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Chapter 2: Escapism, Miss Weasley
At last, after four years, we were moving out. To Elgin. Which might have been something life four hundred and forty miles away from London.
It was not the first time my family had questioned my sanity.
My argument had gone like this: Elgin was going to be better. Cheaper flat, ergo less gainful employment, ergo more time to spend with Scorpius, and more time to contemplate my navel and reflect on the meaning of life. Less air pollution. Weight loss due to reduced proximity to Florean Fortescue’s Ice Cream Parlour. Besides, it was my life, my money, and my boyfriend, and if they were happy enough to let me go to art school and then live in a sub-standard flat, they should have been happy enough to let me move to the opposite end of the country. I closed my argument by saying I couldn’t be mollycoddled forever, unlike Molly, and that was when the debate really started.
For all my bravado, I was a little worried. Elgin was ages away – but the darts had chosen it, it had a proper magical community, and the neat little brochure we’d sent away for was full of glossy pictures of ivy-clad granite houses and ice-cream shops beside beaches. It was even close enough to Loch Ness and a few gothic ruins to sate Scorpius’ vivid imagination.
The first step I took towards Elgin was quitting two of my three jobs. The waitressing gig was easy enough to give up, but the apothecary a little harder; I had to work right to the end of the month. The ‘Prophet, however, was a totally different kettle of fish. I told my manager I wanted to leave, and he told his manager, and somehow word got around and I was summoned to the editor’s office on a Friday afternoon, quaking in my boots.
He chattered vaguely for a bit about how they’d found me a transfer, how I didn’t have to quit, how they’d offer me a few more Galleons if I stayed on. I was pretty chuffed by this, almost beaming, and even made a mental note to hunt for a flat with a fireplace to make the commute to London easier. Everything was going swimmingly – and then in walked Euphemia Flitter.
The name was ridiculous enough. Her appearance was something else. She was a formidable woman, at least six feet tall, her bulbous, veiny feet jammed into patent kitten heels. Her hair was grey, severe, like a schoolmistress’ – except her dress was a shocking lime green, shapeless, with a huge, drooping collar like a potato sack. Her fuschia cat’s eye glasses, studded with diamante, glimmered as she studied me.
I realised a little too late that I wasn’t entirely good at first impressions either.
‘This is Miss Weasley?’ she said, in the sort of voice that could slice a lump of granite.
The editor and I both nodded. I stuck out a hand, saying ‘I’m Lucy.’
She ignored me.
‘Lucy, this is Euphemia Flitter,’ my editor said. ‘She’s responsible for Witch Weekly. And I’ve got to go to a meeting now so, best of luck.’
A little uncertain of what he was wishing me luck for, I sat in nervous silence as he darted from the room and Euphemia Flitter glided to the desk, perching upon it.
‘Miss Weasley,’ she said, in a voice so imperious that I was surprised not to hear an ominous clap of thunder following her words.
‘Hiya,’ was the best response I could come up with.
Euphemia Flitter stared down her nose at me. Then, she let out a vast, dramatic sigh – I expected another ominous clap of thunder – and said:
‘I am the editor of Witch Weekly.’
She stared down at me as if expecting me to burst into spontaneous applause. I didn’t. She sat back up straight again, inhaled sharply (it sounded as if half of the oxygen supply in the office shot up her nose), stared down at me again, then, finally, explained why I was there.
‘I received some of your work a short while ago,’ she said, still staring at me as if I was a sea slug. ‘And I’d like you to join the Witch Weekly team.’
This little snippet took a while to process. Me? Witch Weekly? Never in a million years. I had bought it once in my life, and that was for the free lipstick that had been taped to the cover.
‘We’re looking for some fresh talent,’ she said, spreading out her hands. ‘I felt your work showed real…promise.’
Her nostrils flared, as if ‘promise’ was a dirty word.
‘We’d like some new faces around, in essence,’ she said. ‘We fully believe that a new generation of writers is what our core readership craves in such straitened economic times.’
‘I…see,’ I said, whilst not really seeing at all.
‘What we’re looking for is – well, a book. Of sorts. We’ll give you five hundred Galleons on receipt of an initial chapter and story outline.’
A book? More importantly, five hundred Galleons?
‘Pardon?’ I squeaked out, daring myself to look right into her piercing, stern eyes.
