(1938-12-22) I'm Sure Luton Can Be Magical
Details for I'm Sure Luton Can Be Magical
Summary: Frid gets a box of Biros for his birthday.
Date: December 22nd, 1938
Location: Upstairs at the Three Broomsticks

Fabia's Rooms

When Frid returns from his birthday outing, of course he looks in on Fabia.

She might have set fire to the upholstery, or spilled gin on the gramophone, or picked up a man she can't get rid of, or dyed her hair purple by mistake, or something; and even on his birthday, it's his responsibility to see that whatever it is, is put right. Besides. Ever since he revealed the significance of the 22nd of December (the first two years, he merely asked for the day off well in advance, without specifying his reasons), he has traditionally received some sort of present; and there is enough of a human heart beating beneath his sober valet's suit to wonder what she's come up with this year…

At the top of the stairs he can just hear Benny Goodman. In her sitting-room, he finds her dozing on the sofa to 'Moonlight Cocktail'. She has a martini in one hand and a slender book covered in green morocco leather in the other; she's dressed in a tolerably modest dark red evening dress, which, bless her, she chose all by herself. She dined with her daughter and son-in-law in St John's Wood, so it's no wonder she was the first one back. They believe in 'early to bed and early to rise', do Emma and John Hargreaves.

A new, unopened bottle of Lagavulin stands on the coffee table. Beside it, a single glass, and not one but two presents: a rectangular white box about the size of a pencil case, and a well-stuffed white envelope, both done up with narrow but doubled red velvet bows. Red tape, but on a spree.

Presents or no presents, and it would, of course, be bad form to just assume the beautifully wrapped gifts are for him. The whisky might be for a guest, and the boxes? Well, Fabia does often return home with presents, usually valuable, sparkling presents, admittedly, from her gentlemen friends. This, combined with the fact that Frid, even on his day off, sees it as his duty to attend to Fabia's every need, means that the coffee table's allure is for now disregarded, and on entering her sitting room he makes his way over to his employer, carefully extracting the martini glass from her fingers before it drops or, worse, spills.

"I'm awake," Fabia insists; and how many times has he heard that one before? But the book was leaning on the arm of the sofa, and so, after a fashion, was she; and Safety First has to be someone's motto around here… Fabia's fingers curl round empty air where the stem of her beautiful, beautiful leaded crystal glass once was, and she blinks her big green eyes up at Frid and sighs. "Did you have fun in London? I didn't. Maybe I ought to have insisted Emma and John drink beer and play poker too."

"They don't," Frid responds drily, "strike me as the beer or poker types, madam. Perhaps more the glass of white wine and a discussion about the gold standard types." He sets the glass to the side, on the small table by the sofa. "You'll be pleased to know, madam, that I frittered away what little wages I'd saved, so I shan't be requesting to leave your service and settle in a villa in the south of France just yet. Your family remain well?" Of course, he'd sent her off with a stack of neatly wrapped presents to distribute to them. "And no doubt your grandchildren are looking forward to Christmas."

Her eyes follow the glass just a trifle further; then she rolls them at him. "Yes, because they don't know any better. Christmas in Luton with the entire extended Hargreaves clan," she ruminates. "And when you think of some of the Christmases we used to have when Emma was a little girl. She was a little angel four years in a row in the passion play got up by some of the same people with whom I did those Gilbert and Sullivan bits, you know. We'd have them all back to the flat afterwards for mulled wine and kolyadki… One year we didn't do it at all, we changed our minds and took her to Paris for Midnight Mass at the Sacre-Coeur. She was old enough by then, we thought, to appreciate it. At home we'd decorate the tree with my jewellery, and she'd always…" Fabia's wistful reminiscences end in a sigh; she sits up straighter, indeed she makes herself do it, and reaches out to pat the plentiful empty space next to her upon the sofa. "Oh, come on, Frid," she says impatiently. "Sit down and open your presents."

