Floo Network

Summer of 69
[ Belgravia ] we were built to fall apart, then fall back together

Started by Farren Abercrombie, March 03, 2021, 05:05:14 am

Declan O'Dwyer

Farren's reaction made him chuckle. It felt so good that finally there was somebody who was beginning to understand his frustration with his current situation. His father, in general, was such a beloved figure that people had trouble coming around to the idea that Fintan O'Dwyer was actually quite a difficult person to have to live with.

"Well, yes, that too, but, unfortunately, he is also a liability."

He paused for a split-second, wondering if it was wise to continue. But then, he trusted her and maybe every so often it was allowed to speak his mind on a matter rather than keep his thoughts to himself like he usually did.

"Of course, he won't manage to bankrupt the family with his absurd spending but given his disposition grandfather can't transfer control to him. Instead, control over the family business and our assets is being handed to me. And as far as my father is concerned that is wrong and he'd rather see the assets go to Lorcan. And I am not even opposed to the idea of working with my little brother eventually, if that is what he wants. But Lorcan is a teenager. He can't run a business yet."
 
It was easy to tell just how exasperated Declan felt by having to deal with all of this. His father was just being difficult and contrary for the sake of it.
 
"And my father doesn't understand that this is just a little bit more complicated than just the businesses and just the money. We're a large local employer and we own a lot of land. There are so many families in the local area that rely on the head of the O'Dwyer family making sensible decisions for their livelihood. We have a huge amount of responsibility. And, of course, our reputation is tied to this. He can't get his head around the fact that our most valuable asset are out workers rather than the diamond and silver mines."

Maybe he was even angry about all of this. He normally tried to bury whatever he felt about the situation behind his professionalism and ambition, but it was hard to do that now when he was just talking with a friend. 
 
"Worst part in a way is that I really understand why my father turned out the way he did. I even have some sympathy. My grandfather is no saint in all of this. He is as much to blame as anyone. But just because I understand doesn't mean I can act any differently. So here we are, all barely on speaking terms with each other."
 
"And that's before we get into the politics of the Statue of Secrecy and Grindelwald. Or into what happened with my uncle or my great-aunt and her failed engagement. Honestly, we might struggle even with a week. A two-week holiday might cover it adequately. But then, why chose Glenbally as a location when we could be somewhere in the sun enjoying the weather and gorgeous drinks. How about Ponta Delgada instead? Or maybe Furnas? Okay, in all seriousness, visit me sometime. It would be nice to have you over."
 He gave her a genuine little smile, making it obvious that he'd very much look forward to hosting her, regardless of the sorry state things were in.

There was one thing though that was very much bothering him. Had she just acted surprised when he mentioned that he'd missed her? Really?

"And, of course, I missed you. What kind of silly question is that?"

Declan let Farren usher him inside, happy to go along with whatever plan for dinner and drink she had. It was not like he had another appointment later in the evening to get to, so they could take as much time as they wanted to just enjoy each other's company.

Farren Abercrombie

He continued to shock her. All these years her impressions of the O'Dwyers had in fact been quite wrong. After their first date there had been a grain of doubt in her mind, that if ever their opinion of her mattered, it could be problematic. While as wealthy and prestigious a family as the O'Dwyers could hope for there was no denying the reputation her mother was developing. Nor a nice way to paper over the fact that her great, great grandfather had disowned all but one of his children for supporting the lowest possible levels of respect for mudbloods and marrying a half blood. That was all quite unfortunate from a public relations perspective and her assumption that the O'Dwyers were more or less self righteous liberals had given her pause around some of Declan's suggestions. However, now she was under the distinct impression that if anything the O'Dwyers had more skeletons in their closets than the Abercrombies.

It was amusing though. Declan was quite animated about all of it, rightfully so. If she had half as much strife to deal with she was sure it would be massively overwhelming. "I had no idea the O'Dwyers were so exciting. I thought it was just a matter of your father being ill tempered and irrational. I had no idea the fate of the county lay on the line. Though in your father's defense people can always be replaced even if it's a hassle. I'm sure if necessary you could teach house elves to mine or con some muggles into it if need be." She was teasing - mostly, though she could understand valuing your diamond minds above the poor sods that worked there to a degree as long as life and limb weren't discounted.

That wasn't the end of the drama though. Her eyes grew wide as he continued on about Grindelwald, an uncle, scandal with an aunt's engagement. Scoffing in disbelief she shook her head, "My, my and here I thought at best the most exciting thing O'Dwyers got up to was some good old fashioned family squabbles and perhaps a secret pro-squib rights fundraiser or two. Now I'm only going to be satisfied if your great-aunt had an engagement to Grindelwald fall through." She laughed a little and ushed him back into the conservatory.

"I honestly have no idea where that is, sounds Spanish or Portugese, but if you say it's nice I'll take your word for it. Though if we are going to spend two weeks on a beach I expect to cover all the drama at least back to the 1600s. If what you're telling me now is only the last 50 years or so....my, my....what other scandal is waiting for telling?"

Smiling she nodded towards the sofa directing him to sit but couldn't miss his look of surprise and then adamant affirmation that he had of course missed her. It made her blush a little and she turned to the bar cart a few paces away from where he sat. "Well, I don't know, we were so busy going out and living our lives. It's not uncommon to move on from childhood attachments quickly when you become an adult." Shrugging she pulled two glasses from the cabinet and began to stir the pitcher of drinks Fanby had prepared as their second sampling. "If you missed me so much you should have just come to Vienna more." she concluded as she dumped ice into their cups. It was pointless to litigate their past actions, no one had been hurt, no one had been cruel or mean, it was just life. "I will certainly have to visit Glenbally most regularly now so I am quite sure you do not have time to miss me anymore," she poured their cocktails and turned back to him smiling.

