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Chapter 2: The Job Thousands would Kill For
Despite my pounding headache, I am doing my best to read a copy of the Oracle Underground. It’s a great publication in my opinion--hard-hitting exposés that scathe yet somehow retain complete professionalism. As I read, I pick at the dead leaves of the small plant meant to brighten my desk. I’ve decided to give up on it after meticulous care with no results. I received a T in Herbology during my Sixth Year. Professor Sprout assigned me solely to clean-up duty during class hours in order to save her greenhouse.
I am in the midst of the odd time of day at Witch Weekly, which usually happens around 10:45 and wherein there seems to be nothing to do. Like clockwork, something will appear in about five minutes that needs to be taken care of. Maybe a stack of parchments to sort, or maybe another messenger owl will be caught in the Floo chimney. Or maybe I’ll be given the task of contacting the losers of this year’s Most Charming Smile Award to inform them of the bad news. Until then, I am getting what little dose of actual journalism I can.
When the small black owl arrived with my newspaper, I’d hurriedly turned to the page offering news on the Female Goblin Coalition. For the past several months they’ve been protesting Gringotts for refusing them employment. Of course it’s all under the table. No goblin in his right mind would actually say that they aren’t hiring them simply because they’re female. But really, have you ever seen a lady-goblin at work? According to the article, the protesters have been transferring their money to different banks in defiance of Gringotts’ blatant sexism.
If only Witch Weekly would do some sort of coverage about it. We have a politics section, but it’s usually full of headlines like “Headmaster Longbottom Vetoes Flattering School Uniforms.” I try to imagine pitching the idea of covering the Female Goblin Coalition to Mr. Ward, who has gleaned all his information on women from this magazine and thinks our heads are filled with body glitter rather than opinions.
I snort to myself. Yeah, that would go over well.
There is a picture in the Oracle Underground of Grimma Longfinger, the commanding voice for this entire uproar, giving a speech to a crowd of witches and female goblins alike. I even see a few men in the crowd. She stands at a podium upon several stacked boxes so that she may be seen, delivering a very animated speech while the crowd cheers. They wave their wands above their heads and write things in the air like NO SUPPORT UNTIL WE HAVE WORK.
“Bravo for them,” I say to myself, rubbing my throbbing temple absentmindedly.
Someone comes to stand over my shoulder. When I glance up I am more than pleased to see Theo, one of the magazine’s photographers, examining the article. He’s absolutely stunning and he knows it, which should sicken me. But there’s no window in my little area of the office, so it’s nice to have something to look at all day. He was a Slytherin back in school and usually kept to himself, although we’d had a few brief conversations over the years.
Theo’s eyes are on the photo of Grimma. “I think that’s so fantastic,” he says in that soft-spoken way of his.
“Isn’t it!” I only notice how loudly I speak when having a conversation with him.
He sits on the corner of my desk and I can’t say that I mind. He’s wearing a loose-fitting beanie, a v-neck tee shirt and a scarf. It doesn’t make any sense. But God, he wears impractical so well. I do my best to cross my legs sexily but don’t have enough space under my desk and end up awkwardly squeezing them together instead.
Theo doesn’t seem to notice. “Have you heard? There’s going to be a huge protest outside Gringotts next month. Grimma Longfinger is going to deliver another speech,” he says. He holds up his magical camera, which is constantly around his neck. “Can’t wait to get it all on film.”
“Really!” I say. One because I can’t picture Theo, the bathing-costume model photographer, giving a damn about women’s rights, and two because I can’t wait to go to the protest myself. Maybe I could drag Lisa along. She’s usually too polite to tell me when I’m boring her with all of my feminist talk.
Theo smiles in response, but then somebody calls his name from down the corridor. “See you,” he tilts his chin up in a farewell before sauntering away. I’m still smiling after him like an idiot, actually leaned over with my head hanging out of the doorway to get a look at his bum, when--
Theo had caused me to forget my throbbing head, but oh, there it is! As she passed by in her stuffy jumper and tweed skirt, Mildred has dropped another enormous stack of parchments on my desk. It lands on the Oracle Underground with a sound that rattles my poor brain.
