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Welcome to Charming, the year is now 1891. It’s time to join us and immerse yourself in scandal and drama interlaced with magic both light and dark.

Where will you fall?

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As clocks and other timepieces were expensive, working class folk who could not afford to rise with the sun could employ a “knocker-upper” to tap on their windowpane at a scheduled time. Knocker-uppers would work through the night and into the early morning. — Kayte
But then Miss Dempsey paid her so great a compliment that she wanted to hurl herself over the edge of the theater balcony in delight.
sobing alone in front of a haunted piano

I've been searching for a trail to follow
January 24th, 1891 — Crouch Home, Bartonburg

Ben hadn't expected either of his brothers to be home from the Ministry yet when he arrived via floo, so he just dropped the bag by the fireplace and came in without bothering to announce himself. The housekeeper seemed to have already gone for the night, which was good; he didn't much feel like lying to anyone at the moment, or even talking, for that matter. He wanted a drink. He hadn't packed alcohol, but he knew where the liquor cabinet was here and helped himself to a bottle. It was something he'd gifted Aldous that was still unopened, so probably not one he'd miss much, though if he did Ben could always replace it. He poured himself a glass and set the open bottle on the floor by the sofa, then sat down. It took only a few minutes before he gave up on that, though; the weight on his chest was too heavy and he ended up lying on the sofa, one hand holding the glass on his chest, and staring up at the ceiling.

He laid there, thinking and occasionally drinking, but mostly just waiting. Eventually the floo lit up green and he inclined his head up just enough to see which brother it was that had arrived first: Aldous.

"Hey," he said listlessly, looking up at the ceiling again. "Is it alright if I stay here for a few days?"

@Aldous Crouch

Reuben showing up unannounced had never been a herald of glad tidings.

Reuben asking to stay was, in Aldous' keen recollection, unprecedented.

The wizard emitted an audible sigh as he moved to pour himself a brandy at the sideboard before sitting down in his customary chair—he had a strong feeling both alcohol and sitting would be necessary for this conversation.

"What's happened now?" he asked his younger brother, tone accusing but tired, numerous possibilities (all dreadful) already circling around his mind like hungry sharks.
@Reuben Crouch
The following 4 users Like Aldous Crouch's post:
   Marianne Finch, Melody Crouch, Mikail Karim, Reuben Crouch

— Aldous walks with a cane and pronounced limp as the result of a splinching accident. —
[Image: B0me9x.jpg]
— graphics by lady ❤ —
It was quite a reasonable question for Aldous to ask, though not one that Ben knew how to answer. Melody and I had a fight was factually accurate, but did not even begin to encompass the reason Ben was here. They'd had fights before, and he'd only retreated as far as his bedroom, if he retreated at all. An answer like that would also invite further conversation on the subject, which Ben wasn't sure he could handle. Aldous would want to know what they were fighting about, who had started it, who was in the wrong. How they were going to resolve it. People did not just have fights and then leave the house and end their marriages, after all. Ben remembered the shock on Art's face when he'd mentioned the word divorce. It was not something that was done. And even if at the moment the thought of being under the same roof as Melody made Ben's stomach flip, he still didn't really think divorce was an option for them. They would carry on, somehow. He just couldn't see how, yet.

He felt awful. He didn't know why this fight, and not any of the prior arguments, had had such an effect on him, but his chest felt so heavy he could hardly breathe. This was how he'd felt in the immediate aftermath of his parents' death. It was as though he was mourning something, and also (or perhaps consequently) feeling entirely untethered, his future all at once plunged into dark uncertainty.

"I don't feel comfortable at home," he answered sullenly.
The following 1 user Likes Reuben Crouch's post:
   Melody Crouch

"And why," Aldous asked dryly, "if I might be so bold, is that?"

Reuben would not be here if he didn't have something to say; Aldous was already tired from a long day at the Ministry, and was eager for his brother to get on with it so he might begin to cope with whatever dire revelation was coming.
@Reuben Crouch

— Aldous walks with a cane and pronounced limp as the result of a splinching accident. —
[Image: B0me9x.jpg]
— graphics by lady ❤ —
Why, indeed? Ben had only made the realization today, though it was a feeling that had been growing for weeks and maybe months, so he wasn't sure he was capable of articulating it. He looked at the ceiling and took a deep breath in through his nose, then held it briefly. No matter how much he tried to make things work with Melody, no matter how much he leaned into this lie, it could never have been enough. Maybe she'd had a bit of a point, when she'd pointed out that he hadn't even considered being open with her about the revelation regarding his son. He had spent so long focusing on all of the indications that Melody did not trust him — that she had gone through his things trying to uncover his secrets; that she glared at him for days rather than bringing up what she wanted to say; that she hadn't trusted him to be part of the decision-making back in Paris, when she'd realized she was pregnant; that she kept trying to cut him out of her life to spare his feelings; that she had used the potion on him in the first place, rather than just asking him to leave, back when he cared enough about her that he would have followed her anywhere. He'd gotten so hung up on how obvious it was that she didn't trust him, but the truth was that he didn't trust her either, anymore. At this point, he didn't know whether he ever could. Maybe that ship had sailed the moment she'd tipped the potion into his glass of wine, really, and he'd just been in denial about it until now, thinking they could make things work.

