(1938-10-14) Settling In
Details for Settling In
Summary: Fabia settles into her new rooms, with the aid of her valet.
Date: 1938-10-14
Location: Fabia's Rooms, The Three Broomsticks

It's a dark and st— well, a drizzly night— well, in point of fact, a very late afternoon, but darkness falls when it wills in Scotland at this time of year.

The gutters of the Three Broomsticks are sloshing miserably in counterpoint with the fall of rain upon the roof; but all the windows of the pub proper are bright with conviviality, as a dark green Muggle automobile (its ravishing silhouette occluded by the luggage strapped to it above and behind, as well as spilling over from the backseat into the front) purrs slowly along the High Street, its driver examining each building he passes for the one which fits the somewhat impressionistic description he's been given.

Inside the Broomsticks an older woman, elegant in pale turquoise satin, her Mugglishness temporarily diluted by the loan of someone else's pointed hat, has gathered about her four or five interested patrons and is telling a story. She speaks with her hands as much as with her voice: they fly about all over the place, that is, when they're not swooping down upon whichever glass is closest.

"And then I said, Your Majesty is TOO GRACIOUS, and he tried to untie the bow, and—" Her big green eyes, traveling in a descriptive arc, take in the rather damp fellow who has just come in from the street: "FRID!"

Frid removes his hat as he enters, shaking off the worst of the rain before tucking it under his arm. "Madam," he responds, with somewhat less wild enthusiasm and somewhat more amusement. "I shall assume I have found the place, then?"

"Yes, sweetie! Yes, this is my pub." Fabia glances around her, with a look Frid knows well to mean she's on the point of giggling — but before she gets that far, she finds her martini glass and knocks back what's left of it.

As she rises the hat she has been trying on, just to see how it felt, slips; she remembers it, plucks it off her henna'd head, and looks for some cue as to which witch or wizard she ought to be giving it back to — ah, that one. "Thank you so much for letting me borrow this, it was so kind of you," she says, with a big smile and a little sigh, as she hands it over. "And so lovely to meet you all. Do come again soon, and I'll tell you how it ended."

Then she glides over to Frid — still sublimely graceful, though she's obviously had a few, when hasn't she had a few? — and pats his rain-spattered coat-sleeve. "Oh, what a relief that you've got here. I'd have had nothing to wear tomorrow!"

"I am but a function of your laundering needs," Frid responds, deadpan. "And what a delightful new hat, madam." He gives her a slight smile, the sort of fond smile reserved for a slightly batty old aunt, and dips his head. "I shall bring your luggage in immediately to compliment it. Your rooms?"

"Upstairs. Oh, I'll send the boy out to help, and then he can show you the way," she declares, rather pleased with this solution. She pats his arm again, casting a grateful smile upwards in his general direction. And then she flits off and vanishes behind the bar. Well, not literally vanishes, though in a place like this, it is perhaps important to draw the distinction.

Being a married woman, with a tribe of children and grandchildren, Madam Tabitha has always preferred to live out, even whilst she was masquerading as the owner of the Three Broomsticks; the apartment ostensibly reserved for the owner was let occasionally to medium-term tenants such as the late B. Travers, Esq., who desired the convenience of the Broomsticks and its staff but a greater degree of comfort than might be afforded by a single room in the attached inn.

Its present style is mismatched masculine clutter of the wizarding sort, overlaid with a veneer of Fabia's mess: discarded stockings over the back of a chair, two lipstick-stained cigarette butts in the lid of an oriental jar, hastily pressed into service as an ashtray, bits of yesterday's Times looking as though they've been through a tornado, and, now, a veritable Everest of trunks, cases, and carpet-bags piled in the middle of the sitting-room.

The first thing she's opened is her gramophone, which is designed in any case for portability; she is now sitting cross-legged on the floor, back straight, eyes focused, picking through one of her several boxes of records.

Frid exhales as he looks the room over. He shakes his head, first upending the 'ashtray' into an elephant's foot ornamental stand, then brushing it off and placing the lid back on its appropriate jar. "I have a theory that your luggage is a gas," he notes drily, heading over next to pluck the stockings from the chair and place them in a basket. "It expands to fill the available space."

