(1938-10-30) Phantasm
Details for Phantasm
Summary: Astoria dines with Fabia; they indulge in a little saccharine powder, and then, in the spirit of scientific inquiry, Fabia takes… rather more.
Date: October 30th, 1938
Location: Upstairs at the Three Broomsticks
Related: Plot: Saccharine Powder, Goldfish Shoes.

Fabia's Rooms

When Astoria comes through the 'Floo, at about half past seven, an hour surely most people would consider dinnertime, there's no sign of Fabia in the taproom of the Broomsticks; but the girls at the bar seem to know she's coming, and even as her usual drink is placed in her hand, the girl who made it holds open the Staff Only door and tells her, "Upstairs, madam, first on your left. Just go in."

Behind the door in question is a sitting-room decorated in no particular style, rather masculine in its essential appointments, but immediately, profoundly fragrant of Fabia. On the floor, a gramophone rather newer than the one downstairs, and several open-lidded boxes of records; tucked into the frame of a large looking-glass, a dozen or so ballet loose ballet photographs, all of the perfectly still, black-and-white Muggle variety, which find their echoes in pictures arranged up and down the inner wall. Open double doors lead into the bedroom, through which Astoria can see her hostess for the evening, clad in Kelly-green velvet, standing before another looking-glass — and her valet, the handsome, dark-clad, infinitely sober Frid Lee, zipping her up.

At the opening of her door, Fabia turns, brushing loosely against Frid. A perfectly genuine smile lights up her face; she holds out one hand, though far too distant actually to take her guest's. "Sweetie, hello."

Astoria follows the directions of the wench until she finds herself pushing open the door of Fabia's room. There isn't much caution as the door opens, though her narrowed gaze is a touch on the apprehensive side. After all, this is another person's home - some discretion must be allotted. She glances to the left and right, taking in the room's features, before settling her attention on Fabia. The smile is greeted with a smile, and a slight, yet noticeable, softening of her features. "Good evening," is her reply, crisp tones easily carrying across the distance. She walks towards Fabia, careful to avoid the muggle photographs, and soon comes within arm length. Should they embrace, shake, kiss? Astoria lets Fabia decide by merely extending a hand and stepping forward, allowing whatever may come to come.

The green velvet frock hugs Fabia's torso, her waist, her hips — then becomes a full skirt reaching to just below her knees, lined with stiff netting which nudges it outwards, giving her despite her slenderness a dramatic silhouette. She takes both Astoria's hands in hers, leaning close to kiss the air at either side of the younger witch's cheeks, careful not to spill her drink; then her eyes dart sideways, looking for Frid, who has a cocktail shaker already in his infinitely capable hands. God bless Frid, without whom her life would collapse.

"I thought we'd dine up here," Fabia explains, "if you don't mind—" She abandons one of Astoria's hands (not both!) and gestures, glittering about her wrist as well as her fingers, to a table at the back of the sitting-room, laid for two. "People in Hogsmeade don't seem to like me very much," she explains, "so it seems best if I don't spend too much time downstairs…"

Astoria accepts the air-kisses with two of her own, but without much flair. She grins afterwards, eyes shimmering while she glances towards Frid, and then the table. "I do not mind," she replies, tone unchanged. "And I would not say they do not like you," she replies. "They merely do not realize yet how much they /will/ like you. We can discuss that later, though." As one arm is released, Astoria begins to move towards the table. Rather than robes she wears a modest black dress that is embroidered with a dark green, swirling fabric that shimmers under the correct light. Black heels adorn her feet, and a silver chain and pendant hang around her neck.

"I like your frock," Fabia sighs; "we match; how amusing…" She follows Astoria, one hand lightly upon the younger witch's elbow, until necessity obliges them to separate, to sit at opposite sides of the little table. Not peonies for the centrepiece tonight; Fabia has given up on peonies. Pale pink roses. And a cocktail in her hand, seconds later, courtesy of Frid. He hefts the shaker, indicating the presence of another martini when she should require it… At her nod, he shimmers away, even further into the background.

"Salut," she says to Astoria, raising her glass; and drinking deeply, after the usual sound of hardly-suppressed ecstasy escapes her throat. "Mmm. Well, sweetie, what did you do today? Do tell me. Was it pleasant? I do so hope."

Astoria's drink was… somewhere. Perhaps it was floating behind her, charmed to wait until she was seated. Magic is so helpful. "Yes, we do. Don't worry - I don't hold a candle to you, so in the unlikely event someone besides Frid sees us I think my faux pas will go unnoticed," Astoria replies with a sharp wink. Once seated, Astoria takes hold of her drink while crossing one leg over the other. She soon answers, "I recovered from a rather late evening of celebrations. Oh, and I wrote. Both were quite pleasant, actually. I stayed home much later than normal, and my mother's house elf made me a delicious breakfast, brunch, tea, and lunch. Rumples' cure for hangovers works wonders."

"Not a faux pas at all," Fabia insists, as half her martini vanishes in the twinkling of an eye; "merely the casual coincidence of tastes. If we'd planned to go dancing together, or something like that, I should have tried to match you so well, so that we'd make a pretty picture together; which I'm sure we would have done, sweetie. But never mind. Do tell me what you were celebrating. And — a magical cure for hangovers? O, the mornings I could have used that… But one must take the rough with the smooth, alas, or so it seemed at the time." She smiles engagingly, haplessly across the table at Astoria; and takes another sip.

