(1938-12-30) A Tentative Guest
Details for A Tentative Guest
Summary: Gally Beauclaire seeks out Fabia Fairfax in her own lair; and, after a conversation which doesn't satisfy, flees from her. Again.
Date: December 30th, 1938
Location: The Three Broomsticks (and upstairs therein)
Related: In the Dead of Winter

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.

The sweet relief of the cocktail hour has fallen upon the gathering-places of all civilised persons — so of course in the Three Broomsticks in Hogsmeade village the locals are swilling the usual ale and Butterbeer and there is nary a long-stemmed glass of fragrant liquor in sight, save in the hand of one small woman standing near the bar in deep and reluctant conversation with one of the bar wenches. She, the cocktail drinker, is facing away from the fireplace, but by her very smart Lachasse tweeds topped with henna'd hair she may be singled out at once from the wizarding masses as — the vaunted proprietress.

The skilled disciple of criticism, prose and penmanship must observe, even as the wit and raconteur must display; it is all a question of compromise; as is, no doubt, the glum little measure of firewhisky to be found in the cautiously quivering, long digited hand of the latest arrival from the Hogwarts Express.

Mr. Gaillard Beauclaire does not pretend, in the circumstances, to look comfortable. He speaks to no one save, on a strictly transactional level, one of the more craggy-featured barmaids. He has not reintroduced himself to Mr. Frid Lee. A briefcase leans against the bar well within reach for a quick exit, but the grudging look carved into the youngish gentleman's features is there to stay. As for his hair, today it is most distinctly black.

The tweedy little redhead rocks back and forth in her sensible, low-heeled black shoes, listening to a tale of woe which is just now reaching its crescendo — she pats the bar wench's arm now and again — she has recourse to her martini at narrowing intervals. In fact she drains her glass rather before a call for service from a nearby booth enables her to make good her escape. She doesn't answer the summons herself, of course, but she affects to be startled by the sound, then turns, waves to the customer in question, and hustles her recent interlocutor in that direction at speed. Free! Free at last!

She trots behind the bar, avoids a plate of steak and kidney pie, dodges a tray burdened with half a dozen pints of Butterbeer, abandons her glass amongst a flock of other empties, darts and weaves between wenches with tremendous and feline grace, and then is standing at the counter behind the bar with a bottle in either hand: gin, good gin, and dry vermouth. She happens to be looking straight up into the pale blue eyes of Gaillard Beauclaire. "Why," she drawls. "It's Mr Beckley, isn't it? … I never forget a ruined frock."

"Your man said I might run you to ground here," Gaillard replies in his own languorous timbre, a sort of verbal sigh. "The setting would have caused me some surprise, had I not exhausted that faculty already. As to your frock, you have yourself to blame entirely, Mrs Fairfax. It was the height of discourtesy not to give me some sort of intimation regarding your…our…nature. But I am of a forgiving disposition, and have decided to let the matter slide, especially as I seem to remember I owe you a…treat." He almost spits out the last syllable, such is the acidity of his sentiment.

Still, the expression of his feelings and the firewhisky alike seem to mellow him to a degree, and it is a mellower personage who consents at last to sit. "Did you enjoy your schooldays so very much, Mrs Fairfax? This seems a queer resort to fetch up at, otherwise…"

The bottles clink down upon the counter; Fabia Fairfax's feet rise out of her shoes, onto her tip-toes, as she leans forward to listen… and, in due course, to send peals of laughter ringing out across the bar to his ears. Her mood, so bright and gay, so ready to be entertained despite how little the last conversation she had could possibly have done so, seems to take a few years off her; or perhaps that's the beneficent effect of the lighting. "Oh!" she gasps at last, "sweetie… You did just give me a treat." She reaches under the bar for one of the terribly chic crystal and aluminium cocktail shakers she imported herself from London, and the necessary quantity of ice; she commences to measure out the component parts of her next martini with practiced hands. "Exhausted your faculty for surprise whilst still in your cradle, I don't wonder," she remarks with mock sympathy. "Frid did tell me he'd run into you in the Cauldron, and that you being a wizard must have been what happened to my frock. You know, sweetie, you didn't give me any intimation either. Those frightful sticks you were drinking with! How could anyone possibly have guessed?"