At first Fabia doesn't look up from the records. "Really, Frid," she sighs, for they've had this discussion and its variants before, whenever they go anywhere at all, and they do quite regularly go to Paris for the ballet, "if you only knew how many things I used to have and don't have anymore…" And then she finds what she's looking for and draws it out of the box, beaming at it.

Her eyes find Frid. "And now I've all these things of Bertie's, can you imagine. Aren't some of them frightful?" The elephant's foot, par exemple.

"But is it really so much to ask that you at least wait until I arrive before making it look like the Somme?" Frid chides, shaking his head as he moves around the room, straightening things. Tidying things. Replacing things. "I cannot possibly comment, madam, on the taste or lack thereof of the late Mister Travers," he insists, although he does eye a painting on the wall and simply takes it down without asking.

"Oh, that's very good of you," giggles the taste of the late Mister Travers, as she fusses with the gramophone sitting by her side on the floor, trying to bring the needle down on just the song she wants. "But as you happen to bring it up, or did I bring it up, at any rate it's been brought up, I rather think I have a better idea now of how he died…"

The gramophone commences to emit an upbeat little Noël Coward tune, from Tonight at 8:30. Fabia tucks her legs underneath herself and flows smoothly up onto her feet, already swaying with the music. The brassy bits make her shoulders twitch.

"Listen to the strain it plays once more for us,
There it is again, the past in store for us.
Wake in memory some forgotten song
To break the rhythm — driving us along
And make harmony again a last encore for us.
Play, orchestra play
Play something light and sweet and gay
For we must have music
We must have music
To drive our fears away…"

Frid pauses to watch her sway, and, having cleared one corner of the room, begins to unpack the first of many trunks. "Three quarters of an elephant?" he suggests. "Leaving only a sad and lonely foot to indicate it was ever here to begin with?"

The song is a short one. Fabia puts her finger near her lips (never to them, she wouldn't care to smudge herself) to shush Frid till it's over, and half-dances, half-walks about the room through the second verse, twirling whenever she must dodge a trunk or a table or a fragment of elephant.

"While our illusions swiftly fade for us,
Let's have an orchestra score.
In the confusions the years have made for us
Serenade for us, just once more.
Life needn't be grey,
Although it's changing day by day,
Though a few old dreams may decay,
Play, orchestra, play."

And then she turns down the volume dial, to make it easier to chat, and wanders over to see what Frid's doing. She likes to watch him work. "I don't know where you'll put any of my kit," she sighs, "his things are in every drawer, on every shelf… We'll have to DO something about everything. It wasn't an elephant. I'm surprised the village gossips haven't come up with that one, though, they've certainly been peddling every other variation. You know they told me it was natural causes, heart failure? Well, it may have been, but…"

"This drawer, at least, is now ours," Frid notes, working with quiet efficiency to unpack the clearly male items, and replace them with enough of Fabia's things to last her a day or two. Probably. "Would you like me to store Mister Travers's things in our trunks until you have made a decision?"

It dawns upon Fabia, yet again, that her valet is the brains of this operation. "Oh," she says admiringly. "Yes, that would be rather — yes, you *could* just swap them. But leave me his dressing-gown, it's so warm. I'd have frozen to death in here last night without it." She rubs her arms in memory, though her new digs seem warm enough now, with fires crackling in two hearths. "I suppose there must have been some spell I could have cast, but I was too cold to try to remember anything." A philosophical sigh for her discomfort and unfamiliarity with the magic which ought to have been her birthright; and she sits down on the end of the bed, still watching Frid.

"Very good, madam," Frid responds smoothly, the switch to absolute formality in private and without a hint of sarcasm gives the whole conversation a chill. Given five years of working with her, the subtle indicators of displeasure are faint but recognisable by now. He gives the hearth a glance, then returns to carefully unpacking beautiful, priceless silks, interspersed with appalling bohemian tat with no apparent distinction.

(… No apparent distinction, until it's on Fabia's back in association with couture pieces you'd never in a million years think would go with it, and then, of course, the overall effect is drop-dead chic. Nobody thinks this is fair.)