Astoria chuckles after Fabia speaks and takes a sip of her own drink. She smooths the front of her dress while setting the drink aside. "I'm sure we would look quite the pair," she notes before adding, "well, Cassius Malfoy and Rhyeline Diderot have begun a courtship. A friend of Rhyeline's and I traveled to her apartment with a cake - I think he is merely fond of desserts - when she sprang the news upon us." She sighs and forces herself to smile. "Contain yourself - there is more."

"Oh!" Fabia gasps, leaning forward, "Malfoy… One knows the name, of course, one would have to be deaf, dumb, and blind not to know the name, but… Do tell me, do tell me everything, because, you see," she blinks beguilingly, "I don't in the least know who they are. I try to pretend, sometimes, that I know the names so casually bandied about downstairs, but until two weeks ago, you know… I don't know anyone at all. I may tell you that, mayn't I?" She sips her martini; although 'sips' is a meagre word for it. "You'll tell me everything, won't you?"

Astoria listens quietly while sipping her drink. It a bit more than an actual sip, though - she must catch up to Fabia. "Well, of course you know the Malfoys," she begins. "Charming, rich, entitled - besides the Blacks they are the purest family in Britain. And certainly the wealthiest. Marrying into the Malfoy family is a woman's dream and a man's ambition." She takes another sip and forces herself to smile. "At any rate, Cassius Malfoy is a politician and leader of the Unity Party. They aim to reunite muggles and wizards under one government and remove the Statute of Secrecy. He's a rather charming gentleman, I suppose," she explains. "Rhyeline Diderot is his assistant. We are close acquaintances," Astoria adds, "although the news came as a surprise. She is rather shy, you see." Another pause. "Well, where was I? Oh, yes. During the celebration we were interrupted by a muggle in a military uniform who claimed he was dating Rhyeline." She sighs and rolls her eyes. "He was clueless and more than a little absurd."

"Good heavens," Fabia gasps appreciatively, having indicated her receptivity to all this information by means of various nods over the rim of her martini glass. It's only her second, or her third; no wonder she's a trifle… hasty? "I believe I've heard something about the Unity Movement… though how can one take it seriously; an end to the Statute of Secrecy…" She draws her lip between her teeth, "I've lived my life by that statue; I really do feel it's the only way… I haven't the least prejudice against Muggles, I was married to one, but one can't… One can't reveal such a thing; there isn't a frame of reference; it's bad enough if one isn't believed, but worse still if one is…"

Her glass has somehow emptied itself; Frid, in the room without appearing to be in the room, provides another, chilled and full almost to the brim with the perfect union of gin and vermouth which is her pleasure — a whitish liquid fading, as it warms, into crystal clarity… "Sweetie, let's not," Fabia begs suddenly; "tell me something, anything, else."

Astoria listens quietly to Fabia, eyebrows arching while she explains her position on the statute. She finishes about half her drink with a long pull before setting the drink aside with a mild wince. After clearing her throat, Astoria replies, "Very well. Tell me something - did you ever learn more about, erm," she glances to where Frid is, and then back to Fabia. "Oh, never mind. I shouldn't like to upset Frid with a discussion of his date. Hm." Astoria reclines a little and taps her lower lip, as if suddenly given pause.

Fabia sighs interestedly, tilting her head, clasping her hands before her with her forearms against the edge of the table, having put down her drink. Her enormous, kohl-rimmed green eyes flick up towards Frid, who seems to be — re-arranging the drinks trolley? "Frid, sweetie," she calls out to him, in persuasive tone, "won't you go and see about our dinner?" And then, with Frid moving aready towards the door, she inclines toward Astoria, and, head unmoving, but eyes travelling once more, to make sure of Frid's departure, she breathes, "I'm not certain it was a date… A very dark horse, that one. He takes all his nights off, and sometimes more, but does he say?" Her shoulders move beneath straight-cut green velvet, in a shrug which almost dislodges it from one of them… Her collarbones are elegantly defined, her upper arms tight beneath the gown's gauzy green sleeves, she's in very good physical shape for a woman of her years. "Nothing," she answers, not exactly helpfully. "Why, I'm sure I'd receive a more satisfactory answer if I asked you who you'd been seeing lately… So I shall, sweetie; do tell me? I shan't repeat, I promise."

"Perhaps just a bit of relaxation, then," Astoria says with a slow nod. She rests her elbow on the table and props her chin upon her own hand. She glances towards the door to make sure Frid has departed, and then looks back to Fabia. "I would not have imagined he lived such a private life. I would have thought, well- the two of you. But no? I suppose not." She lifts her glass and takes another long drink. "Oh, I don't see anyone," she lies, not hesitating in the slightest. Astoria sighs and rolls her eyes upward. "Work gets in the way - you know. I have never been good with relationships. I suppose I merely take what I want and leave, as work dictates most of my life and I cannot afford further commitments, but even having my way with some-young-someone has been seldom lately."