Walking back to the sofa she handed him his fruity mixed drink and took a seat next to him. "See, here I thought it was me who had the crazy family. At least I feel in good company with you lot. Our drama is decidedly less problematic in the day to day. The business is neatly managed for us on most fronts. Grandfather has final say in many things but only after things pass through masses of advisors. We each have our own portion of the money squirreled away for us with our own advisors. One day the whole lot will be mine, the central pot of money and land holdings, but again that's all very managed and advised on by professionals. As for intra-personal relationships we all almost like each other mostly. Grandfather of course wishes father was more enthusiastic about family affairs but Father is content with his side pursuits in magical biology. He is almost entirely removed from the businesses apart from kind of ceremonial such. When Grandfather dies I'll have the option to be involved to a varying degree or trust the business to advisors and trustees. Grandfather is stern and strict but usually fair, he likes to dote on me on occasion. Most of the drama stems from Grandmother and mum and their politics. I'm sure Father and Grandfather would be happy to silently funnel buckets of galleons to pureblood causes. Mum and Grandmother are having none of that. Grandfather is worried if things get too public they could damage the publishing company but they are determined to be involved. Apart from that, we're pretty boring."

She took a sip of her drink and looked down at the glass. The drink was vaguely yellow yet on first taste seemed to be watermelon flavored. "This is....adventurous," she commented with a smirk.  "Being a woman the family I suppose I'm spared a lot of the management drama. Grandfather was wise enough to set up a lot of this advisory business when it was very clear Father had no interest in managing a publishing company. Then when mum only had me it just accelerated that shift. I guess I could be offended by that, the assumption that I wouldn't be capable to manage it, but it's something I'm grateful for honestly. The troubles I face with the family are largely social, political, and ceremonial. Obviously my marriage was up to them. Obviously mum and Grandmother are livid that I am not living here, alone, not relying on my Abercrombie money to maintain my lifestyle. They hate that I have a job. They hate that I have not re-married. They hate that I have the gall to not just show up at society events but to outshine even the prettiest girls making their debuts yet refuse to marry the many men they have shoved at me. Thankfully the Rosiers have largely checked out. The house Clive bought from his trust and the money I get from him is all residuals from his personal income in quidditch and such. I'm sure they'd love to rake in that money but it's not like they need it. Thankfully, one of the few things Clive did to benefit me was to tie up the money very tightly for me and me alone. I can't get a penny of the Rosier money but his money and his investments are all mine. They've adjusted - the Rosiers, better than my family, to the fact that I became independently wealthy when Clive died. Grandmother is quite sure that I will be a horrible, barren, spinster heiress if I am not a financial and literal prisoner to her and my mother."

Shaking her head she laughed a little. "I daresay the closer I get to 30 the more viscous they become. For my 26th birthday Grandmother sent me a howler addressed to 'The Abercrombie-Rosier Spinster' in which she berated me for letting my best days pass me by with pointlessly working class endeavors such as - my job. I think nothing less than being a Tom Riddle obsessed broodmare will get them off my back. I don't see it in my tea leaves though. It's not like mum seems that happy having attempted just that." It was a different kind of pressure than Declan faced. He would never be taunted for his baby making years passing him by or growing too old to catch an appropriate match. Of course it was ridiculous but the Abercrombie women were relentless that she marry up, get pregnant, and become a nice little pureblood broodmare.

Declan O'Dwyer

"The 1600s! Oh, we will a lot need longer for that. I think at that point you're looking at a good long vacation every year for at least a decade. I mean, if you have the time, I am all in. I have more gossip than half the socialites in London."

He was shamelessly exaggerating, but the idea of making a multi-year plan with her was so wonderful he just couldn't resist it. He rather liked the idea of spending all of his vacation time with her. Of course, it was a foolish dream and not easily possible. He'd have to marry her for such an arrangement to not become the source of a great scandal; but even that notion seemed quite tempting in his mind.

"I think we can cover more than just Portugal in that time. How about Greece too? And maybe Italy? Have you been to Morocco? We should go."

He could picture it all to easily. Time spent exploring foreign cities, bickering about the locals, trying all the customary dishes. Farren with a sheer veil in some oriental bazaar. He wasn't usually one to travel a lot, but he could easily imagine how much fun it would be to travel with somebody else rather than going on his own.

Declan was also quite entertained that she'd bought into the O'Dwyers carefully cultivated reputation. He'd have thought that given her position at the Prophet she had to be painfully aware that most of pureblood society was built on lies upon lies. None of the families were what they claimed to be and often the last thing they were was pure, in any meaning of the word.

"As far as I know, all the families are like this," Declan said with dry amusement. "As strange as it seems, our levels of disfunction make us perfectly ordinary."

"I am sure your family must do the same, but we do keep a book on what we know about other familes, in case it ever becomes politically useful. We pretty much have something on everyone we do regular business with. You'd be surprised."

He took a sip of the watermelon drink and nearly pulled a face as he tasted it. Interesting was really the kindest thing anyone could say about the flavour. Thankfully, Farren didn't ask his opinion on the concoction and instead explained about her family circumstances.

He listened with interest. From what he could gather her grandfather was a sensible man who had made realistic and probably impossibly difficult decisions. He mused that it had probably been extremely hard on the man to give control of the business to strangers. It had to hurt to give something you had maintained, loved, and nurtured for so many years. No matter how well paid, advisors never cared about a business as much as the founders and family.
The rest of what she said was unpleasant, but hardly surprising. That her independence had to be difficult for the Abercrombie family was predictable. It was unfortunate she had to go through it, but what woman in society didn't?

"I dunno if I should be glad for you or sorry. On the one hand you don't get all the money drama, but I don't envy you on being harangued about marriage and children all the time. That can't be very pleasant to deal with."