An allegorical composition indeed these two might as well be, Jaded Late Youth and Age Springeth Eternal, and Gaillard, accordingly, is evidently doing his very best not to relent; but a smile ends up being unavoidable, sharp and full of asperity as it may be. "A good idea. I'll have what you're having," he concedes gallantly with respect to the cocktail. "You didn't answer my question, so I suppose it bored you, though you're too charming to say so. Always loathed this place, m'self. Frightful food, especially compared to what old Horace could, and I hear still can, offer…"

For Fabia to double the portions of gin and vermouth is the work of seconds, once Gaillard has expressed such a sensible preference. She quickly caps the bottles and pops the top half onto the shaker; it shifts swiftly to and fro within her manicured, diamond-bedecked grasp — horizontally, for that's the way to get the best friction of liquor upon ice. She may appear eye-strainingly incongruous behind the bar of a wizarding pub in Hogsmeade but, by God, she knows what to do with a cocktail shaker once she's there…

"Your — oh, yes. It was perhaps a little boring," she sighs," but only because I've heard it such a lot lately. In essence, what's a girl like you doing in a place like this?" She winks at Gaillard, sets down the shaker, and spins about in a neat circle, during the course of which she picks up a pair of martini glasses. "Well, sweetie, it wasn't really my idea," she goes on, pouring out that blessed white liquid soon to pale into clarity, "I inherited the pub from my late husband and I thought, why not try it? I always do think why not try things; there's no other way to find out, is there?" A trifle more into this glass, then that; and the shaker's bounty is exhausted. "Horace, friend of yours?" she asks brightly, stabbing at olives. "Dining with him, or did you drag yourself all the way up to Hogsmeade just to amuse me?"

"To amuse myself. Generally the way," Gaillard retorts, the sharp point of his repartee most definitely palliated with a faint sheath of mirth by now. "As for Horace, I referred to Professor Slughorn. Head of Slytherin. Since your time I suppose, dear Mrs Fairfax. Unless perhaps he was a schoolfellow of yours. This," he accepts after a generous gulp of the martini, "isn't too bad. You shouldn't waste your substance and your hours of idleness in strange hotels when you could be cultivating such…talent. You were married, you say? That's the root of the trouble, I suppose. People pick up the most filthy habits within marriage."

He pauses to pinion Fabia on an overwise glance, before yawning and, bereft of shame and, mostly, conjunctions, stating, "Trouble you for a Sobranie…"

"I don't know anyone called Slughorn, and I haven't any cigarettes down here," Fabia answers immediately; and after a rapid initial gulp from her glass extracts the olives and draws one away from its companions by encircling it with gentle carmine lips. "Sweetie, this is very charming, but I'm going out to waste more of my idleness tonight, and — oh, well," she sighs, "if you'll undertake to amuse me too, I suppose you might come up and have a cigarette."

"You don't…?" Surprise is evidently not so entirely foreign to Mr. Beauclaire's constitution after all, not quite yet in any case. He falls silent, sipping at his glass and continuing to fix upon Fabia Fairfax his formidably goggling, assessing surveillance. "Would you mind, dearest Mrs Fairfax, hinting just whom you do know? Without being sure of mutual friends, I'm finding it hard to place you. Which I'm sure you consider a compliment, but let me assure you, when I have placed you, you'll enjoy the process much more thoroughly. Did you…might I ask, did you even attend School?"

Fabia's hint of an intent at retirement brings Gaillard out in another smirk, a satirical, coy little grin. "I would not want to despoil the metropolis of Hogsmeade of its finest adornments. Nor need you answer my last lamentably plodding enquiry. Determined to try novelties at any cost; you passed into Gryffindor at some stage, however little you look or sound the part. Yes, Mrs Fairfax, that sounds not disagreeable. You may call me Gally now. All literary London does, you know."

"Oh, all right." Fabia's shoulders move beneath her tweeds in an unconcerned, elegant shrug. "Gally, then. But if you want me to answer any of that," she sips, and sips again from her martini glass, "or if, as seems rather more likely, you fancy telling me all about being the toast of literary London, you really will have to let the rest of Hogsmeade take its chances — I'm quite certain I must by now be running late." She extends a paw to intercept the nearest bar-wench, a fetching dark-eyed creature of twenty-three or twenty-four, not the one who had her trapped in interminable dialogue earlier. "Tessa, sweetie," she instructs her, in a tone audible also to the gentleman across the bar, "when Mr Beauclaire has paid for his drinks he's allowed to come up and see me for a minute if he likes." She pats the girl's shoulder, waggles her fingers at Gally, and, martini glass held aloft before her as though it were a chalice and she the priestess of an ancient and alcoholic rite, passes through the Staff Only door into the unknown recesses of her establishment.