"Oh, no," her hostess gasps, sipping her martini, glancing after Frid as though to underscore that he is the gentleman to whom she refers; "never… He's invaluable, sweetie, absolutely invaluable, in his present capacity; gorgeous as he is, how could it be worth risking that?" Her eyes widen; though whether naturally or on purpose— "People do sometimes think things, but they aren't true at all, at all. My valet is simply — or complicatedly," she giggles, her glass glittering as it rises once more to her lips, "my valet…" She sighs. "I may not have a very pressing occupation at present, sweetie, but I do know what it's like to be have a calling which permits very little time for lovers. So very few understand, do they, that it isn't a reflection upon them, it's simply that one is subsumed by something rather more essential to one's existence than a man, no matter the quality of his physique."

"Yes, sadly - they get in the way," Astoria says with a mild sigh. "I suppose I /could/ make time, but that would mean giving up work which, as you say, is rather more essential." She shrugs her shoulders and reclines in a little in her chair. "Do you only favor men, then?" she asks, lips smirking a little after her question. The topic of Frid is left abandoned - poor man.

"Oh!" And Fabia smiles, coy yet somehow… ever-so-slightly apologetic, as though she's concerned about letting Astoria down by admitting to too mundane a sensual preference. "I'm not queer," she says, "but I don't say I've never… Circumstances do rather depend, don't they? I mean, one might meet…" She shrugs, haplessly accepting the possibility of being overtaken by fate.

"Then I shan't try to get you drunk and have my way with you," Astoria says, tone a little light - teasing, even. As if Fabia could be drunk. She chuckles and brings the drink to her lips; a moment later it is finished. After a quick exhale, Astoria adds, "So, is there a gentleman you spend time with?"

Fabia shifts within her green frock, unfurling one forearm upon the table, the inside of her narrow diamond-encircled wrist uppermost… "Oh, you can try," she exclaims, "I always respect a good attempt! As it happens there is a certain gentleman, in London," a smile teases at her crisply-outlined red lips, "but I don't know yet what that that might be, apart from a diversion… though really a very lovely diversion…"

Astoria chuckles a little after the first comment and flutters her lashes. "Oh, perhaps after a drink or two more. I need my courage, which I usually find at the bottom of my third drink," she explains with a soft laugh. After another sigh she continues, "Diversions can be wonderful, especially after all the work you've done here. Which I should thank you for, Fabia. The Three Broomsticks has become my favorite pub, and many of my friends have become delighted with it as well."

The hand Fabia has already conveniently bestowed upon the little table, darts across it, finding Astoria's, squeezing it impulsively. "Oh!" Fabia sighs; there's a sudden strain about her eyes. "You're too sweet to say it. Thank you."

Upon which note, Frid shimmers in a tray. Two plates, upon each of which reposes a largish, freshly-caught and tenderly-cooked trout; a bowl of salad, more than ample for two, which he was obliged to remake personally (they're not very good at leafy things in the kitchen of the Three Broomsticks; and the cherries, the grapes, the candied almonds, all the dainty little treats Fabia likes to see cheering up the leafy things, complicated the situation no end); this, that, the other thing; and another round of drinks. Here's to you, Frid!

"I hope fish is all right," Fabia says anxiously to Astoria, "I don't know your taste — well, perhaps I know it a little more now," a tilt of the head, a very small sideways smile, "and you see the kitchen here can be a touch… but of course we can send down for anything else you might happen to want." And, with a little self-deprecatory giggle: "Just because I'm forever watching my figure doesn't mean everyone else has to, sweetie."

Astoria smiles up at Frid when the man returns bearing such a gorgeous meal. Astoria's stomach grumbles a little, not that anyone could hear, while she smiles. She returns the gentle squeeze of Fabia's hand. "You are very welcome," she replies. She soon adds, "Fish is delightful, thank you. I grew up in my family's manor, which was not far from five or six streams and rivers. My two little brothers adored fishing when they were younger, and the chef would indulge them by preparing their catches." She sighs happily while eyeing the salad. "Although, I will admit: /that/ looks the most appetizing. By Merlin, I do love a good salad." She places her napkin carefully in her lap and prepares to be served, or at least to follow Fabia's directions. She adds, "Traveling abroad widened many of my tastes. I doubt there is a thing in the world I would not try at least once," with a small wink.

Food and drinks set down, Frid takes a pace back, tray flat to his side, and just sort of… melds into the background. He's still there. He's watching in case anything is needed. But he's furniture. Magic be damned, this is something altogether more special. Valet-sense.

Fabia's napkin seems to have arrived in her lap without her own direct intervention — another subtle display of Frid's powers? She ensures, by means of a not-so-very-subtle gesture of her own, that as he's serving the salad, the lioness's share of it arrives upon Astoria's plate and a more modest portion upon her own… The fish does look awfully good. It's the same as last night's, which she didn't get very far with then; how nice to have a second try. She sips from, oh, some glass or another, she hadn't quite finished the previous when the new one arrived, for, knowing her night is liable to be a longish one, she's trying to begin it slowly; and then she runs the tip of her knife neatly along her trout, separating a strip of it. "Oh! Have you traveled a good deal? Do tell me where. I knocked about the Continent for quite a while myself; and, my dear, I don't think there's anything in the world I didn't try once."