"If I may be so forward, what is it you want? Are you interested in publishing and learning the business? Do you want to marry again and have children? Not necessarily now, or soon, but just in general?"

Farren Abercrombie

"Maybe we should make some kind of pact that you will never put the information you learn about me into the family blackmail book to use against my family and in turn I won't write a book about the O'Dwyers," she smiled and braved another sip of her drink which oddly had an entirely different, more pleasant favor, a bit fruity but refreshing. "Oh my, I think Fanby has tried something from the magical cocktails book the butler brought home. It's different on second taste, better at least." Pursing her lips she looked down at the glass before laughing. "I'm sorry, I told him to surprise us because I didn't have time to plan out the menu myself and it may have gone too far. Let's hope the tapas aren't adventurous."

Somehow she felt relieved when he asked her longer term wants and desires. It hadn't really been on her mind until she mentioned her grandmother. It was highly likely Declan could do whatever he wanted with whomever. At the pub he had said he was interested in a relationship, even a messy one, if she was. But what did that mean to him? She wasn't ready to ask such pointed questions but being given the OK to talk about what she wanted, without any implied investment from herself in whatever he wanted from her, was a relief. If she were to ask this or bring it up directly he might thing her too forward or needy or to have taken his limited interest too seriously. It would be embarassing to go there without certainty.

"I don't really care about publishing to be honest. At least not the nuts and bolts of it. What paper we buy, the type of ink formulated for the presses," she shook her head, "I couldn't care less about that stuff. The selling aspect as well, deals with sellers all over Europe, contracts with schools to use our texts, keeping writers on book tours - no thank you. All of that has been out of our hands for ages anyways. The company is too huge. Grandfather is really just like an executive in any other industry. I'm sure they will make me learn some of the nuts and bolts for the sake of appearances and tradition but no. I don't want to head a massive corporation. My primary interest in it is the power of the information we print. We hold something like 70% of the non-fiction book market in the UK, about 40% of the fiction market, we own half the news papers on the continent, more and more of the book share as well....that's quite a lot of influence. I care about that much more than the accounting."

"And yes, of course I'd like to be married again. To the right person, at the right time. And yes, I'd like to be a mother. I don't think it's much of a secret that the Abercrombies are nearly extinct. My mother went to extreme personal lengths to try and have more children but in the process made her health rather complicated to have the children she so badly wanted to give the family. I suppose one day I'll want for rather a lot of children. I don't know when it will happen or how," her cheeks flushed pink, oh dear, what a silly slip of the tongue, "I mean....of course I know how....forgive me, I mean circumstance of how not...literally how.," she smiled nervously taking a quick panicked sip of her drink. The toe of her pointed shoe was tapping rapidly, anxiously against the floor as she nervously tapped her toes. How mortifying to make a suggestion like that when they were still so early in repairing their relationship.

"I rather like children," she smiled tensly before exhaling heavily and taking another sip of her drink, "Most people are surprised by that but once they are out of nappies and toddling around they can be quite sweet. Rather funny too. I just want....to be happy and have a happy littler family." She leaned forward to set her drink on the coffee table in front of them. Sighing she pushed a strand of hair behind her ear, "I suppose it's a lot to ask for but the reason I've been dragging my feet is that there was never anyone I could imagine it with. You know? All the polished penguins bowing and scraping into Dalemain. Eating out of Grandmother's hand to impress them. I just don't want to live through that again. You probably know, maybe it's in your family's book, Clive and I were rather miserable."

She glanced at him for a moment hesitant to go on but the cat had been tipped out of the bag she supposed. "On paper it was perfect wasn't it?" she looked up at him with a weak smile. "I was beautiful and young, he was beautiful and young. He was a prodigy, I was a prodigy. A Rosier and an Abercrombie. The headline grabbing socialite darling and the international quidditch sensation. If was supposed to be a fairy tale."

"Clive was a nice enough man but we were a bad match. In reality we had nothing in common. Literally nothing to talk about over breakfast unless The Prophet was on the breakfast tray. At first I thought it was just because we spent so little time together before the wedding and were just getting used to it. The families decided I had to stop playing. We'd never have babies if he and I were both traveling Europe constantly. So I was just stuck here, waiting for him to come home, while he was out there.....games, practice, international games far away, media events, sponsorship events. They all expected me to just sit here, waiting, ready for whenever he was ready for me. When he was here there was nothing to talk about because I don't care about quidditch and he didn't care what I did as long as it wasn't embarrassing him. I am sure that once we'd had kids we would have moved to opposite ends of the house and eventually separate houses and spent our golden years thousands of miles apart except for the sake of appearances and expectations."

It was as nice as she could put it. If he eventually did want a relationship with her she knew he had the resources to find out more. It seemed better to be honest from the go even if it was bleak. "I can't bear to think of doing it like that again. It boggles my mind how they think I should do it their way again when the first time was an utter disaster. I suppose in their eyes since it never became a scandal and there were......chances of heirs, well that's all they really care about." Scoffing she shook her head, "What is a lifetime of boredom and unhappiness when money, glamour, power, and heirs are on the line?" Smiling a little she chuckled, "I did promise Grandfather I'd review his stud books if I made it 35 without a beau of my own choosing. That seems at least logically reasonable even if rather gross and depressing."

Declan O'Dwyer

Declan took a second sip from the drink, but he didn't find that he liked it any better; it was just differently weird. He still gave her a polite nod as if agreeing that she was right.

"Don't fret, I'm glad to have tried it even if it isn't my favourite."

He found it sweet how worried she was about pleasing him with the drinks and meal. He wouldn't have thought that Farren was a domestic miracle worker and passionate cook and it was certainly not why he liked her. For a moment he was debating to tell her so openly, but he wasn't sure if the sentiment would offend. Some women took a lot of pride in their cooking and their abilities as a hostess. Truthfully, he didn't have Farren down as such a woman, but there was an inkling of worry that he might be wrong; that he didn't know her as well as he thought he did.