"Toast, indeed! At worst I'm its blinis, and only then after a ghastly fall from being its caviare," Gaillard snaps back, but his hostess's path to evasion is swift and manoeuvrable. Fabia consequently misses a look from her visitor after her wake which is still grudgingly, but indubitably, admiring, as he lays down the requisite silver sickles for the whiskies and martini, and, evidently unmoved by 'Tessa', awaits more definite ingress. It is not too long in the coming, though by then Gaillard has already drummed his knuckles into definite pallor on the board of the establishment. He follows Tessa with long but infrequent steps, so as to keep a hair's length or two behind wherever her path may meander to her employer.

Upstairs, first on the left — the door left ajar, with strains of a Harry Roy song spilling out into the dark and unprepossessing corridor.

Tessa raps firmly upon the door, nudging it in the process further open, and catches the handle to hold it to until she hears Fabia call, "Come in, Gally!"

This little apartment reserved for the owner of the Three Broomsticks is decorated according to no particular style or period: clean and uncluttered, gentlemanly in its previous tone yet overlaid now with an undeniable veneer of Fabia Fairfax, redolent of expensive French scent with undertones of face-powder and gin. A gramophone sits on the floor, surrounded by boxes of records. There's a well-stocked drinks trolley. The looking-glass has a dozen or so loose Muggle photographs of ballet dancers tucked into its frame; and a dozen or more in frames have frames have been put up on the walls. Double doors stand open to the next room, where a black and white evening gown lies limp upon the bed.

The lady who lives here (for the time being) is kneeling neatly beside the gramophone, fiddling with the volume, turning it up and then down again. Her shoes lie discarded just inside the door, the jacket of her suit across the back of a chair. The blouse thus fully revealed is of a lurid turquoise silk.

Her manservant, Frid Lee, appears at that moment in the inner doorway: "Your bath, madam," he intones, fastening his right cuff as he eyes Gaillard Beauclaire with serene and absolute professionalism. Yes. That must be it.

"Mr Beckley's going to sit and talk to me while I get done up," Fabia explains to one man, and, "The cigarettes are in the box just there," to the other. She tucks her stockinged feet beneath herself and rises lithely.

There continues to be something undeniably avian, - well, perhaps just a bit amphibian - in the way Gaillard stares about his surroundings, sizing things up, swallowing. "Gosh. It's all most familiar - if I wasn't visiting the flat above the pub in the village next to the school, and not Mrs Maynard Keynes's dressing room," he comments, or even, such is the querulousness of his annunciation, objects, as he helps himself from the box he handles with a little trepidation and disapproval. Gaillard has taste, and it is being outraged here and now, even more intensely in the details, such as that excess of lacquered sheen, than the generality. Still, he has the grace, as he rifles the object, to restrict his criticism of it to a sniff, a sniff that has soon enough been transfigured - by Muggle enough means - into the contented gasp of a drag. Only Mr. Lee, of all the room's appurtenances, is emphatically ignored.

"I don't much care for the music, Mrs Fairfax," the demanding sort of young man insists next. "Couldn't we have some of the Songs of Villon? He was a half-blood, too," he adds in passing.

"You know, I never actually danced with Lopokova," Fabia muses, "before my time and then after it… You can put on anything you like, they're all my records, but after this one has finished, I'm quite partial to it. Fair's fair, sweetie, you're a guest but only a very tentative one. Now come and sit down."

The sober figure of her valet recedes from the doorway into the boudoir, wherein, once Gally follows his hostess, he'll see her vanish through another door, between a full-length looking glass with a waist-high wooden barre set up in front of it — and a dainty tapestried arm-chair of the late 18th century, toward which, with an imperious hand but not a backward glance, she points.

Seconds later her tweed skirt is flung out onto the floor. The valet is at hand to pick it up, having collected already her shoes and her jacket; these things he disposes of in appropriate fashion, with one eye always upon Gally.