‘A book, Miss Weasley. Witch Weekly, as you probably know, has its own publishing company – you’ve probably heard of it. I daresay you’ve read some of our books.’
‘I’m not entirely sure…’
‘Amortentia Publications,’ she announced, pronouncing the words slowly, with pride. ‘Some of our best-sellers include Incidents at the Apothecary, The Lightning-Struck Astronomy Tower, Quidditch Confessions…’
I hadn’t read any of those three titles – nor did it sound like I’d ever want to read them. The name Amortentia Publications also sounded just a tad bit lovey-dovey…but, hey, who was I to say no to the promise of five hundred Galleons?
‘That…sounds good.’ I said. ‘But I’ve never really written a book before – I mean, I guess Divination homework counts as short stories, but I think I’m more of a non-fiction girl-’
‘Yes, so, essentially, we’d like a fresh spin on the classic Amortentia Publications formula,’ she said, talking over me. ‘A bit of fantasy. A ripping yarn. Escapism, Miss Weasley.’
‘I understand,’ I said, although I didn’t really.
‘Excellent,’ she said. ‘I’ll get an assistant to owl you more details.’
And with that final remark, she stalked out of the office and left me in peace.
All in all, I wasn’t really sure what I’d signed up for. I’d never written a book.
But that didn’t mean I couldn’t write a book.
I returned home that evening simultaneously chuffed and unchuffed. I’d managed to hold onto a job, and squeeze an extra five hundred Galleons out of it (sort of), but-
‘I can’t write a book,’ I whinged to Scorpius the second he walked in the door.
‘You’re writing a book?’
‘I’ve been asked to write a book. Fantasy. A ripping yarn. Escapism, Miss Weasley!’
He kicked his shoes off, looking utterly perplexed. ‘Is that the title?’
‘The…the Prophet…they…they, like, passed me over to Witch Weekly. Amortentia Publications. Escapism! What do I do?’
‘No, you’re right,’ I put my head in my hands. ‘I should just go and give her the five hundred Galleons back and say I can’t do it-’
‘Firstly – what? And secondly – five hundred Galleons?’
‘On receipt of initial chapter and story outline,’ I said.
He seemed to think about it.
‘Five hundred Galleons is about a year’s worth of rent…’
‘And this new place we found in Elgin…that’s nearly two years’ worth of rent there.’
(The place in Elgin – a little flat above an empty shop, just off the high street, good access to local amenities, one bedroom, furnished, rented from a Mrs Jean Govan.)
‘So…I know I don’t know the full story, but I really think you should write the book. Pun not intended.’
I can always rely on Scorpius for good advice. Not.
‘What’s it about?’ he asked. ‘I mean, what’s it going to be about?’
‘Escapism, Miss Weasley!’ I repeated, in a passable imitation of Euphemia Flitter’s piercing voice. ‘I dunno – like, she said fantasy, so centaurs and elves and stuff? Wandless magic. Zombies!’
‘Escapism,’ he repeated. ‘I don’t think zombies are escapism, Lucy.’
He took the seat at the other side of the table; we stared at each other over the top of the salt and pepper shakers (shaped like ducks, natch).
‘I can do it,’ I said. ‘Moving to Elgin will be good for, um, writing. Quieter?’
‘It’ll be cold there,’ he frowned.
‘Come on,’ I said. ‘And you call yourself a Northerner?’
‘Yes, well, not that far north. And..., well, I guess it isn’t like we have friends left in London anyway.’
This was mostly true. Tarquin and Gwendolyn/Raven (who now went by Gwen), with their budding career as performance artists and partners-in-crime tendencies, were busy jetting around the country. While I wasn’t entirely sure where they stood – and me and Scorpius were way too chicken to ask – the two of them seemed to have fallen into a sort of relationship like two heavy objects that’d toppled over and ended up propping each other up. If anything had happened, it had happened neatly, unlike with me and Scorpius, who’d gone about it the long way, circumnavigating interpretive dance, wibbliness and extended door metaphors.
‘It’s not like we can afford the rent here anyway.’
‘And I only really want one job.’
I fiddled with the salt shaker. A small rattle sounded from the cupboard in the corner.
‘We’re moving. Definitely.’ I said, firmly.