Astoria watches as salad is placed on her plate, and when Frid has turned to fill Fabia's she nabs a salad fork and begins to spear the lettuce. It only takes a few more moments before she is chewing on delicious salad, eyes closed and savoring every crunch (even if it is quiet). After a few mouthfuls, and a few swallows, she answers, "Yes, several years ago - my, nearly /ten/ years ago - my mother insisted I take a world tour. I fought her tooth and nail, of course. I used to be quite shy, but she eventually won. Most of the time was spent in Germany, but I traveled as far east as St. Petersburg." She gently dabs her lips. "I eventually convinced one of my mother's friends to let me rent one of his rooms in Germany, after the tour had concluded."

The heaven. Fabia closes her eyes (this does not prevent her from guiding a glass to her lips), and says, just to be quite clear, "The heaven. St. Petersburg." And she opens them again, in conjunction with the exhalation of rather a theatrical sigh. "The greatest city in the world for ballet, I do believe; Paris, much as I adore it, lost that title some decades ago… perhaps the very day Maître Petipa packed his trunks," she giggles. "I haven't been much in Germany, though, did you live there long? In what city? How did you find it?"

… And innocuous and not too very personal chatter about the great cities of Europe sees them through the trout and the salad, to the appearance of warm apple crumble and ice-cream, dusted with pale green powder. Fabia's portion is a tiny one, Astoria's rather larger, for she's a guest, and guests must be spoiled.

"Oh! Frid!" Fabia exclaims, as he's fading away again, "I've changed my mind. Not the silver, the black and white Lelong." This in reference to an extensive debate conducted earlier in the evening regarding which frock she'll be changing into for her jaunt to London rather later in the evening. "I'm absolutely positively certain this time, so you may as well lay it out, and, oh, red underneath, that'll be amusing, and the really long earrings… Oh, you know." She looks across to Astoria and colours slightly: "Do forgive me, but I have another engagement later… much later, though, we have lots of time."

"Very good, madam," Frid responds, too polite and too well trained to look completely frustrated at yet another change to Fabia's fashion plans for the evening. Still, if he wasn't used to Fabia's nature by now, he'd be gone. "The diamonds?" he queries, with a pointed look to his employer's neck. "To match?"

She's wearing her super-sparkly necklace, of course; never takes it off even to wash… Her hand rises to touch it; she flashes a smile up at Frid. "Oh, yes, all the diamonds."

Astoria explains all about her time in Germany, and how she left due to growing threats of violence and such. She is succinct, however. When dessert arrives she looks it over carefully before picking up a fork and pushing it into the crisp. She takes a bite and chews carefully while Fabia gives directions. After the woman's final comment she says, "Oh, you needn't worry. I understand completely - a schedule must be kept." Her eyes flutter a little after she speaks, and a tinge of red rushes up her neck. A hand rises to stroke the skin while she takes a second bite.

Fabia pets her necklace just once more — it is rather her pet — and takes up her fork and spoon. "Oh, you were here when this arrived, weren't you?" she recalls. "The saccharine powder… Such a delightful surprise, though, sweetie, I ought to warn you, it's a grown-up sort of sugar…" She winks. "Nothing like cocaine of course, but I've been putting it in cocktails this week and it does give them a little extra kick. Too sweet to have too much, of course."

"Oh my, well - it is /quite/ delicious," she replies as splotches of color on her neck make their way to her cheeks. Astoria takes a third bite and eats it quickly, and it doesn't take long for her eyes to acquire a mild glaze. She sets her fork down and begins to fan herself with her hand. "I see what you mean," she adds with a rather sudden giggle. "And… where did you say this came from?"

"Well, I don't know… someone simply sent it to me, and— sweetie, are you all right?" Suddenly contrite, Fabia lets spoon and fork fall into the dish before her and sidles forward in her chair, inspecting with anxious emerald eyes just what she seems to have done to her dinner guest. She calls out, "Frid, sweetie, a glass of water for Miss Bletchley… Oh, dear, it didn't seem to affect the rest of us quite so strongly… or did it, in ways we didn't notice?" She giggles, touching the back of her hand to her cheek, as though looking for a similar warmth; she doesn't say what she finds. She's had two or three bites of her dessert; that seems to suffice for her appetite, though she does pick up her spoon once more to execute a quick sweep for specks of green she might have missed. Wouldn't want to leave any of that behind.

Frid dips his head promptly, reappearing without ever seeming to have actually left, with a tall glass of water with a slice of lemon in it, which he presents to Astoria as though it were some sort of grand prize, one hand on the inside of his other elbow as he lowers it to the table in front of her. "The window, madam?" he suggests.

"The window?" Fabia blanches. "It's Scotland outside… Can't we think of something less extreme?"

"Oh, yes- well, I don't know!" Astoria says with a second giggle. Her narrowed features brighten while she takes rather deep breaths in an attempt to calm whatever the hell is making her blush. "Oh dear," she says, accepting the glass of water and taking a sip. Her hand stops fluttering while she drinks, and when she opens her eyes she exhales evenly. "I think that is a bit better. It just - hit me me with a rather quick rush is all." She breathes heavily and forces herself to smile. Oh, and Frid finds himself without a shirt, coat, or tie on.