I squeeze my head as if trying to choke out the hangover. “Thank you Mildred,” I call bitingly.
A new and equally useless assignment. I dare to crack one eye open and check the hourglass mounted on the wall. It’s 10:51. Like clockwork, I tell you.
Mildred is Mr. Ward’s secretary. I have no idea how she’s lasted at WW this long. Not only is she ancient, but for a magazine run by very fashionable girls even younger than me, she sure does dress a lot like Madame Pince.
It’s no secret that she didn’t want me for the internship. Apparently she’d set her sights on some other girl to fill the position. A real Mildred-in-the-making. Top marks, already had a degree in journalism, hundreds of extra-curriculars at uni, volunteered at a library and an owl rescue society. Just give her a bad treacle fudge recipe and a couple of pet canaries and she was well on her way to spinsterhood.
But this year Tallulah Blakeslee, Witch Weekly’s editor in chief, said that she did not want to head the intern programme. Her plate was too full--and can you blame an editor in chief for thinking so? The project was pushed off onto executive editor Mr. Ward. Of course he didn’t have an opinion on the matter of interns at all. But before Mildred could sink her claws into a position for her little protege, my knight in shining armor stepped in: Dean. He claimed to still owe me after buying him the quill that kept him in art school. He’s worked on commission before as a political cartoonist for the Daily Prophet, and had met quite a few folks in the journalism industry. One happened to be dear friends with Mr. Ward. Dean had him pull a few strings and Bam! Sorry, Mildred II.
I often try to remind myself that no matter how horrible things are at Witch Weekly, it is going to look amazing on my CV. And I am excellent at telling little white lies. For example, Brought Mr. Ward his cappuccino every effing day could easily translate to Insured that editor of magazine received daily deliveries. (To be fair, I make a pretty mean soy-hazelnut-caramel cappuccino and do not entirely blame Mr. Ward for wanting them so often.)
I massage my temples and glare at the parchments Mildred had dropped. This was the second stack of the day, and the first she had slammed down even harder. That banshee had to be doing this on purpose. Just because she’s never been hung over on the job. Just because she’s never had a life doesn’t mean she needs to take it out on me! Sure, it’s not the most professional way of handling myself at my internship. But I’m only twenty-six, for Merlin’s sake, it’s not like I’m leaving with pension any time soon. Plenty of time to improve. Besides, I see it as equal repayment for how the internship has been conducted thus far. For example, today my job has been spell-checking Mr. Ward’s correspondence and then owling them. It only takes a moment when using magic but really, should an editor need a spell-checker?
Mildred’s been exploiting my headache because she knows that I partied like last night was 1999. This is due to an unfortunate chance encounter we had in WW’s kitchens.
I was in the midst of pouring a pain-relieving potion into my coffee from a flask. One of those stainless steel cauldrons that extracts all the saturated fats from your food was bubbling away on the table, and emitting a nauseating smell. Between those new contraptions and the stylish little bracelets that monitor calorie intake and quip motivational things like, “You’ve almost dropped a whole trousers size, don’t give up now!” when it senses you eyeing a cupcake, the Witch Weekly office is a whole other world to me. Huge moving photographs of waifish girls and boys with impossibly immaculate hair dominate the walls. They keep pretty quiet, pouting their lips and posing, but they do eye you judgmentally as you walk by. The WW building is ancient and made of stone, but much of the interior is a blinding white that does not lend itself to hangovers.
The kitchen is slightly easier to handle, as it’s in the dungeons and there are no windows. Muttering under my breath, I cursed myself for being so irresponsible the night before, and Seamus for that fifth shot of Firewhiskey--bleugh. I felt my stomach lurch at the mere thought. And curse Angus for that free Guinness on top of it all.
“Stop thinking about it!” I said aloud, charming my coffee to stir itself.