As she started to talk of the publishing business he was wavering between mild confusion and mild disappointment. How could she not find it interesting? How could she be this indifferent? How was she to be sure that these advisors wouldn't try to take the company away from her once the older Abercrombie had passed? Every instinct he had, everything his family had thought him would have compelled him to be elbows deep in the detail of that business if he'd been in her situation and yet she shrugged it of so nonchalantly. It was difficult to wrap his head around.

The second part of her statements made more sense. She wanted to use the family business as her platform and employ its reach to suit her own agenda. Still, how could she do that without taking care of the fundamentals. When she said that she didn't care that much about the accounting he wanted to correct her that without the accounting there wouldn't be a platform for her to use. Holding his tongue became incrementally harder, until he just couldn't help himself.

"How do you retain control when you don't know the business from the ground up? Have you tried to learn? In my experience, family businesses are more fun than one might think." He was probably biased. He loved business and the intrigue and the politics, even if he often claimed otherwise.

As she carried on and drifted into the subject of marriage it became obvious why she felt the way she did. As a dwindling line the matter of establishing succession took precedence over economic concerns. He laughed softly at her little blunder on the subject of children, but nodded earnestly at what she described.

He wasn't sure how he felt on the subject himself. Yes, a part of him wanted a family, but he had many concerns about messing it up and maybe not being cut out for it. There was a persistent niggling thought that he was maybe too soft or too feminine to make a good father. Naturally, this was not a thought he could share. Still, a happy little family: he could picture himself in such a place and being quite content.

Her marriage to Clive Rosier seemed to encapsulate all of that family philosophy neatly. A union constructed around appearances rather than a solid foundation of two people acting as economic and romantic partners. No doubt it would have been hard to bear for either of them. Declan tried to cast his mind back to the few times he'd spoken with Clive Rosier. The man had been perfectly amiable, if perhaps a little distant and bland. Now that he thought about it, it was perfectly clear to him that the man's mildly disinterested disposition was probably how he'd coped with being used as a political pawn. He'd probably been no more invested in the match than Farren herself. And just from the business side of things he wondered how anyone could picture Clive Rosier potentially being successful in publishing. The mere notion was absurd.

"I'm sorry you had to go through that," he told her earnestly. "A marriage where one partner cannot love and respect the other is a hard burden to bear. I hope the future will bring you happier times. If it were entirely up to you without regard for family or tradition, what would perfect look like?"

Declan vaguely realised the conversation was getting quite serious, but he wanted to know more about her long term vision and if the direction they were both going in could align. He'd never been much of a player and understanding if there was potential for something more, something serious mattered to him.

"For me," he began to confess, "I don't think anything short of falling in love could convince me to marry. My grandparents have been pushing the O'Brien's girl for the sake of the business, but I don't think I could suffer as silly a girl just for some additional property and mining rights. I think it'll just have to find another way of getting that land off them. I'm sure it can be done."

"As for perfect, well, I think I'd have to meet a beautiful, headstrong woman from a good family who has her own ideas and opinions. I don't want a wife I have to do the thinking for. That's tedious. And I'd be quite happy to let her have her independence - which of course means she can't be from a good family, right? She'd never be allowed to exist. So I'll probably end up as an old man with slightly too many cats and kneazles. Best keep me away from any pet shops."

Farren Abercrombie

Declan interjected. Challenging her but in a way that made her uncomfortable, annoyed even. What did he think she was? A bratty child who had no interest in the family's income stability? Her brows knit together in mild annoyance. Perhaps, just as she'd assumed the O'Dwyers were ever slightly less ridiculous than they in fact were perhaps she'd also assumed their business was larger than it was.

"It's not a democracy. They can't just vote me out as heiress and head of the endeavor. It's not up to them who is at the helm. It's up to the family stake holders all of whom are involved in the business to ensure a clear grasp of primary functions remain largely supervised and controlled by family associates. You know that while I am in the inheritance line I am not the only Abercrombie. Grandfather has arranged it all very carefully to ensure no matter the heir apparent to the family seat the business remains highly functional and profitable. I would assume you understood this model given your family's situation? Perhaps our advisors could be of assistance even." Arching her eyebrow she cocked her head slightly making it clear if he demeaned her and their business structure again he would be crossing a line. He could get right back in his box with his nonsense. Her Grandfather had engineered the structures with a dozen leading advisors and legal experts when her father was young, realizing they needed a thorough system to ensure financial benefits remained in place while allowing the business to succeed without being bogged down by family drama or incompetent heirs. He'd designed the structure to avoid exactly the thing the O'Dwyers were going through now actually. If he was going to offer unsolicited advice to her then he best do it in a way that didn't make her feel diminished nor dish out suggestions in an area that he himself barely had a grip on. That wasn't going to go over very well now or ever.

For a moment she didn't look at him. He could sit there and wonder for a moment if he'd truly offended her. Instead she fiddled with her drink. Reaching out and picking it up off the table she gave the ice a little shake which much to her horror changed the color of the drink. It was now very much pink. Pursing her lips she held the glass up to the light to examine the cup half expecting something odd to happen again. Scowling at it she sat it back on the table and leaned back on the sofa. "Clearly I have to destroy that book, honestly, what in the world," she snickered shaking her head at the drink.

She offered him a small but genuine smile when he offered sympathy for her miserable marriage. "Perfect? Is there such a thing as perfect?" she smiled because the immediate answer in her head was a particular evening gown she'd thought up months ago and was in the process of being created for her by a friend. That was perfection. But with men, she quite sure when it came to men the closest a woman could get to perfection was happy imperfection. He was certainly being very serious now.