Frid doesn't seem to notice his hallucinogenic semi-nakedness, retreating back a pace and folding his hands behind his back, one careful eye on the state of their desserts, the state of their glasses, and ready to whip the empties away at a moment's notice.

This accidental outburst of — is it magic? — widens Fabia's eyes; half a giggle escapes her lips, before she bites it off. Then she reaches across the table to pat Astoria's hand. "Well, I don't know how you did it, but now I agree with you, sweetie. It is warm in here."

Astoria doesn't seem to notice the shirtless Frid until Fabia speaks. She glances between the older woman and Frid, eyes still aglaze, and nearly sputters. "Oh!- oh, my… I, well. I should apologize!" She continues to look between her host and the valet. "I'm quite certain it was not on /purpose/. I, well.." she trails off, perhaps a little flustered, and takes a long sip of water while continuing to blush a little.

"Well, I know I didn't do it," Fabia says, wistfully, "and I shouldn't think Frid did it, and that just leaves you, doesn't it? But if you didn't… on purpose…" Something seems to click behind her eyes. "I wonder whether…" She points to what's left of Astoria's dessert. "If a witch is rather intensely affected by lovely green sugar-powder… Might something like that," she winks at Frid, at whom she can't restrain herself from stealing repeated glances, "happen? … Perhaps we should try a little more and see?"

"Madam?" Frid queries, raising a brow, and apparently completely unaware of precisely what it is he hasn't done. A wink is hardly unusual, after all, but there are usually more martinis first, and the wink is usually followed by a glorious passing out and a resigned Frid putting her to bed.

"Oh, well, perhaps-" Astoria answers. She glances at Frid, whose skin seems to bronze a bit under her gaze, before glancing away. She begins to fan herself again. "Perhaps you should try. I rather do not trust myself at this particular moment," she concludes. And after the valet speaks, Astoria says, "Sir, your… shirt. I believe it has been misplaced." She clears her throat and casts another glance towards Frid, whose abdomen has suddenly become quite more rigid and defined. She closes her eyes for a moment. Oh dear.

Gazing with frank appreciation at the evolution of her valet into every girl's fondest daydream — not that he had particularly far to go! — Fabia clasps her hands together and sighs, rapturously. "Will this happen every time someone takes enough saccharine powder? I do hope so. He really does brighten things up, doesn't he?" she asks Astoria, leaning her head nearer to the younger witch, but not actually glancing at her. Not with that in the room. Martini glass in hand, she rises from the table in a rustle of velvet and stiff petticoats, and strolls a little nearer to her valet — and, incidentally, the drinks trolley, which is where she's been keeping the purple metal box of saccharine powder…

Frid glances down at himself, clearing his throat quietly as he turns away to double check his collar is still buttoned, and the tails are still tucked into his trousers. Puzzling. "I see, madam," he decides, clearly seeing nothing, but being too polite to mention it. "Some more water, perhaps?" he suggests to his employer quietly. After all, that's practically blasphemy.

Astoria glances towards Frid, but quickly turns away. After all, he might change even more! Thankfully, he seems finished. For now. She takes another sip of her water and says, "A powder that transforms the men around you? I should rather think that would sell /quite/ well…" She clears her throat and wobbles in her seat for a moment, still clearly intoxicated. She rubs her brow and steadies herself while eyeing the remainder of her dessert.

Fabia darts forward; and reaches for where Frid's necktie would be, if he were wearing one… Confusion and disappointment reign. She runs her hand further down what ought to be a splendidly sculpted and bronzed masculine torso; but all she can feel beneath her skin is fabric. "Damn and blast," she says, turning to Astoria, "he really is still properly dressed." That takes just a wee bit of the fun out of it; and so she leaves him alone, and flits over to the drinks trolley for her box of green powder, which she carries away with her to the sofa. "Nothing's really happened, we only see something! How curious. How are we having the same hallucination?" In a softer, more meditative tone, she adds, "That's one thing I've never done before…"

Frid automatically shrinks back as Fabia goes for his neck, alarmed to the point that he loses his famed poise for just a moment, stumbling away before recovering, straightening, and rubbing at his collar. "Shall I leave you two ladies in peace, madam?"

"Oh, Frid, sweetie, don't you want to try some of this powder?" Fabia offers, extending the box beguilingly in his direction. She has kicked off her shoes and tucked her feet up underneath herself on the sofa.

Astoria watches Fabia curiously, and notes Frid's reluctance to remain still for, well, experimentation. She smiles a little at the sight of him and takes a sip from her glass. It would seem she is settling a bit at last; most of the blush has left her cheeks and neck, at any rate. "I admit, I would not like to see you depart," Astoria replies. "And there is also the powder, yes - we should experiment to discover what it really is. For the good of, well—" she breaks off in a quiet laugh.

"I'm not sure it would be appropriate, madam," Frid insists mildly, glancing to Astoria. On the one hand, he might be happy to unwind with a nip with Fabia when it's just the pair of them, but with company, he is the model of professionalism. Or would like to think so.

"Oh, very well," his employer sighs, settling the box in her lap. She's accustomed to being a martyr to Frid's sense of the appropriate. "Perhaps you might bring me my drink, though. And a spoon."

