!

"It is official Foreign Office policy that Sherlock does not meet any foreigner above the rank of count,"

This cracked me up - and inquiring minds do want to know the story behind that XD

"He'll tell you it's because he's interested in forms of democratic self-organising collectives, but actually I suspect he read the Ladybird Book of Pirates or something similar as a kid and got hooked,"

OMG yes, this rings so true (and is so immensely funny).

I'd better stop here before I quote the whole chapter back at you.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )