(1938-10-18) Good Old Bertie
Details for Good Old Bertie
Summary: The sweet girlish friendship between Fabia and Corina blossoms with the exchange of further confidences; also, Frid keeps the drinks coming, bless him. (WARNING: Some Mature Content)
Date: October 18th, 1938
Location: The Three Broomsticks, Hogsmeade
Related: Naked Curiosity, Dancing Queen

The Three Broomsticks

Despite the obvious patina of age, The Three Broomsticks has a warm, inviting ambiance. This character the pub has attained is, no doubt, thanks to the years it has been steeped in the environment of this particular village. Just one evidence of the village's influence on the pub can be seen in the dark paneling inside the building. The wood was once the outer walls of the home that housed Hogsmeade's founding family. Put to good use once again after the founding family bequeathed it to the pub, the paneling has served the pub just as well as it once served Hogsmeade's founders. The Three Broomsticks has flourished under its current proprietor and is always open and ready for a customer or visitor.

The dark wood surface of the floor glows with a polished sheen from much cleaning, and exposed ceiling rafters, which appear to be original, cross the ceiling in tidy squares. Wood tables of varying sizes litter the room, and matching chairs are scattered among them. Several secluded booths fill up the space along one wall. A flavorfully aged mahogany bar takes up most of the space near the back wall with a series of mirrors and shelves of varying heights hanging behind it. Those shelves behind the bar are lined with memorabilia depicting the life and people of the village as well as items which are special mementos to the pub's owner.

Closing-time is fast approaching in the Three Broomsticks, and several regulars have prudently put down money behind the counter, for drinks they'll redeem later, during the perfectly legal and unexceptionable lock-in, which custom it has been tacitly conveyed to them will be honoured during the new landlady's tenure. She's hardly the type to stop a body drinking; which policy has endeared her to the people of Hogsmeade, even if her clothes have not.

And then the spectacular (in every way) figure of Corina Silver appears through the Floo — and Fabia Fairfax, or indeed Fabia Travers, who has just bid a fond farewell to two or three friendly acquaintances who were inclined to call it a night, turns toward her fireplace when she hears the noise. "Sweetie!" she gasps, thankful for how she knows she looks in her present blue satin ensemble. She thinks quickly. "We're about to 'close'," her fingers make inverted quotation marks about the word. "Do come upstairs with me!"

Corina smiles warmly, offering a sultry, half-lidded case to a few of the lingering late drinkers. How she loves to get a reaction. As she approaches Fabia to exchange cheek kisses, she makes her own finger quotation marks. "I 'know', dear. Do you think my timing an accident?" She giggles and slips an arm into Fabia's, waiting to be led wherever the landlady should like.

One man chokes on his drink, another blushes furiously and stares into his; and Fabia purrs, "Oh, well done *you*," and cuddles up to her friend fondly as she leads her behind the bar and through the hallowed Staff Only door. She snags a bottle of something along the way. Whatever it is, it'll do for starters.

The apartment sacred to the owner of the Three Broomsticks — which was let to tenants by Madam Tabitha, during her ostensible period of ownership, because she preferred to live out with her enormous family — is done in a style best described as Mismatched Masculine Clutter, overlaid with a veneer of Fabia. Her gramophone sits on a small occasional table, with four boxes of records lined up neatly beside it; photographs from her dancing days give the looking-glass a second frame, within the one it was constructed with; the air is redolent of face-powder, flowers, and expensive French scent.

And, of course, there's Frid, emerging from the boudoir, with assorted intimate items of Fabia's laundry slung over his arm. At the sight of his mistress and her friend, he is too well-trained to raise his eyebrows; he merely gives them a long look, and intones, "Will you require anything more this evening, madam?"

"Oh," breathes Fabia, tilting her head and focusing as though she were *trying* to think of some impossible errand for the poor handsome creature. "No, I think we shall do quite well on our own, somehow or another." A beat. "That is, if you brought up the martini things?"

"Immediately you requested them, madam," he assures her. (He doesn't, however, appear wholly convinced by her protestations of self-sufficiency.)

"Then you may as well go to bed."

"Very good, madam."

He passes by, closing the door neatly behind him; and Fabia, still holding Corina's arm, squeezes it tightly. "That's Frid," she explains.

Corina's blue-grey gaze follows Frid out, making not even the slightest effort to disguise her admiration of the man's appearance. She turns back to Fabia with such mischief in her eyes. "Fabia, darling. How can you stand to be in the presence of that every day without…" She pauses, giving the older woman a smirk of mock-accusation. "Unless you do, you naughty woman."

Fabia giggles vaguely and slides her arm out of Corina's. A drinks trolley has recently been added to the sitting-room's comfortable but idiosyncratic appointments; she sashays over to it, examining the label upon the bottle she's just pinched from downstairs. Bruichladdich — how fortuitous. "Scotch?" she offers, "or would you rather see me spill something more complicated?" A beat. "I admit it's more pleasant than having my bath drawn and my frocks unzipped and my breakfast brought up by a snippy little French maid."

Corina gestures approvingly at the Scotch as she moves over to Fabia's bed, and makes herself comfortable. "Oh, I don't know. Some of those French maids are fun to keep around. Even if only as window dressing. So, my lovely Fabia, you cancelled luncheon with me. You owe me another story."

Frid returns after a moment or two, tie loosened and jacket-free, apologising quietly as he scans the room, eyes finally alighting on the bottle of scotch there. He exhales, dips his head resignedly, and turns for the door, the very model of discreet politeness.

At the time, all Fabia said in her telegram was that she couldn't come to luncheon and was positively distraught about it; now, pouring generous quantities of whiskey onto a strictly moderate number of rocks, she laughs. "Oh, sweetie. I *am* sorry." She looks to Frid, smirks as he collects the bottle she's just set down, and glides through the open double doors from her sitting-room into her boudoir, where she curls up next to Corina. "The fact is," she confesses, pressing a glass into her friend's hand, and let it be understood from the little noise in her throat as she gets off her feet, not to mention her slightly unfocused gaze, that four martinis went into this confession, and that she's either unaware or doesn't care that Frid may hear it, "I haven't had that much sex since some friends and I were snowed in in a little house in Devon with nothing but a pack of cards, a case of Montrachet, and one another."

Corina sits up with sudden excitement and rapt attention. "Oh, I KNEW it! You wanton harlot! So he's quite the Casanova, is he? Will you see him again? You must see him again." She flashes an inviting smile Frid's way. "Goodness, Frid. The secrets you must keep. Where can I find one of you?"

Frid simply clears his throat, taking a long breath as he tries to clear that mental image and fails. But then he's being addressed, even as he was about to escape, and manners at least dictate that he reply, even if there is perhaps a hint of dry humour about his response. "If I find a fresh box of valets, madam, I shall inform you immediately." He may not yet have cracked into the whisky, but it's definitely relax-o-clock.

As Corina sits up, Fabia falls back against her pillows, giggling with the thrill of being called a WANTON HARLOT. She almost spills her whiskey — that part of it which didn't vanish in the first gulp — but manages to get the glass to the bedside table just in time. Her hand, she brings up to her heart, still laughing, not to mention writhing. "Oh, sweetie. There's only one Frid — I don't see how there could be more than one. And of course I shall see him again," now she's speaking of the tulip gentleman, "when I've *quite* recovered… I told him I'd call on Sunday afternoon, if my other engagements permitted!"

Corina laughs appreciatively at Frid's dry wit. "Oh, how droll. Fabia, I hope you keep Frid happy, or I shall have to steal him from you." She gives the valet a wink. "So, Sunday, hmm? I shall expect a full report on Monday or Tuesday, of course. Say, whatever happened to the brunette thing he was with? Poor dear. She could hardly hold a candle to you."

Another irrepressible giggle from Fabia.

Frid glances to Fabia with an almost parental exhalation of breath, then switches his gaze to Corina, perhaps for a moment longer than strictly necessary, smile tugging at the corner of his lips. He turns back to his employer, dipping his head and, well, if it were anyone but Frid, that might have been construed as a wink. Probably something in his eye. Stealing a last look at Corina, he backs out through the double doors to take up post out in the sitting room. With his whisky.

Fabia puts a hand on Corina's arm. "Isn't he marvelous," she whispers, and there's no question which 'he' she has in mind. She sniffs, picks up her whiskey, drinks a little more. In a normal voice: "Well, if I owe you a story — which?"

Corina rolls her eyes, laughing. "All of them, of course. Start with whichever you are dying to tell. Because I know you are bursting inside to share." She glances Frid-ward, tilting her head curiously. She lowers her voice, but not especially whispering. "Tell me now if he is off limits, darling. Or if he simply wouldn't be interested. A valet to a woman, after all…it does raise questions."

"… I don't know for *certain* whether he'd be interested," Fabia murmurs in answer, leaning very close to Corina, "he does *occasionally* spend his evenings off with lady friends, but he won't tell me a *thing* about them — but I do want to *keep* him. He does so much more than simply look after my clothes, you know, I don't know what I'd do without him… Try him if you really want to, I don't mind that, I quite comprehend the compulsion, I have to live with it every day; but please don't take him *away*…?" In her eyes, an acknowledgment of Corina's power; and a quite naked hope that she won't choose to exercise it.

Corina purses her lips, tut-tutting at Fabia. "I wouldn't dream of trying to steal him away. I was teasing, dear. Just…maybe borrowing him now and then, if things go well. Now then, tell me a story." She lounges back on the pillows, nursing her Scotch.

"Oh, borrowing… borrowing I don't mind," Fabia assures her, with a peculiar little smile, as though she might, just at that moment, be imagining something.

Holding her glass of scotch in both hands, she wriggles close to Corina, till they're almost touching, facing one another across the tiny gap in the pillows. "Well," she breathes. "I told you we were going to the theatre." She pauses; and then a positively wicked smile steals across her features. "We didn't get as far as the theatre. You see, he mentioned something about my green and gold, and its similarity to my costume in Scheherazade, and the consequent difficulty he'd had in controlling himself… And I asked how well he remembered that pas de deux… And one thing led to another before it was even seven o'clock!"

"Positively wicked!" Corina exclaims, feigning a scandalized gape. "Tell me. Did he make the first move? Or did you have to coax him into it? I trust, by the sound of it, that he hadn't lost any of his virility."

Shoulders rising, lips curving, Fabia sips her scotch and cuddles into her pillow. "Well — he was quite considerate — he took a good long time about it… We did go out later for a couple of hours, to a chemmy game run by an old friend of his. Every time I said to say banco he said banco and we won coup after coup, such a lot of lovely money, and we met—" She giggles, and redirects. "Such lovely money. I don't even know how much, it was just in *handfuls* of bills… I woke up to the sound of him telephoning to Asprey's to have them send round a few little things we might spend it on." She fumbles inside the high, straight neckline of her blue satin gown, and extracts a truly jaw-droppingly spectacular diamond necklace, intricate and flowery, warmed by her skin.

Corina gasps loudly, her eyes turning into great, jealous circles at the sight of the ice around Fabia's neck. "Let me see." She reaches tenderly to touch the sparkling jewelry. "I hate you and I want your life right now. So, how serious do you think he is hoping this will be?"

"*You* hate *my* life…?" And Fabia simply gasps with laughter, pulling up her knees, curling her arms around herself, wriggling with pleasure. (Fortunately her glass, which falls to the floor next to the bed, is empty.) "Oh, sweetie. If you knew, if you only knew. But I don't know — you know I don't even know his *name*." She widens her eyes deliberately at her friend. "I don't know what he intends, or how seriously, or *anything* — we've only spoken of old times, and the most immediate plans… Years ago, or this very moment, but not the future. I don't count on anything. I think I shall see him once more; and that will be bliss enough; and more than that, bliss beyond counting." Her eyes close; she gives a long sigh. "He knew me when I was twenty-three; if I had any romantic sensitivity, I'd not have let him know me now. But I wanted him so much… And he gave no sign whatsoever of noticing the difference. Truly a tulip *gentleman*."

"I said I want your life. I hate you for having it," Corina clarifies. "Or really, I hate you for having that lovely bauble. I haven't be given diamonds since Paris. It's really quite upsetting." Oh, the woes of the poor, spoiled courtesan. "So you still don't know his name. I suspected before, but now I know for certain: You're trying not to find out. Knowing his name mean another degree of attachment."

A little too drunk to follow the nuances of Corina's words, but fairly cognizant of the gist, Fabia giggles to herself. Frid swoops down with a pair of martinis; he leaves one on the table on Corina's side of the bed, for she hasn't *quite* finished her whiskey, and he tucks the second into his mistress's hand, whence it travels very swiftly to her lips. Finally, finally, after that first magnificent gulp, she's drunk enough to slur a little as she says, "I've had husbands enough… knowing what they can do I don't think I'd ever wish for another. But a regular lover who made hardly any claims upon me, I should adore…"

Corina bats her eyelashes prettily at Frid when he brings her another drink. Let the flirtation begin! "Thank you, Frid. Well, Fabia, if that's what you're after, you're in the wrong profession…and I should know. Not that I haven't received my fair share of proposals. Goodness, some of these young men are so short-sighted. Still, it is flattering. But I think I would much rather be the knowing mistress than the ignorant wife."

"… I don't know *what* profession I'm in anymore," Fabia sighs, after Frid has withdrawn. "I was a mistress often enough; goodness knows no one could live on the salary paid by a touring ballet company, and I never lacked for admirers; when I look back I don't know what it was about Teddy Fairfax that persuaded me I might make a life with him… I think I just *didn't* think. One thing after another, and no *time* to think, and here I am. With a tulip gentleman. I can't imagine I did anything to deserve such sudden good fortune. I wish I had been as sensible as you, when I was your age; I might be better off now. Or then again, I might not. I used to be rather good at Divination but I never predicted any of *this*."

Corina scoffs lightly. "Who ever does? You think I could have predicted this life for myself? Not remotely. I think that for all that we seek the lives we want, it is our lives that find us."

"Life in a pub in Hogsmeade? I wonder… But it wasn't till I'd come here that I began to meet such excessively interesting people in London, and recover something of what…" Fabia nuzzles her cocktail glass; a little more of her martini is transferred to where it belongs. "I've tried not to ask how you found your present life, in case it's a difficult subject, but you must know I wonder. I can't simply talk about myself all the time. Not even I."

Corina feigns shock at the admission, but follows with a light laugh. But the laugh itself morphs into a quiet shrug. "If you really want to know, I'll tell you. But I should warn you, it isn't glamorous, or even all that interesting."

And Fabia's voice softens slightly. "Oh, do tell me. Unless you think you would regret it later, and not want to talk to me again. In which case, don't tell me."

Corina takes a heavy quaff of the Scotch, leaving little enough in the glass to justify setting it aside. "I lived with my Gran, who was a very proper woman with rather old-fashioned notions of ladylike behaviour." She launches into the tale, apparently unconcerned about regret. "So, naturally, I did exactly the opposite of what she said I should do." She chuckles softly, shifting to get more comfortable on the bed. "The city nightlife was like a flame, and I was the moth. Most of the times that I sneaked out, it was fine. But, well, it just takes once. I was sixteen, and I met a man. If I ever got his name, I haven't the foggiest idea now of what it was. He took me to a drinking house and introduced me to the wonders of wine and these lovely little cakes. In any event, the evening was a complete blur. When I awoke in a hotel room, I was naked, and he was gone. But he'd left a ten pound note on the dresser. Back then, it was more money than I'd ever seen." She pauses to reach for her martini.

At her side Fabia listens intently, head tilted up just far enough to sip her martini; she nods, occasionally, and admits, at the moment when such an admission seems to be called for, "Bertie Travers, in a terribly dusty storage-room at Hogwarts. The only place there weren't any *portraits* looking at us."

Corina laughs softly. Though she can smile about it, there is certainly a shift in her demeanour to something more somber and serious. "After that, I didn't go back to school. Didn't even go back to Gran's. I fell in with a wealthy patron. A pimp," she concedes. "But he kept me as a mistress. As a way of entering the life, it wasn't a bad one. I could certainly see worse cases in many of the girls I came to know. I vowed that I'd never fall like that." She lifts her chin proudly at that.

"You knew your worth," Fabia says softly, admiringly, after swallowing another blissful sip of her drink. It's dwindling as rapidly as drinks tend to do in her hands. "You were lucky, too, perhaps… I saw the occasional unfortunate case myself. There are gentlemen enough — in my day, I don't doubt today as well — who regard the corps de ballet as a sort of buffet, laid on for their express amusement. It takes a certain amount of wit to find the right ones, and avoid the wrong ones. You did well in Paris, didn't you… when you told me your name last week, I remembered hearing it from," and she names a French gentleman, a Muggle, who has recently in his middle-forties succeeded to his father's dukedom, and become even more profligate in his spending upon the good life.

Corina lights up at the mention of the gentleman. "Narcisse? My word, I haven't thought of him in ages." Of course, ages for young Corina might be months. "He only came to see me twice…but he made an impression. He literally showered me in rose petals on our second encounter. Such a charmer." She laughs lightly, her eyes drifting off into her memories.

"How amusing! He was charming even when I first met him, when he was a very young boy… You see we have a lot in common." Fabia's eyes close for an instant as she swallows the last of her martini; and then she asks, just as an experiment, what she has been dying to ask, but hasn't, till this moment, been drunk enough to… "Did you know my husband long, or merely *well*?"

Corina blinks rapidly in surprise at Fabia. For a moment, there is confusion on her face. But it begins to melt away into a quiet reservation. She takes a sip of her drink, then sets it aside and pushes herself upright on the bed. "When did you sort it out?"