It was curious to her that apparently his family were keen for him to pair off with someone in particular. She didn't know who this Miss O'Brien was but somehow just knowing she was out there made her ever so slightly uneasy. At least he was openly not interested in her. How furious she would be to find out there was some local girl he'd been promised to after suggesting just last week he might be interested in her. Instead he said something she was almost sure she'd never heard a man in their society say.

He wanted to be in love. Not with anyone though, someone quite unique. Someone he didn't have to think for? Again her eyebrow arched. Did Declan meet a great many ladies without brains? Sure, there were ladies in society who wanted nothing more than to wear pretty dresses and marry pretty, rich men. But it was 1969, not 1869, many ladies of society had at least some personal passion projects, varied interests, and a great deal of cleverness.

She scoffed at him when he said a beautiful, bold, head strong woman wouldn't be allowed to exist from a good family. "Well, I don't know where you meet women Mr. O'Dwyer but I know a great many ladies that are quite clever. Some of us even have our very own jobs, just like you men folk. It is 1969 after all. Shocking as it may be to be a millionaire with a job and a woman I do promise you we are out there. If a gentleman can keep our attentions though is another concern altogether though."

Smirking she looked over at him. It was unclear to her if he was trying to be contrary to get a rise out of her or just being a fool. With men it was hard to say, utter stupidity and flirting often happened at the same time, quite by accident. "If you can prove to me there isn't a single lady in society that meets your exacting standards I'll buy you your first cat myself."

"As for me. Having been married I'm quite unsure if perfect is attainable at all. I think I could be quite content with finding happily imperfect. Someone who is decent, caring, and genuinely holds a deep affection for me. Someone who wants to try things with me, travel the world, who will support me in my projects and work. A man who is just as terrified of fucking up our kids as I am but still wants them. Preferably he would be amenable to a country lifestyle. I know I am living here of my own accord but I still feel like it's a bit of a gilded cage. I'm a wild creature of the moors at heart and I suspect my children will be too." She smiled a little nodding to herself satisfied with her assessment. It was a pretty picture at least.

Declan O'Dwyer

Farren was quite taken aback by his interjection. Clearly, he should have disciplined himself to not say anything on the matter. It wasn't any of his business how her family conducted their affairs. What had he been thinking to speak his mind so freely on the matter? It wasn't like they were about to merge their estates and had a valid reason for discussing such delicate matters. 

As she continued to speak in the subject, he forced himself to give a neutral expression. He definitely didn't agree with anything she had to say, but he supposed she was entitled to have her opinion however wrong he thought that she was. While Declan could understand the trust in her grandfather, her faith in these lawyers and advisors baffled him a great deal. He wasn't so convinced they'd stay true to her rather than another branch of the family line once her grandfather wasn't there anymore. Once people grew accustomed to power, they usually didn't like giving it up.

"I beg your forgiveness Farren," he said gently. "It's not my place to comment on your family business. I am sure it is in capable hands. I know precious little about publishing, so you can safely disregard my opinion on the matter."

Declan wasn't sorry at all for the content of what he had said, but he could recognise and admit that it had been wrong to say anything at all.

There was a long pause in the conversation, which made it clear how she felt on the matter. He wasn't sure what the protocol for this kind of situation was. He didn't usually make a habit of visiting young witches in their homes. Was this big enough a faux pas that he should make his excuses and leave? It was hardly polite to offend a lady in her own home and then stick around past the point of being welcome. He was really quite upset with himself for letting his manners lapse in such a spectacular fashion. Just what had he been thinking? Well, there was the problem. He hadn't been thinking very much at all.

He supposed that was it. Whatever idea he'd gotten into his head about asking her out again was probably messed up for good. Well, it had been presumptuous anyway to think she'd ever be interested in him. She ought to have offers from many more handsome and more distinguished wizards.

Declan was at a loss what to do when she continued speaking. Unfortunately, the situation was not improving much. He'd offended her and that much was very evident. He'd just have to appease her somehow.

"You are right about there being some remarkably successful witches, but I can't claim to personally knowing more than one. Of course, I can't blame the ladies here. There are more interesting people to meet and converse with than me. I doubt this will be about any lady meeting my standards, but rather if I can meet hers."

He frowned slightly. He certainly hadn't wanted to admit to this, but it had just come out and now it stood in the room. What was it with him saying such unguarded things in her company? It was a stupid thing to do.

Farren was more careful in her own descriptions. She painted a romantic picture of a quiet country life and he couldn't help but wonder how true this vision really rang. Was this the same woman who'd told him she was changing society and using her publishing company as her platform? It didn't quite fit together - but if he knew one thing it was that life could be messy. Sometimes, people had more than one truth.

"Sounds very peaceful," he responded at last. "And you certainly deserve it."

He paused. Maybe this was a good moment to give her an opportunity to be rid of him.

"Do you still wish me to stay for the meal? I would understand..." 

Farren Abercrombie

Immediately she realized things had gone awry. She'd thought everything was going well. He should have kept his thoughts about her family's business to himself. That was out of line entirely. In fact perhaps this whole discussion had been a leap too far too soon. They were still getting re-acquainted and this was entirely too heavy for this point in time. It was odd, that he would be so curious about such things, so soon. Was he really much more serious than she'd imagined? Considering she'd spent the better portion of their first date wondering if it was a date at all it was entirely possible that he could have quite serious thoughts already and she was just oblivious.

When he asked if he should still stay for the food or show himself out her expression dropped. Had it all gone quite that pear shaped that he wanted to leave? Her immediate response surprised even her. Why was her immediate thought to grab him and hold onto him? She didn't understand what was going on but what she could deduce was that despite being a decade older and worlds of experiences between them, Declan still was very Declan.

"I'd be ever so disappointed if you left," she said softly. Looking over at him she offered a gentle smile, it was an olive branch, even though this was largely his own fault.