It was as if the cupboard gremlin had decided our destiny for us. A fortnight later, we were packing.
Oddly enough, it was Rose who acted as our one-woman removal service. We were on speaking terms again, although it hadn’t been easy. It had taken a lot of custard creams, mugs of tea, and mediation from Albus, the newly qualified mental health Healer. But three years is a long time, and she seemed to have gotten over what we’d fallen out about. I think.
‘Rose’ is almost synonymous with ‘organisation’, and possibly also ‘getting things done’. All she did was turn up and wave her wand at our suitcase and, voila, in a short matter of days, we’d managed to fit the contents of our entire flat into it. She claimed it was just a simple undetectable extension charm, but I got the feeling it was a bit more powerful than that. We even got the piano in, after a bit of crashing and tinkling about and a lot of wincing on Scorpius’ part. It wasn’t like we could leave it behind; it was a family heirloom and all. Nasty chip on the left from where he’d blundered into it as a child. Nasty chip on his forehead too, if you moved his fringe.
That left a big, piano-shaped space in the flat, right next to the sofa-shaped space, the dinner table-shaped space, the sideboard-shaped space, and all those little arty postcard-shaped spaces propped above the sideboard-shaped space. Our flat had become a jumble of something-shaped spaces.
The day before the move, Scorpius came tramping back in from work with a briefcase in hand. ‘Oh god, don’t tell me,’ I said. ‘Do you work in an office now?’
‘Nope!,’ he beamed. ‘I got you a present!’
He thrust the briefcase into my hand. I almost keeled over with the weight of it.
‘Is this a briefcase full of stones?’
‘Definitely not. Go on, open it.’
I opened it. It was, in reality, a typewriter.
‘You weren’t planning to write Escapism, Miss Weasley by hand, were you?’ he said.
‘Hadn’t really thought about that, to be honest,’ I said, running my finger along the top line of keys. ‘Oh, wow. Dad had one of these for work but I never…is it muggle?’
‘Nope,’ he grinned. ‘Enchanted! Never needs refilling! Types in Mermish if you want it to! It’s even got a hidden Rune keyboard! I mean, it was second hand, but…’
‘It’s fab!’ I said. I got up and went to attack him with snogs as a way of saying thank you, but he ducked out of the way.
‘Let me shower first,’ he said. ‘Repeated exposure to dark room chemicals can cause health complications.’
Then it seemed like no time at all had passed and it was already the long-awaited rainy Thursday morning, mid-November, our last day in the Ealing flat. We fed the cupboard gremlin one last time, locked the place up, handed over the keys and, with a bit of dithering and stumbling, got our flat-in-a-suitcase down to the street. Once there, Scorpius stuck out his wand arm, nearly got it torn off by a passing taxi then, five seconds later, a purple triple-decker bus veered around the corner, knocked over a wheely bin, and screeched to a halt in front of us.
I barely had a chance to look up to the vacant third floor flat before we left. The Knight Bus was packed out; I had to wrestle the suitcase up the narrow staircase alone whilst Scorpius dealt with the tickets. By some miracle, I’d made it to the top deck before the bus shot off again. Scorpius wasn’t so lucky. He’d only just got to the top of the stairs when the ground disappeared from beneath his feet. I didn’t see him hit his head off the window so much as felt it.
Safely seated, we turned to gaze at the London that was zooming past us, little more than a grey blur in a misty sky. Scorpius, ever the romantic type, stared wistfully out of the window, hand raised in an almost-wave.
‘Goodbye, London,’ he murmured.
‘And good riddance!’ I cried, showing the city the two fingers I truly felt it deserved.
There was an immense bang, the bus shot forward again – I nearly broke my nose on the seat in front – and we’d reappeared in countryside, miles from where we’d started.
a/n: hello again! not my best chapter, I know, but I kind of needed to get some of the expositiony-plotty-boring-y stuff out the way first before all the weirdness makes a comeback. To those of you who have asked if this'll be a new cast or will feature old characters - a bit of both, really. Just hang in there and they'll show up eventually (you can't expect art students to be punctual). Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it!
coming up: a pint in the duck, a duck in the pint, 'they're staring at us because I'm incredibly attractive and you have antlers', and the all-magical-all-scottish-talent-and-variety-show-contest-region D-section A-Fifth division (first round).