"Tentative, I like that, coming from such a paragon of stability," Gaillard grumbles, but his half-suppressed murmur already indicates a measure of compliance. Whether out of remaining cussedness and perversity, however, or genuine enthusiasm, he does not accept the proffered armchair but instead moves to the glass, tracing the edge of its frame with the long hand from which the Black Russian still effuses. The looking glass, it would seem, has not defied his taste. "Rather distinguished in its way," he accepts, before taking a pace back and gazing upon the yet more artistic effect of himself within it. There he remains for the time being, loitering, rapt, as he beholds his own chilly eyes and smokes expressively.

A flash of turquoise in the glass is Fabia's blouse flitting past likewise into Frid's reach. The bathroom door sighs almost closed; she peeks through it at Gaillard, catches his reflected eye, shakes her head at him, and ducks out of sight. "I must say, I like the things you say about me without even knowing me," she remarks from the other side of the door, in a tone which suggests that she doesn't quite, but isn't prepared to slap him for them. Yet. "Shall you say something nicer next, do you think, or is it quite beyond you?"

"No speech is beyond Gallyard Beckley, Mrs Fairfax," the gentleman of leisure and letters so named, if not spelt, responds calmly enough from his narcissine vigil. "You have a delightful mirror. Magical, one might almost say, if one were to indulge the public's taste for the baroque naive. As to my knowledge of you, do forgive me, but I thought that was the point of our little…colloquy in the first place, and, for all your undoubted kindness as a landlady, you have yet to oblige me very much as a conversationalist. My breath remains, I assure you, bated. Tell me…oh, everything. Why not?"

Two small discreet splashes as Fabia's feet enter the bath; and a more definite aquatic sound, chased by a sigh of contentment, as she settles herself properly amidst hot water and fragrant bubbles. "Oh, have you decided I'm interesting after all? You could hardly keep your eyes open at the Dorchester. Do you just find witches more diverting than Muggles? Or pub landladies more companionable than elderly adventuresses — or whatever it is you supposed I must be? Or did you want a cigarette so very badly, sweetie? Very well, ask me something. I can't tell you where the looking-glass came from, though, I suppose it must have belonged to my husband. Or it may have been here even longer."

"We could start with him," Gaillard suggests amiably, stubbing out the Sobranie on the glass's barre with somewhat vandalistic relish. Nothing a little spellwork wouldn't fix, but he for one finds damaged things possessed of a more characteristic and intangible charm. "Your husband. Oddly enough, I've known the same deplorable booby-trap myself; not for very long, but something tells me you may not have been crushed by wedlock for all too many aeons, either…"

"I've had two," Fabia puts in, splashing industriously; "more or less. I'm a Mrs Travers as well, you see, and he was the one who left me the Broomsticks when he shuffled off to meet his maker this past October. He was a very naughty Slytherin boy and I liked him very much for a while, when we were young, I suppose he must have liked me too, at any rate we didn't trouble to divorce one another. Who was yours, sweetie, and why didn't she last long?"

"A bigamist, then…?" Gaillard half deduces. "'The Balletic Bigamist'…sounds like some nonsense Quennell or someone similar would write. Or, perhaps, a rather outre public house." He sniffs again, slightly mournfully this time. "Letty was…did you ever marry a Muggle, old girl? The parallel one, Mr. Fairfax, perhaps? I do despise the word Muggle, don't you. Not a nice way to talk about one's relatives or spouse, especially when they're undeniably bien nait."

Another significant splash, another sigh, as — conscious of time's winged passage — Fabia levers herself up out of the bath again. "Not bigamy, sweetie, I only used his name, for our daughter's sake. In point of fact I'm still using it, I think it sounds rather good with 'Fabia', don't you? Before that I was called Fabia Iskanderova. Yes, he was a Muggle. Or, as I like to think of it, a person." She appears at Gally's shoulder, wrapped in a peacock-patterned silk dressing-gown, with thick, gleaming henna-red hair hanging loose around her shoulders. Her reflection peers up at his: "Letty…?" she encourages.

Gaillard strides back, surrendering the mirror's territory to its mistress and retrieving his briefcase where it had fallen in the corridor. He presents a severe figure now, but certainly not a bored one, seeping concentration from dyed black mop to scuffed black boots. "Fabia Fairfax, quite. You have a talent for that too…what our trans-Atlantic friends call 'show-business'. He frowns as he examines her, critically but not, for a change, explicitly cattily, until she gives him his prompt. He opens his mouth…closes it again…sighs, and mutters his answer.

"As you said earlier, Mrs Fairfax, I'm only a tentative guest. Letty can wait for another time, I think." And then a resonant crack has announced Beauclaire's disapparition.

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