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Cosmo Zabini for Calliope Riley.
Attractive young wives really are a rich man's prerogative...
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Much Too Long
February 19, 1889 - Riley Home, Wellingtonshire, Hogsmeade

@Calliope Riley

The cold of February lingered, hampering social calls and events, and leaving Seraphina quite annoyed at the lack of activity. She could easily admit that the snow was beautiful and that she didn’t mind the cold with the charms and magic at her disposal, but that she did mind being cooped up in the house. Now that the holidays were done even the hunts had paused as society seemed content to huddle in their find homes and mind their own business. Of course this meant that Seraphina felt the desire to do just the opposite of just that.

The Riley home was not far from the Nott home making the short carriage ride through the streets of Wellingtonshire rather short, Seraphina hardly even felt a chill in her nose by the time she was let into her friend’s home and her cloak and muff collected from her. It was only moments later when she was shown into Calliope’s sitting room.

Calliope, it is so good to see you!” Seraphina greeted with a large smile. It had been much too long since she had seen her friend.
"Seraphina, my dear!" Calliope said, and once she had swanned into the room and greeted her friend, she waved her on impatiently to sit and dropped onto a chaise longue herself.

"How do you do?" She declared keenly, smiling over at the girl. Whilst she found a great many girls younger than her irritating, Seraphina was close enough in age to evade this pitfall, high enough in birth to be a useful connection, and of alike temperament enough to be an entertaining guest. Besides, Calliope enjoyed getting to play sage and worldly older-sister to girls like this - still debutantes, still pretty and youthful (and stupid for it) - who might appreciate her patronage more than her own sisters by blood ever had.

"I've not heard anything of you in Witch Weekly lately, so I have little enough idea of your recent exploits! You must fill me in on whatever mischief you are up to these days," Calliope teased with a lazy laugh, as though it was a joke. It wasn't: she did use gossip to keep up with her friends as much as her enemies. But of course Seraphina was too clever to let herself get slandered willy-nilly by the likes of the magazine. (Just her brother, then. Calliope could not say she had ever been particularly interested in the brother - but if there was gossip to be had there, she would just have to tease that out too.)

Seraphina had first met Calliope during Hogwarts. It had only taken her moments to place her as part of the right set and as such she felt completely at ease with Calliope, or as much as she ever did with anyone, after all she was all too aware of the way of the world.

She gracefully dropped onto a chair as if they were in the common room back at school, her skirts flaring about her artfully. “Well enough. Yourself?

Any witch worth her salt in their society knew to try and keep herself out of Witch Weekly. It happened of course, from time to time, but a lady should show better decorum than to allow it to get to that. Something that the former Miss Dippet could certainly learn a thing or two from. But Seraphina chuckled, knowing that Calliope, like herself, poured over the pages to stay informed on those not as smart as themselves. “Little enough mischief, I’m afraid. What with this winter and all I’m afraid I’m rather dull.” Seraphina replied lightly, waving it away. It was true enough given the winter so far, although she wasn’t sure if Calliope had yet to catch wind of Seraphina’s brush with the pink letters this fall, she had thought she’d swept up the whole mess rather well - other than an underlying desire to to prove the current Mrs. Devine quite unsuited to the job. “But enough of me, what of yourself?
"I'm as well as ever," Calliope returned, as though it would be an insult to imagine her and her life as anything less than resoundingly splendid. "Although I must say I'm disappointed to hear of your dullness," she chided, in jest. "If I am to relive my debutante days through you, you must give me something to work with!" She broke into a laugh as she beckoned in a maid with a tea tray and platter of fruits and cakes.

"Of course, I suppose it is the lack of events in the winter that are the real blight," she continued, with a veneer of understanding. "How are you ever to meet anyone worth anything?" Calliope upturned a hand as though consulting the heavens on the shameful state of the social calendar. "Your parents surely don't plan to betroth you next, do they?" They had just betrothed her brother - a desperate cover-up of less appropriate relations, if Witch Weekly was to be believed. But Seraphina surely had prospects she could solidify herself?

Calliope's sense of humor was welcome and much needed by Seraphina. Too often had she spent the afternoons lately listening to her mother or sister prattle on about something completely mundane and worth only a passing comment. She greeted the jest with a light laugh as she leaned forward for a cake. "I shall endeavor to provide such means then." She cheerfully agreed, keeping her secret tucked away for the moment.

"After this past summer I don't rightfully know. It seems every young man has gotten himself engaged with a scandal these days as well. There are positively no gentleman to be found when the season is dull." Although since September Seraphina hadn't allowed her eyes to be swayed by any either.