"You really should use a little bit of a filter, but I will forgive you," she said diplomatically. The corners of her mouth twitched and she couldn't help but smile a little. Reaching across the space between them she took his hand and ran her fingers over the back of his hand. "When and if the management of Abercrombie Publishing becomes my problem I am happy to listen to informed, respectful discourse. Unless you'd like to take it up with Grandfather now that is. I'm happy to floo him and let him know that a 27 year old thinks he's running his multi-million galleon, international corporation wrong." She grinned almost playfully and squeezed his hand. Her Grandfather was a very stern man indeed, a figure Declan likely remembered from him escorting her to the Hogwarts Express every year. An imposing, tall man with a permanent scowl and a shock of perfectly manicured white hair.

"And as for only knowing only one accomplished lady.....well either your standards really are too high or you don't get out enough and all the accomplished ladies have slipped your net." She smirked and gently dropped his hand, "I would like to meet her though, she must be a creature to behold." For a moment she wanted to comment that if he was concerned about meeting ladies standards he was best advised to keep his business management tips to himself until asked but there was no use in bringing up a sore subject again though it did amuse her.

"I don't know if I deserve that life but it would be nice. In reality I'm sure it will be a compromise on that ideal bucolic life and I'm happy to accept that as well. When you've been unhappily trapped in marriage you learn what is and isn't tolerable and what really is at the core of it all. As long as there is mutual affection and care I think most other things can fall into place or be compromised on. Maybe I'm a jaded widow but I think I'm right on this one. Tender affection breeds happiness that can pave over many things. That's what's most important affection that blooms into deep love over time."

Again she extended her hand to him holding it out for him to take. "We should eat at the table out on the patio. I am praying that Fanby didn't get too creative, I specifically asked for small plates with a summer theme. I figured it's too warm to have a large meal. Besides, I'm very much debating asking you to break into the muggles' gated centralized community garden in the crescent so I wouldn't want us to commit to breaking and entering when we're bogged down after a heavy meal."


Declan O'Dwyer

Farren reassured him he should stay. Declan wasn't sure if he should trust her on this and he still felt a little upset at their little clash. He hadn't thought of her as naïve before, but at least as far as this subject was concerned, he couldn't help but think that her view was extremely short sighted. Why it mattered so much to him he couldn't even say. He just found it hard to imagine how anyone would not want to be actively involved with the family business. But of course, for witches that was hardly the done thing.

She reached across the table to comfort him while he was trying to let the topic go. He could figure out why this was getting to him later. Farren was already moving on, wilfully misunderstanding him on the subject of accomplished witches. He could help a vague smile and soft chuckle.

"I am afraid I can't introduce you, Farren. You've already met."

Maybe, he should have been straight forward and told her who he was talking about but teasing her was rather fun. It was strange - there were so many things she was bold and confident about, and then from one moment to the next she crumbled unexpectedly. Not that he blamed her; she'd always done better on this count than she had.

"I'd like to think that lover conquers all," he commented on her vision of a bucolic and quiet life. "However, I am not sure that is entirely true. There are things even a deep affection for each other cannot overcome. I think it's the scariest experience I've ever made. Being told that you're loved but that someone still can't live with you is a bitter potion to swallow."

He wondered if he should tell her about his past relationship some time. Well, relationship was a grand word for a thing that hadn't lasted longer than a couple of dates. He supposed being rejected was always hard, but he still felt like the witch in question had been unnecessarily cruel in the way things had been dissolved. Well, at least he had learned from the experience.

"Not that I have any experience of marriage, but I believe to make it work some fundamental compatibility of character and lifestyle is required as well. I've had my share of complaints over working too much and prioritising the business over going out. But I mean you're an heiress, you know what it's like too. Duty to the family comes before going out and having fun. We can stray from the path here and there, but a lot of it is pre-determined by obligations. I would want a witch in my life who can understand that taking care of these things doesn't mean I love her any less."

Farren Abercrombie

She narrowed her eyes at him cocking her head just like one of the crups when they were curious. "Surely you don't mean me? I can't think of anyone we know mutually that remotely satisfies your criteria for an accomplished lady besides myself. So if I've already met her....it's either me or your mother." Laughing a little she ushered him out the open conservatory doors onto the stone patio. "I'm certainly the most accomplished, unmarried lady in London these days according to your standards, though I suppose most of the reason I would meet your criteria somewhat boil down to the freedoms being a widow gives one. So indeed, I maintain your standards are very lofty for most ladies."

There was an outdoor table for six on the patio which had been loosely prepped for dining with two places set and a tray of clean glasses and a pitcher of water. "Fanby!" she called as they made their way to the table.  The elf appeared by her side and she asked him to bring up the food and wine.

"Please, sit, relax," she directed Declan as she waved her hand the cups springing to life and filling with water from the pitcher. Fanby reappeared along with another house elf which shared his same uniform, a tidy black garment that looked a bit like a purpose made pillow case. They loaded the table with plates of food, wine chalices, and bottles of wine. She thought since Declan had shown some interest in Fanby she ought to introduce his counterpart, "Ah. Declan, this is Priss. She came with me from Dalemain. She joined my family when I was born and has been with me since I was a bairn. Isn't that right Priss?" The elf looked at Declan and nodded, "Yes. I have been with Mistress since she was a bairn." Farren smiled a little, somewhat uncomfortable to be introducing her staff like this. "Indeed. I'm sure she has more embarrassing tales about me than anyone." The elf smiled awkwardly. "Yes, well, very good. Thank you both." Farren said as they stood by the table anxiously awaiting dismissal clearly not used to conversing with strangers.
Thankfully Fanby had pulled through with the food. Several small plates had been laid out along with an assortment of wines. Grilled zucchini spears, petit flank steak cuttings with red onion, fresh shredded cabbage salad, proscuitto wrapped bread bites, chicken tonnato, and an entire plate of almond cookies, lemon bars, and fresh fruit.