Oh, now she's done it. Every so often she does it. Taking magic lightly, as she takes most things lightly, except dance; in the presence of a Squib who'd have given all he had, and everything he was, just to be *able* to take it so lightly… Yes, after a second's thought Fabia knows what she's done, but not, quite, how to fix it. The last time she did it so badly, they happened to see the Bentley Meteor at an estate sale for a very good price, just the week after she'd rolled the Bugatti down a hill; and that put a wholly different expression on Frid's face. But a car would be too much every time. The garage situation, for instance, up here in Hogsmeade, and the rising price of petrol…

Fabia subsides with a susurration of silk, lying flat across the end of the bed, her shoes falling off her feet and her head nestled upon her arms. "Anyway," she murmurs, changing the subject, "They told me his heart failed. Nothing odd or mysterious at all. But as soon as I crossed the threshold yesterday, and saw these rooms, I knew Bertie'd had a woman in here the night he died."

Frid glances to her as he folds underclothes away. "I dread to think how you could tell, madam. I shall see to it that the mattress is changed immediately."

Her back arches into a still-lovelier curve beneath her turquoise satin gown as she pushes herself up onto her elbows, to look at him while she's speaking with him. In the hope he can be coaxed to speak *with* her again, and not just to her. "It wasn't that, not anything like that… It was the flowers, at first. And the sexy record in his gramophone. You know, somehow I couldn't bring myself to play it, I waited for mine. Isn't that queer?"

Frid relents a little, glancing to his employer. "I would think, madam, that he might have been entitled to a little company, under the circumstances." One drawer is closed, and he begins to fold down the various male items with a practiced ease into the now empty trunk. It's almost like he spends half his life packing things away and unpacking them in new cities. "When did you last see him?"

A week has passed since she came into the kitchen, nervous but dry-eyed, assorted papers fluttering in her hand, and announced to Frid: "My husband's dead."

He'd assumed she was talking about Edward Fairfax; and then she'd said, "No, the other one," and it'd been the first he'd ever heard of another one… They haven't really had The Talk, for there's always been something else to talk about, and is she, really, obliged to confide to her valet every detail of her private life? Never mind how forthcoming she's always been about most things… Most things, that is, after she was twenty or so, and living in Paris.

Now, she shifts onto her side, propping her head on her hand, draping her other arm over her waist. More the pose of an odalisque than a respectable middle-aged widow; but it's unconsciously assumed, and not unbecoming to her. "Oh, I don't *mind*," she exclaims, "in fact, I'm rather pleased he doesn't seem to have died sad and alone… I don't have to feel as guilty about not feeling guilty." A very quick naughty-little-girl smile. "I hadn't seen him since nineteen-twelve or thirteen, though the marriage was over in… oh, eighteen-something. One hardly likes to think of eighteen-something… Another century; another life."

"You could only have been very young," Frid decides, after a moment of mental mathematics. "And the world has changed considerably." He pauses in folding, looking at her thoughtfully, before completing the piece of clothing he's on and announcing, "I shall see that drinks are sent up. Gin this evening, or cocktails?"

"Yes," Fabia agrees complacently, having lied about her age so many times that even Frid, who has lived in her pocket for five years, doesn't know quite how long she's been extant, "*very* young. Now, I spent all yesterday evening and most of today trying to teach the girls downstairs — excuse me, the wenches, they're called — to make better martinis. They've finally got the hang of it — the last one was gorgeous. Another one would be — more gorgeous. And whatever you like, of course. Anything at all from the cellar." A beatific smile.

Frid dips his head, disappearing downstairs without the aid of magic, but with the aid of years in service. It's a knack, a skill, to blend in so well with the furniture that it seems he only appears when he's immediately needed. Right now, apparently, is one of those times, as he's not long before he returns, backing into the room with a silver tray, on which are balanced three martinis, and a small nip of what is probably, given Frid's preference, a single malt. "I have given instructions that you are not to be disturbed this evening," he tells her, moving over to offer the first of the glasses.

In his absence Fabia has wandered stocking-footed back into the sitting-room, to put on the other side of her Noel Coward record. And then — oh, dear — she's unlocked another of the trunks, and tried to 'help'. Colourful silk pyjamas everywhere. She must already be halfway to alcoholic paradise, if her judgment's so compromised she thinks it's a good idea to trespass upon Frid's turf.

Three martinis on the tray. Oh, lord. All nicely chilled, but not likely to remain so for long, unless she uses that little spell she somehow never forgets… which she certainly can't tonight, not after what she said to him a few minutes ago. This is a test, a torment, a punishment. Not unlike the time he gave that perfectly darling hat of hers to the charwoman, just because *he* didn't like it; or claimed to have 'misplaced' what he insisted were 'novelty handkerchiefs'. If she manages to drink them all before they're too warm, will he be so entertained he'll warm up a little himself? Or would he find it more amusing if she, whose capacity despite her size has so frequently been found to equal or surpass his own, were driven to admit defeat?

These thoughts swirl tipsily beneath Fabia's slightly-tousled Marcel Wave as she says, "How thoughtful of you, sweetie. A quiet evening while we sort out what's to be done with — oh, all this." A sweep of her arms, into fourth position en haut. "Oh! Unless you're too tired?" she asks anxiously, and takes up the first martini, blinking at him over the rim of the glass as she drains half of it.

There is a faint twitch of Frid's eye as he is faced with pyjamageddon, but he shakes his head. "Not at all," he insists drily, "A bracing drive up to Scotland with your delightful collection of trunks for company is invigorating." He takes up his scotch, lifting the glass to her in toast, apparently in a better mood now he's had his little revenge. "Slainte."

"Slainte," she echoes, touching her glass to his, and drinking down another wonderfully cool and tingly mouthful. Then she turns, presenting him with her back: "Unzip me, will you, sweetie? If I'm dining up here…"

Frid sets down his glass, carefully holding the top of her frock together with one hand while the other unzips. That done he moves to collect one oversized dressing gown from the back of a chair, and holds it out to her ready to wear, eyes averted to the wall. It's more for appearance than anything, given the number of times he's rescued her from a drunken stupor, dressed her in her pyjamas and put her to bed, but the thought is there. "So. Mister Travers," he prompts, curious.

The thought expressed by the dressing-gown, the scrutiny afforded the wall — it's more for *his* benefit, to preserve *his* idea of the proper distance between mistress and servant. The nonchalant attitude toward disrobing which Fabia Iskanderova acquired during the course of twenty years of quick-changes in the wings and never mind who might be looking, caused Frid's eyes to cross on a number of occasions in their early months together, after she'd given up trying to be on her best behaviour for him and was simply being — herself.

She stands there not two feet from him and shrugs off her satin frock, sending out a fresh wave of expensive French scent with every motion. She considers, and lets her petticoat fall likewise at her feet, then plucks the dressing-gown from Frid's outstretched hand and settles it over her terribly pretty lilac silk camisole and matching French knickers and stockings she'll have to throw out because wouldn't you know they've both got tiny runs in them, courtesy of an insufficiently-polished barstool in the taproom below.

"Well," she sighs, and finishes the first martini, "he did have a lovely dressing-gown." It's the one she wanted kept for her. Too big, of course, far too big. The sleeves cover her hands, the hem drags about her feet.

"Should we have that inscribed upon his gravestone?" Frid suggests, brushing off his hands and taking up his glass once more, finally taking a small sip. "Here lies Bertram Travers Esquire, he had a lovely dressing gown?"

As soon as she's spoken Fabia curls up in a big leather armchair, pulling her legs up beneath herself — a movement which results in a brief flash of stocking-top, before she gets the weight of the dressing-gown under control and tucks it in at either side, garment and blanket in one. The second martini is thoughtfully transferred to her hand; she smiles over it at Frid. "Better than here lies Bertram Travers, his wife ran out after a year and a half and the poor sap never even divorced her." Oh, yes, the martinis have arrived.