Melody wanted to be married to someone who loved her. That was why she'd eloped with him in the first place. But Ben didn't love her, and after everything they'd been through, he didn't think he ever could.

He let out his breath. This wasn't a conversation they could have while he was laying down on the couch staring at the ceiling, so he forced himself to sit up. He moved his glass to his knee, but his hand was trembling lightly and causing little ripples in the top of his drink, so he moved to set it on the table next to the sofa instead.

His chest felt so heavy he wasn't sure he was capable of breathing at all anymore. This was the moment before the plunge: the last moment in which he could decide not to do this, not to say it. Putting it out into the air would move so many things out of his hands, but it wasn't as though he felt he was in control of his life now. He hadn't been in control for a long time, because if he had any agency he wouldn't have chosen this life for himself. And that was what he was mourning, he realized: everything he might have wanted, someday, but was now certain he would never have. A marriage founded on trust and respect, like Elliot's mother had told him she had with her husband — she having come clean about the origins of her pregnancy and him having decided to marry her anyway. A marriage founded on love, or at least built on mutual understanding. A relationship with his son. He was mourning all of the sacrifices he'd already made for Melody, in one sense or another, and all the rest he would have to make in order to keep up this charade that they were happy together. All because of one bad decision a year ago.

Ben made his hands into uncomfortable fists, then fidgeted his thumbs. He was looking at his hands and not at his brother when he finally spoke, voice shaking slightly. "The day we eloped, you said I wasn't thinking," he said carefully. "And you were right. When I told Art about it, I said I wasn't in my right mind when it happened. But I wasn't drunk."

His eyes flitted up to Aldous, wondering if he understood.
The following 5 users Like Reuben Crouch's post:
   Aldous Crouch, Cassius Lestrange, Marianne Finch, Melody Crouch, Roman Crouch

Aldous remained silent a moment, the words nagging at him and setting the gears in his head to turning and—Oh.

"Reuben," he said carefully, brows furrowed in concern, "you don't mean to say—that is, you were not under the influence of a love potion or—or an imperius curse, were you?"

Neither bore imagining. Aldous had not approved of the hasty nuptials, but, while Mr. and Mrs. Crouch were hardly the picture of a love match, in the time since he had known her, Aldous had grown to think a rather better of Melody Crouch than such underhanded—and dishonourable, and illegal—tactics.
@Reuben Crouch
The following 1 user Likes Aldous Crouch's post:
   Melody Crouch

— Aldous walks with a cane and pronounced limp as the result of a splinching accident. —
[Image: B0me9x.jpg]
— graphics by lady ❤ —
Ben loosened his fists slightly, then clenched them again. His eyes had gotten watery, somehow, and he shifted his gaze up to the ceiling to keep them from spilling over. "Something like that," he confirmed quietly. "And I don't — I mean I'm not faultless, here. I built her up to it, and I stayed with her after it happened. But I guess it never really hit me how much I was giving up by doing that. Not until today."
The following 3 users Like Reuben Crouch's post:
   Cassius Lestrange, Marianne Finch, Melody Crouch

The wizard took a long sip of brandy, lips lingering on the rim of the glass even as he polished off its contents. He had, perhaps, expected Ben to have been cast from the house for dallying where he oughtn't, or some sort of financial scheme to have gone predictably wrong. This seemed a rather grown-up problem for his little brother to have to contend with—perhaps the first time Aldous had ever genuinely thought Reuben and 'grown up' in the same sentence.

"You...you did the honourable thing, even if she did not," Aldous allowed stiffly, angry not at his brother but at just about everything else about the situation.
@Reuben Crouch
The following 3 users Like Aldous Crouch's post:
   Marianne Finch, Melody Crouch, Reuben Crouch

— Aldous walks with a cane and pronounced limp as the result of a splinching accident. —
[Image: B0me9x.jpg]
— graphics by lady ❤ —
Ben's emotions had been running high all day, so much so that it had taken him hours to disentangle them enough to realize he wanted to leave. He'd been trying to grow up and be responsible for so long that he just kept pushing these things, until suddenly there was everything at once. A son he might never be able to know, because Melody might be too paranoid. Burning letters in the fireplace to keep them from her. Thinking about Elliot's mother and the trust her relationship was built on just threw into starker relief how lacking his relationship with Melody was and always would be. Even what Art was going through right now contributed; they were miserable, they were going through hell, Dez hardly spoke and Art was blaming himself — but they only hurt so much now because they loved each other so much the rest of the time. Melody went through phases where she didn't talk to him all the time; he was never going to feel the things that Art was feeling right now.

And then, after all that, here was Aldous calling him honorable.