"Well, coming from the viewpoint of having been in a marriage with someone I did not love, you'd probably be shocked at what you can learn to tolerate and live with if you have to. Even the most bitter pills go down a bit easier with some affection. Of course compatibility in other areas is important to building something truly rock solid, personality quirks, habits, long term expectations - of course you are right. But for me, I knew what I was getting into as far as expectations. What made it all unbearable wasn't our mad schedules or different opinions on where we lived or any of that. What made it unbearable was that the only affection he had for me was out of contractural obligation. Perhaps that is quite a feminine take on it, but it would have been so much more bearable if he had cared for Farren not just barely cared because I was Mrs. Clive Rosier. " Their place settings were sat at the corners of the table so they could be beside each other instead of shouting across the table built for many more people. She started serving herself taking the small, pre cut portions of each dish onto her plate.

"But don't you think for people like us these duties you refer to are somewhat of a given? I certainly knew when I married Clive what I was getting up to with his work and publicity work for England. Likewise he knew I'd be spending every weekend at some event somewhere rubbing shoulders and paving the way to back door deals and favors, catching politicians and putting them in my little pocket for later. I would assume any lady you pursued would be aware that people like us are born into obligations one way or another? I certainly couldn't conceive of so much as entertaining the idea of an arrangement with a man who didn't understand my place in the world and my family. I must be a daughter and a son to my family unless I want my direct line to fall by the wayside. Any man who approached me seriously would surely be aware of that before we began."

Smiling a little at him she shrugged, "This is very serious talk. I think we need wine." Reaching for the red Fanby had brought up she filled both their glasses with two generous pours. "I think these plates make up for the miserable cocktail by quite a lot." She grinned and took a long sip of her wine. "So, will you be less obtuse about this truly accomplished lady? If it is in fact me I must revel in my accomplishment more." Smirking her eyes twinkled as she glanced at him as she set down her glass. "Then we will get drunk and break into the muggle garden. I've decided, we must."

Declan O'Dwyer

Declan was baffled how similar and how different their worlds were all at the same time. As Farren introduced Priss he thought both elf and mistress didn't seem too comfortable with the situation. He assumed therefore that Farren was trying to make him comfortable by appealing to his sensibilities. And she wasn't wrong about him in this regard. He was fond of his house elves and sometimes spent more time in their company than around witches and wizards. They often kept him company when he was working in the lab, not that he could admit as much in polite society.

"My pleasure to meet you, Priss."

The elves northern accent made him smile. It was easy to forget that Farren and her family weren't from London originally. Their name had become synonymous with society and yet Farren was likely telling him the truth when saying that a country life appealed to her.

The food looked delicious and thankfully light as he didn't think his nerves would have agreed with a heavy meal. Though looking at the spread before them, Declan couldn't help rising an eyebrow and giggling softly.

"Farren, are we expecting another four guests to join us to help with the food?"

Did she think he was a starving bachelor? All the same, he was eager to try the different dishes out as they all looked fun. Though he considered himself a decent enough cook, he hadn't tried his hand much at Italian-inspired cuisine. He tried to make a mental note of her selections, assuming that if she was offering them up to him they had to be something she enjoyed. Perhaps, knowing her favourite dishes would come in handy at a later point.

He had a vague notion in his mind of maybe cooking for her some time, with Farren sitting on the kitchen counter watching him cut up ingredients. He'd probably scandalise half of society with such a simple fantasy, and yet he didn't feel sorry or guilty for picturing it.

"Well, if my standards are indeed too high and there is only you that meets them, I suppose that puts you at an advantage. Not sure it would be wise to flatter you further and let you bask in your accomplishments or you might very soon think of me as beneath you."

He worried that his flirting was becoming too forward. Maybe he should be a little more careful in what he said.

"Anyway, you're right. Let's not dwell on such difficult topics. Instead, tell me if you're attending the Bannatyne's ball next month. If my cousins are to be believed it is the event of the season - though of course I wouldn't know a thing about that."

Farren Abercrombie

She laughed a little, "Of course we're not expecting more people. I'm not willing to share my time and have your attentions divided." Smirking she popped a bite into her mouth and glanced across the garden wistfully, purposefully, playfully not holding his gaze after her admission. Another sip of wine and she was smirking at him again. "So you're not going to lay due flattery on me for your own protection? I'm shocked. How prideful of you. I thought flattery was a key strategy of young men sharing wine with pretty girls? How much wine does it take to get you to tell me nice things about myself? I'm sure I have enough bottles and plenty of time." She was teasing, of course she felt plenty good about herself but somehow she was starting get a tinge of that feeling. That feeling she'd had as a younger woman when a handsome man approached her at a party and compliments and flattery made her excited to add him to her dance card and more confident to mind his attentions. Maybe it was a crush?

The crups returned, smelling the food, Ned dutifully ran up beside his mummy's chair and lay quietly under her chair while Jeff, the problem child, sat himself next to Declan's chair, so excited about the food he could barely keep his bum on the ground to stay sitting. "Here are you other guests!" she said laughing a little. "Jeff - stop it, you're embarrassing me," she scolded the dog. He ignored her and scooted himself closer to Declan's chair. Shaking her head with a smile she wagged her finger, "No scraps Jeff." Narrowing her eyes slightly she looked at Declan, "I know you're a softie for the crups but no table scraps for puppies in this house. It just invites bad behavior and as you can see Jeff is already bad enough."