Frid dips his head once, moving over to collect Fabia's glass from the table, bearing it gently by the stem over to her and mysteriously, using valet-sense once more, finds a spoon. Presenting both to her, he only briefly eyes the box of powder, a glimmer of curiosity there.

"Miss Bletchley and I shall continue the experiment," and Fabia beams up at her (from her perspective) half-nude valet, brandishing the spoon, "and be sure to let you know just how lovely it is… Oh, I've got to leave just after elevenish, have you put out my frock?"

"I shall see to it immediately, madam," Frid responds, giving a short bow, which at least in the perspective of the ladies present, shows off his torso to great effect. He moves to collect the empty plates from the table, balancing them on his arm carefully and eyeing Astoria's leftovers as he exits.

A happy sigh from Fabia as she observes Frid's exit. "Sweetie," she inquires, looking over at last to where Astoria has been drinking her water and toying with her dessert, "do you think you could get rid of his trousers, too, next time?"

Astoria watches the exchange quietly while nibbling on the remains of her dessert. It probably isn't a good idea, but it yielded such fantastic results before. After Frid departs and Fabia asks her question, Astoria replies with a light bit of laughter and a generous sigh. "Oh, I have no idea. I do not even know /how/ it happened. Poor Frid. I really should send him something by way of apology - but that reminds me, have you taken a good portion yet?"

In answer, Fabia raises her teaspoon — and, grinning like a little girl bent upon top quality mischief, dips it into the box of saccharine powder and ferries a not-inconsiderable amount of it betwixt her eager red lips. She makes a face — goodness, how sweet it is, all at once! — and washes the taste from her mouth with her martini… And she pats the place next to her on the sofa. "Come on, sweetie, I can't talk to you when you're all the way across the room."

Astoria watches the display quietly and soon rises so that she can cross the space with a few quick steps. While tucking a few strand of hair behind her ear several purple petals manifest from behind her ear and lazily flutter to the floor behind her. She settles onto the sofa while the petals begin to dance on the floor. "Better?" Astoria asks, unaware of the new creations. She adds, "How does it taste… raw?"

"Oh! I hadn't noticed you had flowers in your hair…" Fabia beams, waving her hand to draw Astoria's attention to the shifting movements of the petals — just as a ballet dancer in a white tutu and feathered hairpiece appears from the bedroom upon white satin pointe shoes which carry her caressingly over the… carpet. She has her back to the women on the sofa; her head is slightly bowed; her arms undulate as though they were white smoke rather than warm human flesh. Just what they are, just what she is, is indeterminate — but Fabia recognises her, all right. She gasps, clutching at Astoria's arm: "Sweetie, that's me!"

Astoria watches the figure quietly, eyes quite wide. "Oh… that is… /wonderful/," she notes, staring at the creature before them. The petals drift in the ballet dancer's direction and begin to swirl around her as if caught in some strange breeze. Astoria's arm is good for squeezing, and she doesn't seem to notice while he stares in awe. "But, it cannot be you, dear - you're right beside me," she adds in a marvelous display of logic for someone who is quite sloshed.

And so it is when Frid re-enters, perhaps just a little flushed about the face himself, that he blinks once, then shakes his head, resuming his usual station beside the drinks.

Fabia's hand twines through Astoria's arm; she snuggles instinctively and absent-mindedly closer to the pre-eminent logician in all the room, while her eyes devour… herself… with a naked fascination greater even than that inspired earlier by a naked valet. "Of course it's me," she breathes, "I know my own body… Ah, I'll turn in a moment, and you'll see…" She draws her lower lip between her teeth and nibbles it expectantly.

And, with the tiniest of steps, her toes seeming to nuzzle the floor beneath them, the ballet dancer circles round a chair, turning, showing the shape of her face and the line of her throat to the audience of which she appears wholly unaware. Certainly it's Fabia, though not a day over thirty, in heavy stage makeup, and with her eyelids lowered. The real Fabia shivers.

Astoria stares at the figure, eyes wide and mouth slightly agape. Her head tilts while she watches, and she cannot help but blink several times while looking upon the lovely, yet unwhole, image of the woman. The petals are nothing in comparison, but they remain regardless; as the phantasm turns they rise and circle between its arms, neck, and torso. "You know, I do not believe I have ever encountered anything quite like this," Astoria says. "Do you think it is… some message?" she wonders aloud.

Beneath Fabia's gaze, adoring yet critical, the makeup shifts and softens; the hairpiece turns into true white feathers, growing from her younger self's flaming red hair; her legs lengthen slightly, her waist grows more tapered, and there's a discernible swelling of her bosom… All her old complaints, rectified: she giggles with delight, squeezing Astoria's arm against herself, reaching out with her other hand for her drink and knocking it onto the floor.

Frid presses his lips together, nonetheless already beginning to mix up a replacement drink. After all, this is exactly what Fabia keeps him around for. And for topless hallucinations, of course, but mostly for drinks.

"… Oh," Astoria manages as the figure transforms. She cannot help but grin, and soon find her arm (the one that is clutched tightly) wrapping around the real Fabia's shoulders. She can still clutch it if she wants, of course. Astoria blinks several times, completely consumed, while the petals begin to dance among the feathers. "I have decided it is some message," she finally determines. "You, obviously, are bent on self-enrichment, while I merely enjoy embarrassing poor Frid," the philosopher concludes with a slow, uneasy nod of her head.