Alas, Fabia can't quite get herself into a sitting position to mirror her friend's; but she reaches out with the most convenient of her hands, and attempts to twine her fingers through Corina's. "I've been *wondering*," she admits, "since the morning after we met… when I first discovered the state of Bertie's personal cashbox." And then she adds, "But I didn't *know*, till… till now."

Despite having been allowed the evening off, it's no big surprise to see that Frid reappears once more when Fabia's glass is getting low. His refill sense must have been tingling, as the empty is whisked away, and another, yet another, chilled glass arrives in its place, every collected glass adding another twenty minutes onto his mental calculations as to when will be appropriate to serve breakfast the following day.

Corina sighs, casting her eyes down at their linked hands. "I would come to see him about once a month, ever since last Christmas. It started as a favour to one of my regulars who was an acquaintance of Bertie's. But we got along well, so he asked me to come back." She gives Frid a nod of appreciation when he comes through, though for the moment, the bold flirtation seems to be forgotten.

Betraying absolutely no startlement at Frid's appearance in her boudoir during this most confidential chat, Fabia wriggles slightly further up on the bed in order to sip from her latest and most beautiful glass with less risk of spilling… Her hand doesn't leave Corina's, and her attention is likewise all for her friend. "I don't mind," she assures her, "not in the least… Goodness knows, I've not lived like a nun since I left him. In a way I'm pleased; it means he can't have been too very sad and lonely at the end, so I needn't feel… so very guilty for not feeling guilty. If you see what I mean."

Corina tilts her head, peering curiously at Fabia as if trying to read fine print. "I do see what you mean. Listen…I can assure you that he was not lonely at the end. Nor sad. At least…not in that moment." She takes a deep, steadying breath. "Fabia…he…um. Bertie…expired in the midst of…" Are there even words to express this?

In the first instant Fabia's face is absolutely blank. In the next, incredulity fades into mirth; and then there's gin absolutely everywhere as the glass she's hardly has time to plunder falls from her grasp and she pulls Corina's hand to her lips to kiss it in between peals of delighted, horrified, but mostly delighted laughter. "Oh! Oh, sweetie, I'm *so* sorry! How terrible for you! But good old Bertie, all the same… I don't know whether to— I really don't," she gasps, making another tremendous effort to pull herself upright on the bed and, this time, succeeding. She slips her other arm around Corina and half-collapses against her, still laughing, patting her back helplessly.

Relief comes off of Corina in waves, as she'd been braced for a slap, shouting, or something awful that she really had a difficult time imagining Fabia doing. "I'm fine. Truly. It was…shocking. But I suppose not entirely unexpected. His health was not exceptional." She sighs, looking up pleadingly at Fabia. "Please tell no one. There would be questions from the Magistrate, and it could destroy my reputation," and by extension, her career.

Fabia's hand moves soothingly over Corina's back, letting her know in a way beyond language that everything truly is all right between them. Which, oddly enough, it is; it will be even when Fabia isn't half out of her mind on gin and vermouth and whiskey and whatever else she's been knocking back today. "Oh, sweetie, I shan't tell a soul. And nor will Frid, if he's hovering just outside in case we get thirsty. It's in no one's interest to spread it about. Bertie Travers died of heart failure; that's the truth, and as much as anyone in officialdom knows or need know. No one told me he'd had a woman with him, I worked it out by myself. Oh, the poor fish," she sighs, "there was never really anything wrong with him, as a man, at least when I knew him — it was only that I had so many other desires… And will you look at this. His first lover and his last, discussing him, on his very bed. I hope his ghost is suitably amused."

Corina leans into Fabia, putting her arms around the other woman in a warm embrace. "It's so very strange. I feel closer to you now than ever before. Sharing Bertie…I feel connected now. May I sleep here tonight? I shan't like to return to London in this state, and I'm feeling terribly comfortable here now."

It's mostly Corina who's holding Fabia up by now, as she continues gently and absent-mindedly petting the younger woman's back, and the beautiful fall of her silver hair. "I was about to say you ought to stay here… I should think I'll be asleep any minute now myself. I expect Frid will bring you some of my pyjamas," she murmurs.

Corina giggles softly, finding a bit of her usual self as she murmurs. "Maybe he can tuck me in, too." She nestles down into the bed, laying her head on a pillow. For a time she just stares at Fabia in awe that two women of such generational difference could find so much in common, and that their fates should cross so strangely.

As Corina lies down, so lies Fabia, not quite letting go of her; though her eyes are shut by the time her henna'd head touches the pillow. The martini she spilled earlier soaks fragrantly into the bedspread.

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