"I should say not!" Seraphina objected. She had no interest in bethrothals, she knew her mind and was quite determined to find a more than suitable match without such help from her family. "Warwick never has been much for making up his own mind." Nor had her sister for that matter. Her two siblings were easily swayed from their own minds. "I, on the other hand, know precisely how to make my move when the time comes. Father is well aware of that."
Seraphina had every excuse in that regard, it was true, although Calliope equally did not doubt the debutante's latter remark that she was well-prepared to make her move when the opportunity presented itself. Or the gentleman, as it was.

"Oh, of course," Calliope said, soothingly. "Such scandals as those we have had in our society are engineered always by the most desperately wretched cases, or girls who are otherwise compromised - I told you about my encounter with the new Mrs. Umbridge, did I not? -" Calliope was sure she had, but she did like recounting the tale, and each time setting herself out as the faultless party, and February Umbridge worse and worse a witch every time, "- some time after the pink letter scandal. And she proved herself every bit the foulmouthed hussy." (What else had that scandal served to achieve, but to make infamous specimens such as Mr. Skeeter and Miss Connolly yet more notorious in their exploits?)

"But men are born fools," Calliope offered with a long-suffering shrug and a consoling tone. "Though I'm sure you will eventually find one able to rub the dust from his eyes." Or do it herself, if she had to, with a firm hand. She suspected Seraphina could probably give it a fair go.

"No, you haven't." Seraphina was sorely behind on the latest gossip and settled into her seat with avid attention to the story, murmuring her exclamations where appropriate. "Well there you have it, just more scandals to add to it all." Seraphina shook her head sadly, entirely ignoring her own small scandal, in favor of one of her favorite topics. "At least they have a love potion to blame - not that I condone stealing away to get married under any circumstances-" She was quick to add. "Nothing like the former Miss Dippet. Mr. Devine could have done quite a bit better for himself among society." Seraphina shook her head as if she weren't acquainted with Mr. Devine any more than passing gossip. "Did you know, I saw her at a hunting party just last month. Imagine having to be lady of the house when you can hardly manage a proper hunt!"
Calliope blinked in delight as Seraphina struck out against a particular example. Calliope had no qualms in pinning a target to anyone particular in her speech, of course, that was not unusual, but it was always thrilling to hear someone else choose the next casualty of a conversation. Miss Dippet it was!

Calliope's smile twitched surreptitiously towards a smirk. It was precisely because she counted Mrs. Devine amongst her friends, rather than because she did not, that she found this turn of talk already so entertaining. After all, the more time one spent suffering to be pleasant to another's face, the more cathartic it was to rip them apart when they were out of earshot. And the better one knew someone, the more fodder one could find. "Oh, I know Mrs. Devine quite well," Calliope remarked, thinking of the Phoenix Society, and wondering how she could use this familiarity to her advantage here, "but I would have to agree with you on that. Not all girls are made to rise in status," - herself excluded, clearly. She might have come from the same sort of middling birth as Ophelia had, but Calliope had been born to climb. Not to mention Ophelia was halfblooded, and had been an eccentric and morbid little thing once, however much she thought she had shaken that off now, hosting all her parties.

"How do you think she ensnared him, then?" Calliope asked, keen to prod Seraphina into something of a tirade, if she could. Not pink letters and Amortentia, of course, but if Mr. Devine could have done so much better, she had blinded him somehow. "Do you suppose he was taken in by her tragic past? Found all her peculiarities and provincialism endearing, at first?" They still seemed a happy enough couple to her, but perhaps Seraphina had been more observant than she, and had spotted the first cracks of the charm wearing off.
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   Ophelia Devine

Since Seraphina had become acquainted with Mr. Devine more intimately, she had found Calliope’s question occupying her mind quite a bit. Like a tidbit of a memory one could sketch an outline of but lost focus when thought about. The only reason she had come to stick on was that he must have felt, in the beginning at least, that she was someone to be pitied. Then he was drawn in until it would have been too late to turn away. Too much a scandal, and he was too much of a gentleman to go back on his promises. So it must be that Mrs. Devine had ensnared him. “Indeed, I believe she played to her past to ensure his sympathies, even, perhaps, his pity. I suspect she pressed the case until he yielded. He must have felt some sort of responsibility toward her once her own affections became known. I’ve heard he is quite the gentleman in such instances.” Seraphina’s tone was carefully affected to imitate a light careless gossip. No need to alert anyone to her true feelings on the matter.