"I'm sure Luton can be magical," Frid insists solemnly, although there is a hint of humour in his eyes. He clears his throat quietly, tugging on his sleeves, a habitual gesture, and lowers himself into the indicated seat. "I'd offer you a whisky, madam, but I'm sure the healer said something about staying off the drink." Martinis don't count. Clearly. Still, he reaches forward for the bottle and the glass, turning the Lagavulin to look more closely at the label. "You're awfully good to me," he notes with approval as he reads the age, then twists the cork away from the top to pour. "I shall forgive you for giving away the other bottle."

"Surely it's the lesson of the season that the Good Lord made many such bottles," is Fabia's opinion, as she smiles like Lady Bountiful upon Frid's meeting with his new malted friend. She's at the end of the limited stock of small talk and patience she can muster on these occasions; she uncurls her stockinged feet from beneath herself and edges forward to scoop up one of her other offerings, the rectangular box, and set it down on the sofa next to Frid. Just so that it's ready for him. You'd think every present within a fifty-foot radius was hers and hers alone, by her habitual eagerness to get them open and start playing with them.

"Patience is a virtue, Mrs. Fairfax," Frid chides her mildly, deliberately taking his time to pour the drink, set the cork back in the bottle, then the bottle back on the table. He swirls the whisky in the glass, taking a deep breath to enjoy the fumes before finally taking a small sip, eyes closing. "Thank you. You know you really don't have to, though," he adds, finally lifting the small box into his lap. Again, he doesn't open it immediately, fully aware of Fabia's eagerness to see it opened, and instead carefully runs a thumb along the ribbon, before untying it neatly so he can use it again.

Next to him Fabia sits up very straight — wriggling in palpable anticipation.

Inside the box Frid finds: half a dozen pens? Not very solid, either. They feel light in his hands. "I thought you might like these," Fabia puts in, "someone was telling me about a couple of weeks ago. Take the cap off — look — they haven't got proper nibs. There's a ball-bearing in the end instead. It takes up the ink from the cartridge and rolls it onto the paper. Aren't they funny? A Hungarian gentleman thought of how to do it, his name's slipped my mind but I believe there's a card explaining all about it in the bottom of the box."

Frid takes up one of the pens with interest, delicately and carefully testing it in a line on the box. "That… is a very clever idea," he muses, clearly impressed. "Look, Mrs. Fairfax," and he tilts the box so she can see, too. "It's a sticky sort of ink, and… my word, look, the nib isn't going to break!" He takes a moment to inscribe his name, very carefully, then squints at it critically and sets his hand down to try the more common name he ends up writing, Fabia Fairfax. Mostly on her cheques.

What a beautiful forgery. Fabia leans over to admire it as she's bidden. It looks just as though she'd written her name on the box herself, no later than six o'clock. (Her signature wanders as the day wears on.) She straightens, looks into his eyes to see whether he really is as delighted with the pens as she suspected he might be — Frid is always a one for the latest odd little invention, isn't he? — oh, yes, he is. She glows; and fetches the heavy, white, velvet-bound envelope from the coffee-table, putting that next to him too.

"Some paper for you to practice on," she adds, not-quite-nonchalantly.

The stack of documents consists chiefly of property agents' glowing prospectuses of buildings for sale in parts of London he and she have discussed recently. But, on the very top of the stack: drawn up with deathly discretion by Fabia's Muggle solicitor: the incorporation papers for Fairfax-Lee, Ltd.

"I made up several awfully pretty names," Fabia murmurs, "but then I thought that dealing with suppliers and so on you might prefer something sensible and straightforward you could say with a serious, serious face." She demonstrates.

"Fairfax-Lee," Frid reads aloud, then looks to her, a brow raised. "For the club?" He settles back with the papers, reading them over thoroughly, then re-reading and tapping lightly on certain portions as he does. "I thought we agreed that I'd raise twenty five percent of the capital, for a quarter share? I can't raise half, Mrs. Fairfax. I don't have the contacts to raise half."