"I work for Mrs. Fairfax," Frid notes quietly as he brings the drink over. "I couldn't possibly be embarrassed easily."

A few drinks always serve to bring out Fabia's essentially tactile nature; saccharine powder, apparently, does the same, with bells on… With Astoria's arm settled round her shoulders she lets her head loll pleasantly back against it; and tucks her hand behind the other woman, curling her arm snugly about her waist. Her eyes never leave her own dancing figure, which has in the past minute or so become increasingly swan-like, and begun to exhibit signs of distress; she's sinking now, elegantly, exhaustedly, to the carpet, just in front of the sofa, almost close enough to touch… Fabia's other hand quivers in the air before her, as though she were contemplating just that; she laughs gently at herself (herselves), lets her hand fall; and then lifts it again to pat Frid's cheek when he leans over her to present her lovely new martini. "Dear Frid," she drawls absently, letting him wrap her fingers about the stem of the glass. She sips. She sighs. The tip of her tongue flicks over her lower lip.

Astoria glances towards Frid and frowns, her expression resembling someone who has become quite suddenly confused. A gentle frown touches her lips, but then it curves into a small smile. "You really are quite talented, aren't you? I had quite forgotten you returned. Or perhaps I never saw. Oh well." She watches the martini exchange and says, "Might I have one of those if it is not too much trouble? I shan't bother you for another. You work too hard, I think." The petals loiter around the swan as it descends, but soon take interest in Frid. They flutter in his direction and begin to dance around her ankles and legs. Meanwhile, once Fabia is quite finished moving, Astoria's hand rises and begins to lazily pet Fabia's hair.

Frid gives Astoria a faint smile as he straightens, blinking again as a petal he can't quite see gets closer to him, and stepping back to make a martini for his employer's latest guest. "I live to serve, madam," he insists, before looking up again as the image of a ballet dancer just about flickers in the corner of his eye, and then is gone.

The present-day hue of Fabia's hair may be entirely the result of regular operations with henna; but her phantasm is a redhead too, a detail her subconscious mind hasn't felt the least need to improve upon: and as her naturally-red head is bowed at last in surrender, her artificially-red one nudges kittenishly, encouragingly, against Astoria's fingers. "You know," she murmurs, "to begin with, the swan didn't die… It was an improvisation, in a hotel room; Maître Fokine simply asked Pavlova to be a swan for him, and she was… But a living swan. The struggle against death, the pathos of it, came later."

Several seconds of stillness; then the younger Fabia seems to float without the least effort onto her feet again, eyes wide open, grinning ferociously, curtseying again and again, in every direction. She has a single tear running down one cheek; and so, now, has her elder, her realer self.

"Hmm," Astoria replies to frid, her eyelids closing slightly while she regards him. But then the swan takes her attention, and Fabia's encouragement is greeted with a slight grin. Astoria's nails oblige by gently stroking Fabia's scalp, though they soon find themselves gliding through swaths of hair, too. Astoria listens to the tale of the swan's birth, and smiles slightly when the swan begins to bow, and cry. "How lovely," she remarks, tone lowered in reverence. If she notices the tear, she says nothing; they may as well be in a church, quietly watching the results of a ritual that could be broken after a mere whisper.

Frid silently produces a handkerchief. The man is a marvel.

When the handkerchief introduces itself delicately into her view, Fabia gives an embarrassed little smile up at Frid. In five years he has almost never seen her cry. She passes him her martini, takes the handkerchief, dabs at her eyes, chases the single runaway tear from her cheek, and gives back the handkerchief. But before reaching for her drink again she plucks out her hairpins (her hair tonight was worn in a loose chignon), and gives him those as well, to take away and put on her dressing-table. Well, why not? She's rather enjoying herself…

The phantasm, meanwhile, is not in church. The purple petals which have proved so steadfastly fond of her have found some friends; she's being showered with loose flowers, and her arms are wrapped tightly about two enormous bouquets of red roses — and one of tulips in every colour of the rainbow. She takes a few graceful steps, passing through the chair she circled earlier, pursued by her petals; her demeanour changes, as though she's offstage. She seems to catch sight of someone who makes her eyes light up — she whirls around, shakes her tail-feathers, then turns back, laughing, and drops her floral tributes (they melt away). She's chatting now, silently yet with great animation, with whomever she greeted so cheekily. Flirting, in fact, head to toe.

A gale of laughter from the real Fabia. "Lord, I wonder what I'll do next?"

Astoria grins at Frid's reaction and takes a sip of her own drink while Fabia composes herself. Well, assuming she has a drink. A moment later, after the pins have been removed, her hand glides further through Fabia's hair and continues its gentle massage. The feather-shaking earns a gentle laugh and grin before she says, "Oh, well, I don't know! Do you think it is a memory?" The grin doesn't fade while she looks between the younger and older versions.

Frid peers once more over towards where the ladies are looking, slightly puzzled frown on his face before retreating once more to stand in silence by the drinks cart. But, you know, since they're occupied, and that powder is right there, he briefly lifts a finger to his lips, dabs it into the box, returns it to his lips once more, then folds his hands behind his back.