But to think, shackling yourself to someone simply out of a mistake pride.” She shook her head in disbelief as she took a sip of tea. “I should think there would be something more to it…” Seraphina trailed off pointly. But that was the thing there was no sign of an heir on the way. Aware of her friend’s relation to their source of topic Seraphina left the blank hanging in the air between them. Perhaps Calliope was more aware of the circumstances then she had let on.
Calliope hummed along in thoughtful agreement, wholeheartedly enjoying herself and the turn this conversation had taken. Witch Weekly had certainly mentioned Ophelia often enough to see her fair fodder for this sort of thing. Hadn’t there been that whole incident with that quidditch player - Bixby? - and some mutterings of a sordid past dredged up there?

Pity first, then, yes, that was probably true. “Yes, Mr. Devine has always seemed rather soft-hearted, hasn’t he?” She put in; she did not know the man so well, but it was an impression that had grown on her over time. Too soft-hearted, really; the very thought made Calliope weary. (Calliope had always preferred the political sort. The career man. The kind who wanted to rise, not settle.) “He seems rather a romantic.” And romantics? They were doomed to be inconstant. Doomed to act without thinking. She continued to consider Seraphina's musings. “A... false alarm, perhaps?”

Any alarms of that sort must have been false; they had not had children. Unless the cracks already ran far too deep, and the Devines were too busy sharing different beds.

“But yes,” Calliope agreed slowly, sagely, an eyebrow arched to encourage Seraphina’s suspicions if nothing else. “There’s always more to it.” She was aware not everyone was willing to use artifice or sheer ruthlessness to get ahead, but she could simply not fathom that the rest of the world was not just as ambitious as she; they must only be failing at realising theirs.

Mm. Yes, he does seem to be.” Seraphina remarked with a nod. “Romantics are tended toward chivalry in such, circumstances aren’t they? It must have been a false alarm. And to think, I heard she was tangled up with some quidditch player. What’s his name - Bingley? Bixton? I suspect that Mr. Devine felt he needed to protect her after such a circumstance.” Seraphina could easily see it in her mind’s eye. Miss Dippet’s condition caused by the quidditch player and Mr. Devine stepping in to save her. Pity, he could have done so much more with his life. Calliope was quick to assure her that there must be more to the story, a very dear friend indeed.
“Yes, him,” Calliope agreed carelessly. “The one that eloped with the Lockhart girl.” She had never thought much of quidditch players. Too many bludgers to the head did irreparable damage to the brain.

The romantic sorts were just as predisposed to be reckless. Mrs. Devine did seem one to potentially get caught up in a flight of fancy, as happy and settled as she might seem now. “And when there is a history of those sorts of affairs, one cannot doubt there will be tangles again.” She sipped her tea serenely, hoping Seraphina was soaking up all these hints of future trouble with pleasure. (Clearly this disdain for Ophelia stemmed from somewhere deliberate. She was curious to know where.) “And what will poor Mr. Devine do then?”

Ah yes, she remembered reading about that now. It had held little interest to her as she held quidditch players in rather low esteem. There was little redeemable about them, why men felt the need to play such a game for a living she found rather ludicrous. “Yes, that one.” Now that was the type of man Mrs. Devine deserved. They were almost made for each other.

With Calliope’s words Seraphina felt sure that there was something more her friend knew and easily read between the lines. Poor Mr. Devine. He could have done so much better. “If he knows what is best for him he’d see sense and leave her.” Then perhaps he’d see the light and find someone more worthwhile of himself. Seraphina could think of one right off the bat.
“What a shame that people so seldom do know what’s best for them,” Calliope said sagely, always enjoying getting to play one-part agony aunt, two-parts orator, with just a dash of the philosopher thrown in.

(The biggest downside of living alone was that no one was around to hear her wit and wisdom at the best of times, save a six-year-old and some staff who sadly didn’t know Aristotle from a troll.)

Calliope considered Mr. Devine’s apparent position, and thought back to Miss Nott’s own brother and his arranged marriage. A pity one didn’t have enough hands to make marionettes of the whole world, and pull the strings for all of society. “And men most of all,” Calliope concluded, deciding once and for all that Seraphina had some string attached to the Devines’.

Calliope had a wonderfully intricate metaphor about interwoven threads of fate and such tangles leading to downfalls of destiny on the tip of her tongue, being spun about her mind - but since it would take rather too much effort to explain, she merely sighed and helped herself to a second slice of cake.

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