"Half the company," she clarifies hastily, "but perhaps only a quarter of that particular venture by the company. Depending upon what it seems it will cost once we've gone into it more thoroughly. But we're going to use the company for other things, too. I think. Mr Weatherby explained it all to me this afternoon. About tax. He thinks there's a way in which it might be better if your salary and my pocket money were both paid out by the company. He said," and then Fabia wilts just slightly, giving Frid a smile of self-deprecatory resignation, "if you go round to see him when he's had his Christmas holiday, he'll explain it all to you, too, so at least one of us will know what's going on."

Frid continues to read the small print, nodding very slightly as he does. "We'll need a witness," he notes, tapping the bottom of the form, then flicks a small smile towards his employer. "Fairfax-Lee, Ltd. Mrs. Fairfax, this is one hell of a birthday present. You're absolutely sure, then?"

"Frid," she chides him softly. When is Fabia Fairfax anything other than — all in? Her eyes meet his over the pile of velvet ribbon, Biros, and property prospectuses, steadily, without an instant's qualm or hesitation. "But we needn't sign in a hurry if you're not absolutely sure," she adds. "Take your time to read through properly. Interrogate Mr Weatherby. Anything."

"You're aware that this document would give us equal shares and equal control over any dealings, madam?" Frid confirms, brows raised. And equal liability, but he's not about to mention that part. "It's an equal partnership this proposes. All in all, I'd be a fool not to sign it." He flashes her a very small smile. "And I would insist on jazz bands, at least once a week, you understand. It's a hardship you'd have to suffer."

"Gosh, do you really mean it?" Fabia flutters at him. "I'd have equal control of my dealings again, after five years?"

"You have absolute control right now!" Frid protests, rolling his eyes. "I merely ensure that your business is concluded in your favour. You know very well that you can overrule anything I've suggested!"

Fabia greets this protestation with the healthy scepticism it deserves. "Can I overrule you? Can I really, Frid?" When, come to think of it, was the last time she tried, in anything but the tiniest, most mundane of matters? "Mr Weatherby said I ought to have at least fifty-one percent, but, sweetie, I just don't like to think like that. It's bad enough having to have contracts at all. I don't like them. But if I had a larger share of everything right from the beginning and I could just say, oh, I disagree, you have to do as I say, you wouldn't really be my business partner, would you? You'd still be doing as I said. Well, after your own fashion, I suppose, you always do. Even if I didn't say it you'd know I could say it. Anyway," she rattles on, stealing Frid's glass of Lagavulin to wet her throat and wrinkling her nose at it as ever, "not everything of mine is supposed to go into the company, Mr Weatherby wants to — oh, Christ, I can't remember what he said. He's always liked you but he still wants to protect me. And you want to protect me. You're going to protect me right out of what I really want to do, if I'm not," she sighs desperately, and restores his glass to him, "very strict with the both of you."

Eyeing his whisky as she steals it (like a traitor) Frid just slides the papers back onto the table, and his 'fancy' new pen back into the box with the others. "The point isn't that I'd always know you could overrule me," he argues earnestly, "but that somebody can have the final say in the event of a disagreement, do you see? And given that it's primarily your capital, your general idea, and your name and reputation we'll be working from, it's the only logical solution to ensure that you have the majority share… and you're really not listening, are you, Mrs. Fairfax," he points out wryly, trailing off as he begins to see her glaze over. "I shall speak with Mr. Weatherby after Christmas, and get this rewritten so you have the majority share." Another pause, then he reaches to claim her glass and simplifies it further. "I'll deal with it, madam."

Her tolerance for business-talk having been exceeded in the first eighteen seconds — it's why, with an ambitious new venture in mind, she really does need a partner with a good head on his shoulders, and she hadn't far to look, had she? — Fabia flaps her hands at him in hummingbird gestures of surrender. "Whatever you think is the right thing to do, Frid. I trust you."

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