The phantasmic Fabia dashes about in her own invisible world, flirting with someone who isn't there, looking at things which aren't there either, and resembling a duck now more than a swan with her turned-out walk.

The real Fabia exhales a small sound of pleasure at Astoria's renewed attentions to her hair and her scalp; and her arm about the other woman's waist squeezes gently. "It might be a memory… I really did dance that piece, you know, at least a dozen times, even if I hadn't quite that body…" She looks herself up and down, for the nth time, and makes another little 'mmm'.

And now the phantasm is perching in mid-air, stretching out her beautifully-formed, rather muscular legs, her toes pointed in their white satin shoes. The ribbon round one of her ankles seems to be untying itself. She's smirking broadly. "Oh! Look…" Fabia gasps. "My hallucination is having a hallucination. I think." She blinks. "I did used to adore having a man kneel down and untie my shoes for me after a performance… just like that." She uncurls her real legs from beneath herself and stretches them out in imitation: no ballet shoes, only flesh-coloured nylon stockings, with black feet and seams.

Astoria sets her drink aside after another quick sip. Her attention settles on the phantasm afterward, and she grins when the shoe begins to unlace. "I'm quite certain any woman would enjoy that," she remarks, exhaling quietly. "I should think a ballet shoe would be quite uncomfortable, but a man's hands a welcome relief." She eyes the real Fabia's feet and ankles for a moment. "You played the role of the swan?" she asks. "I know that part - which swan were you?" she wonders.

"Practically all of them, sweetie," giggles Fabia, as her feet touch the floor again. She swallows the last of her martini and gives the glass up into Frid's keeping. He lifts an eyebrow — another? — and she thinks about it for a moment, then, very oddly, declines… "But that's the Dying Swan, that's not from Lac. In Lac I was, oh, the third swan from the right in the back row, and eventually the first swan on the left in the front row, and I was one of the big swans in the white act, and one of the two swans in the final act… I didn't ever dance the leading role, Odette-Odile, I wasn't a ballerina, you know, only a soloist with the occasional important role, but Odile's pas de deux, the black pas de deux, I learned as a concert piece, and sometimes—" She breaks off in the middle of a sentence, for her phantasm, also now in stockinged feet, has twined her arms behind her back and is quite patently unfastening her tutu.

Astoria listens quietly, eyes lidding while she smiles. Her attention is on Fabia, not the memory of her, and her attention is quite rapt. "Now I have a rather strong desire to see this piece," she notes, and her hand twines Fabia's hair into a rather large curl. She glances towards the phantasm, but soon looks back towards Fabia.

The tutu slips away — and the phantasm with it, her performance concluded.

Fabia sighs deeply, and, deprived of her narcissistic pleasure, turns toward Astoria within the circle of her arm, snuggling even closer. "Oh, I wish I could show it to you… It was bliss to dance. Hell, but bliss." She laughs very softly, rather more to herself than to Astoria, then raises an eyebrow at her. "Have you found your courage yet?" she teases.

"I would love to see it," Astoria replies with a gentle sigh. Her eyes flutter closed for a moment, but then Fabia speaks. Grinning as her eyes open, Astoria does not hesitate when she answers, "Oh, yes. I do apologize - you may find yourself overcome in just a moment. I told you when we first met that I have a habit of getting my way." She winks and presses a gentle kiss to the woman's forehead.

The hand that, for once, hasn't a martini in it, curves around Astoria's cheek, obliging her head to remain very near to Fabia's. "You did tell me that, didn't you… And I told you I usually get mine, too," she murmurs.

And like that, Frid just… isn't there.

"Oh, so this is your doing, then?" Astoria asks, grinning wildly. Her free hand rises and gently presses itself to the back of Fabia's head. She gently tilts it back, but remains quite close. "I suppose I am not opposed," she adds, and then she leans forward and gently kisses Fabia's lower lip.

Fabia accepts the kiss, though she doesn't yet return it. "I did tell you, you'd… aroused my curiosity," she reminds Astoria, and her lips curve into a distinctly inviting smile. "Though I think perhaps that lovely green powder might be doing a little something for my mood… So hurry up, sweetie, or it may wear off!"

Astoria's grin broadens into a smile. "Well, then!" she replies with urgency, but not very loud. She presses a rather proper kiss onto Fabia's lips, and soon turns her a little so that the back of Fabia's head is pressed against a cushion. The hand that was once behind her head falls to the other woman's waist, and the other hand intwines itself deeper in her hair. Cutting to the chase, as it were, her kiss presses deeper.

All of this, Fabia more than permits. Astoria's kiss turns her languid; she writhes slightly against the sofa cushions; and when they separate, she laughs softly against the younger woman's lips and murmurs breathless, gin-scented instructions. "Zip at my back. Two buttons on each cuff. What about yours?"

Astoria grins after Fabia's laughter and presses her forehead against the other woman's. "I have a wand for that," Astoria answers while nipping Fabia's lower lip. She holds the older woman's gaze for a moment before leaning forward into another, briefer kiss. After another break she asks, "Here, or…?"

"Here. Now."

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