Frid takes a moment to clear pyjama from the other chair in the room, then sits down to nurse his drink. "For Mister Fairfax?" he hazards, attempting to get the timeline straight in his head. "No doubt he was quite the charmer."

Not at all discomfited by her valet sitting down to have a drink with her — they've had plenty of evenings like this; she enjoys the company, and so, to her delight, does he — Fabia snuggles into her cushions and giggles. "Oh, lord, no. Teddy wasn't till much later… Poor Bertie, though, he did try to see me again once, but that was *just* after I'd met Teddy, so of course it was no use. Damn and blast Teddy Fairfax and his beautiful eyes."

"And his beautiful flowers," Frid adds drily, taking another sip from his drink. "I have to admit, were I to break a hip due to somebody else's ill conceived plans, I'm not sure I would have been so magnanimous."

"Well, there was no real harm done…" Though that first day and night, before she'd managed to reach out to a wizard acquaintance, had certainly been the most painful, the most terrifying time of her life — and for a woman so liberally provided with gin, she looks sober all of a sudden. One way to fix that. Her martini glides down her throat. Ignore that buzzing, it'll go away on its own. "That clock," her arm swings up, to point, spilling most of what's left in the glass, "that clock is frightful. Do let's get rid of it."

Frid glances up to the clock, rising to his feet and setting his drink down once more. He heaves the ornate timepiece from the wall, querying, "Would madam like the clock to be sold, scrapped, or defenestrated?"

Fabia just giggles. "Oh, I leave it to you, sweetie." A thought occurs. "Perhaps… perhaps we could give it to Madam Tabitha. She," she leans forward, sips her somewhat reduced martini, and confides, "she doesn't like me much."

"Madam Tabitha?" Frid queries, shuffling backwards with the clock until he can set it down against the wall by the door, ready to take out when he leaves. "I don't believe we've been introduced."

"Oh," she sighs, "I expect she's gone home. You'll find out, though. She's the manageress here. She's been looking after the place for Bertie for a hundred years, and looks it. Apparently she let everyone think she was the real owner, and they were all just stunned to find out the pub was his all along… just stunned," she repeats. Second glass empty. Third now? She looks about. After all, she was assigned three, wasn't she?

Frid helpfully plucks it from the tray and offers it over without needing to be asked, claiming her empty to replace it. "I see," he muses. "I imagine she was less than pleased to see you, then. Shall I smooth things over for you, or had you in mind to see her gone?"

"Smooth things over?" Fabia echoes, and utters the first thought with which that thought happens to connect: "With skin like hers, I shouldn't think there'd be enough pan-cake in Hollywood…" She giggles, and sips. Her eyes don't quite focus on the same point, and her lipstick is fading, having been dispersed over the rims of so many glasses, but otherwise she's still reasonably pulled-together. No more slovenly drunk than sober, thank goodness. "I expect we'd better keep her," she sighs, "she seems to know how to do things. I don't know how to do things, at least not yet."

"I shall offer her every assistance, then," Frid assures her, finally finishing off his drink and setting the glass down before absently fiddling with his wrists under his cuffs, an habitual gesture of tiredness or that he's succumbed to the alcohol. "Will you require anything more this evening?" he asks, taking up the tray in one hand and the clock in the other.

His employer smiles radiantly up at him. "Oh, bless you, sweetie," she says, though it's not immediately apparent upon which of his words or actions she is bestowing this benediction. She thinks for a few seconds. "Perhaps I ought to have supper?"

Frid glances down to the clock in his left hand. "It should be here within five minutes," he assures her.

"Oh, how lovely. You might put something else on the gramophone." Noël Coward has wound down. "Something pretty. And do take Bertie's gramophone out with you," yes, Frid has a thousand hands, all at her disposal, "I don't want to look at it. And — and there was something else I didn't like… Do you remember what else I didn't like?"

Her final list of tasks goes on so long it overlaps with the arrival of her supper; and then of course her increasingly weary manservant is honour-bound to serve it to her himself before he can make good his escape.

After she's eaten she snoozes in her chair for an hour or two, then, curiously refreshed, gets dressed again and wanders downstairs to look for a party.

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