Ben lowered his head into his hands, crying but trying not to be obvious about it, even though Aldous was clearly too close to have mistaken it for anything else.
The following 6 users Like Reuben Crouch's post:
   Aldous Crouch, Cassius Lestrange, Dionisia Fisk, Marianne Finch, Melody Crouch, Roman Crouch

Aldous would not do his brother the disservice of drawing attention to the obvious, and so looked pointedly away, lips tightening into a hard line. This was too much. Aldous was happy willing to deal with a great many things as head of the household—a title he should not have held for another fifteen years at least!—but the crumbling of a brother's marriage, and quite possibly sense of self, had never been on the list of subjects first-born sons were briefed and ready for. Aldous Crouch struggled to suitably comfort even his sister; he had not a clue what to do for his brother.

Instead, he rose and moved to refill his glass with brandy. Rather than sit back down with it, however, he held it silently out to Reuben. A token of something, though damned if he knew what.
@Reuben Crouch
The following 2 users Like Aldous Crouch's post:
   Holly Scrimgeour, Marianne Finch

— Aldous walks with a cane and pronounced limp as the result of a splinching accident. —
[Image: B0me9x.jpg]
— graphics by lady ❤ —
Ben was painfully aware of how undignified this was, which only added insult to injury. He sniffled, then pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes as though he might be able to wring all the water out of them at once and save himself the embarrassment of having to wipe tears off the tops of his cheeks for the next several minutes.

"Sorry," he said hollowly, looking up and taking the drink Aldous had offered him. "I don't know why I thought telling you would help anything." He took in a deep, slightly shuddering breath, then knocked back the brandy in a single shot and deposited the empty glass on the side table, next to his other (almost entirely forgotten) drink. "I've just — I've been trying to make this work for so long. And it just hit me today that it isn't ever going to work. I'm just going to feel this way," he said, with a vague circular gesture over his chest, "...forever."
The following 1 user Likes Reuben Crouch's post:
   Marianne Finch

"Don't be so maudlin," he chastised tiredly. "It's bloody awful, true enough, but this needn't be your entire life."

Aldous knew, even if his brother did not consciously recognize it, why Reuben had thought telling him would be useful: it always had been. Even when Aldous had been at the end of his tether where Ben was concerned, he had always come through, had sorted things out. This, though, might prove too difficult a knot for him to untie, but—if not entirely enthusiastic—he was resolved to try.
@Reuben Crouch
The following 1 user Likes Aldous Crouch's post:
   Reuben Crouch

— Aldous walks with a cane and pronounced limp as the result of a splinching accident. —
[Image: B0me9x.jpg]
— graphics by lady ❤ —
"I'm not trying to be —" Ben hesitated. He wasn't entirely sure that he knew what the word maudlin even meant, so opted not to repeat it. He reached for the other glass, the one that still had alcohol in it, and took a drink to bolster his nerves a bit further. "But it has been my entire life, since it happened. Pretending we're happy and in love anytime we leave the house, trying to get her back into society, trying to act like this wasn't just — the worst decision either of us ever made," he said, sniffling slightly. His nose was running but thank Merlin, the tears seemed to have passed. "She went through all my things last night. I burned all my letters today so she wouldn't be able to read them the next time I went out."

His eyebrows arched in curiosity, but doubted he wanted to know the details of his brother's private correspondence, and even if Ben had given his wife a reason to be suspicious, well, he had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his own home. Especially since she had all but forced him to the altar.

"I believe," Aldous said slowly, thinking carefully on each word, "that you have reached a crossroads and three paths lay before you. I cannot say that they are equally desirable, but..."

He trailed off with a small shrug.
@Reuben Crouch
The following 2 users Like Aldous Crouch's post:
   Dionisia Fisk, Reuben Crouch

— Aldous walks with a cane and pronounced limp as the result of a splinching accident. —
[Image: B0me9x.jpg]
— graphics by lady ❤ —
Ben had not really been expecting to be presented with options, so was a bit surprised by this turn of events. It had been a good long while since the last time Aldous had felt confident enough in Ben's decision-making abilities to offer him a choice in anything; more typically, in the past few years, Ben came with a problem and his older brother dictated exactly what was to be done to get them out of it in the least painful way possible, and Ben followed along and did as he was told. Options made him anxious; he was not known for making choices that worked out in his advantage, in the long term.

"But?" he prodded, entirely unsure where Aldous was going with this. "What options?"
The following 2 users Like Reuben Crouch's post:
   Aldous Crouch, Zelda Fisk

"Number one," he answered, holding up a single finger, "is divorce. I believe you have the grounds for it, and have little doubt that you might find legal counsel to agree. You would be free of her, free to live your life as you see fit, and hopefully find the happiness your marriage has not given you. You would, however, be leaving Melody adrift at sea, without sails or even oars to guide her to safe shores."

The ungentlemanly part of Aldous wondered if she would not deserve it.

He paused for a moment, to allow himself to judge Ben's reaction. It was not the least extreme suggestion he had ever offered, by any stretch.
@Reuben Crouch

— Aldous walks with a cane and pronounced limp as the result of a splinching accident. —
[Image: B0me9x.jpg]
— graphics by lady ❤ —

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