A ball? Her attention was caught. Was he going to ask her to accompany him? Surely not? That would cause, well, everyone in London and Dublin would assume they had an agreement. She usually attended these things alone or with Pyxis. All of London was ravenous for news on who she was or wasn't entertaining in private and when she would be walking down the aisle again. Surely he knew this. "Yes, I suppose I'll be going. Why? Are you going? I thought you didn't go to these sorts of things?"

Declan O'Dwyer

Declan simply ignored Jeff, even if he was looking pretty cute in his attempts to get his attention. It would probably surprise Farren, but he agreed in not feeding dogs from the table. On top of that the food they were having was hardly suitable for an animal.

"I'm afraid your mom has spoken on the subject, Jeff. No scraps for you."

He wondered if Clive had been the one to encourage the bad habit in the animal. Suddenly, he felt a burst of jealousy. Even knowing that Farren and Clive's marriage hadn't been happy, he found himself resenting the other man for spending so much time in Farren's company; for having started to build a life with her. If she'd at least enjoyed her life with him, it would have been easier to come to terms with. He resented Clive for giving her such an unhappy marriage. Why had he even agreed to the match if he'd so obviously had no interest in even the slightest bit of compromise.

The subject of the Bannatyne ball, thankfully dispelled his rather gloomy thoughts about Clive.

"I'm not sure. I suppose I should as the oldest of the Bannatyne daughters is engaged to my uncle. I think Ardan would like me there, if only for my protection. He doesn't go out much in society at all and the idea of London puts the fear of Merlin into him."

Declan laughed. "Not that he has anything to worry about. Unlike my father, he's a true gentleman. I reckon you should like him. Either way, I'm trying to decide if I should go and humour his request. And of course I'll admit to hoping that I might see you there and sneak my name on your dance card."

He was fairly sure she didn't want an official invitation to be his partner. It would invite too much interest and idle speculation. He was torn. Maybe that was worth risking it since he was serious about her. Still, maybe such an advance would not be welcome.

"I'd ask you to come with me, but I think making any such offer would likely cause you to have to answer a lot of questions from your family. I'm not sure if now is the right time for that."

It was the cowardly answer to the unspoken question in the room, but he liked it better than rushing her into something she potentially wasn't ready for.

Farren Abercrombie

She listened to his talk about his cousin. Not that she knew who Ardan was though she knew the girl he spoke of. Was all this idle chatter a lead up to something? When he said he hoped to see her there it became rather clear that there was no intention to actually ask her to this ball he'd brought up. She was crestfallen but was bemused that his reasoning was questions from her family. The same family he'd just accused of poorly running their business. Why he was suddenly concerned about their thoughts and opinions when he had so little regard for their proven business strategy and opinions on running a business she wasn't sure. Well, she was sure, he was scared to ask her out to a ball.

"I live alone, have a job, and reject multiple marriage requests a year and you think attending a ball with my childhood friend is going to raise uncomfortable questions?" She glanced at him sideways, a knowing smirk, "Everything in my life causes questions from my family. I'm quite adept at managing them at this point."

Smiling sweetly she reached for her wine glass and took a long sip. She'd like if he'd ask her but she was not the kind of girl to push for invitations to public events. No doubt there were already a dozen cards from men in her desk, unopened, asking her to attend the ball with them. Besides there was a very real possibility he was the one who wasn't prepared for it.

"Of course a direct invitation from you is always welcome, but, perhaps you have a point. This is a big event, you've never attended an event with me. I'm afraid it'd be rather like running the gauntlet. I'd be far less worried about the reaction and questions from my family than I would be about how the attentions throughout the evening would impact you. Seeing as these kind of things are not your favorite, I'd hate to make the experience worse for you with all the additional attention. Though, it would give all those silly dames and tabloid rags quite the shock. If ever you want to be my escort...well...you'll be in the papers the next day that's for sure."

It was part real concern and part a challenge. She'd make an exception for him that she'd not made for the dozens of others who'd asked but he had to ask. He had said he wanted to pursue something so he was going to have to pursue it. Asking for compliments and praise was one thing, asking for a public date was entirely another.

Declan O'Dwyer

"I see," Declan said considering her words carefully. He found it interesting that she seemed more concerned with society than her family. What could people possibly have to say? Witches and wizards went to balls together and danced. He was from a respectable family, had a good track record and knew how to behave in polite company. She was a respectable lady. They wouldn't be doing anything scandalous. There was that he didn't particularly enjoy posing for photos or answering questions from the press, but it was not like he never had to deal with it before in his life. His father was a well-known celebrity. He had some idea of what was likely to happen.

"I don't think appearing in the press would be much of an issue. Though I suppose you should give me some pointers how you would want it managed. These things, unfortunately, always cause a lot more trouble for the ladies rather than the gentlemen. If there's anything in particular you want me to answer a certain way, it would make sense to align on that."

He shrugged and realised he was going about things the wrong way, pondering the practicalities of the situation before even asking his question.

"I'm sorry, that wasn't very romantic of me and I ... err,... you make me nervous sometimes." There. He'd said it and, somehow, he felt lighter for having admitted as much.

"I'd be honoured if you'd consider attending the Bannatyne's ball with me."

It was a good thing he was sitting down. If he'd been up on his feet he might have fallen over, given how wobbly he felt. Their world was so strange. People might assume they had an understanding just because they attended an event together and Declan struggled to imagine that Victoria Abercrombie would be best pleased if Farren accepted his invitation. But maybe, that was part of the appeal? He had an inkling that his old friend enjoyed acting out on occasion and having things her own way. He supposed that only made her more attractive. She was bold. He could admire that.

He reached for his drink, taking another sip of Fanby's fruity creation. Even though Farren had more or less indicated that she was likely to accept his invitation, he still felt nervous. Unable to keep his emotions entirely in check, he downed the rest of the drink. It might not have been his favourite, but alcohol was alcohol and it would hopefully easy the awkwardness and nervous energy he felt.