There was a quiet “ahem” from behind. With my back to the door I hadn’t seen Shelob, as Dean and I call her, drop down from her web. Mildred stepped into the room, and then some. She really has a knack for standing entirely too close for comfort.
“Wotcher, Mildred,” I said, playfully tapping her arm with my fist. I might as well have called her Tiger or Chief.
I saw her beady eyes land on the pocket of my skirt, where I had stashed my flask. “Oh!” I laughed, whipping it back out. “This. No, not a flask. Well it is a flask. But it’s not what you’d think, although a little hair of the dog probably wouldn’t hurt right now, if you know what I mean!” I laughed and elbowed her in a chummy way.
What is wrong with me?
I cleared my throat and shifted around, preparing for a second try. “No, Mildred, it’s just a bit of pain-reliever. See, I did a little of the...” I winked dramatically and gestured as if drinking from a bottle, “...last night. It’s not really a big hobby of mine, in fact I’m rarely known to indulge in an adult beverage.” Lies. She knows. Panicking. “Well, it’s just that last night the Kenmare Kestrels beat the absolute shit out of Flanders. Er, sorry, I meant--beat the--the living daylights out of ‘em.”
Mildred hadn’t so much as blinked. I was losing steam. Which is pretty impressive, seeing as my babbling capabilities are endless. “...So I went out on the town...” I was now whispering.
There was a long silence.
“Miss Lennox,” Mildred began sternly. I managed to exhale an “Oh thank Merlin” that she was finally speaking before she continued, “May I remind you that this is the headquarters of Witch Weekly. You have been given the honor of serving Britain’s largest-selling magazine publication for women. There are, quite literally, thousands of other young women in London who would kill to have your position.”
I began to see where this was going.
“There is a blue folder currently sitting on my desk, which contains the contact information for each and every one of them. I suggest that you don’t give me reason to use it.”
In the time she had delivered her little speech I had gone from standing as I normally do, tall with a hand on my hip, to huddling over my coffee as if it was the only thing keeping me alive. “Yes ma’am,” I found myself whispering.
Mildred had a point, the crazy old bat. I had overstepped the boundaries of professionalism. How was I supposed to make anyone around here respect me if I showed up hungover or still a little tipsy from the night before? (Sadly the latter has happened more than I’d like to admit.) For once, it seemed, Mildred and I actually agreed on something. She even made what I’m sure was her first attempt to smile of this century.
Then she patted me on the cheek, and there was definitely some force behind it. “Good girl.”
My jaw dropped but the she-vulture had already swooped through the doorway. And this was actually a pretty good day at my internship.
I am carrying out my lunch break as usual: alone at my desk, eating a bowl of instant tomato soup and trying my hardest not to dribble on the pages Mr. Ward is having me proofread. I am doing my best to take Mildred’s words to heart, while simultaneously putting the cheek-pat out of my mind. A thousand other girls would kill for this job. Hard to believe. But maybe I’m just being ridiculous. As futile as my day-to-day work around here is, I really have landed a good spot for the internship. And apparently I could be replaced at the drop of the Sorting Hat... Maybe it really is time to step things up. Which is why I am currently dedicating my precious lunchtime to getting a record amount of proofreading done for the day.
I can’t help the bitter, That’ll show the old wretch that creeps into my mind.
On my trip to the kitchens for my fourth cup of coffee--I have a problem, I know--I pass Rose Zeller, the closest thing I have to a friend here. Our “friendship” is a mutual understanding that we’re just using one another to pass the time away. I’m there to listen to her boy problems--or pretend to, while I bewitch office supplies to play Quidditch--and she nods her head absently through my incessant rabbiting.
It took quite some time for me to get over my initial dislike. Well, jealousy is probably (definitely) more accurate. Rose is three years younger than me and already has a paid position as a writer for Witch Weekly. Back at Hogwarts I was practicing journalism before she’d even hit puberty, and look at where we are now! She can be a bit dramatic and dear Christ, if I have to listen to her talk about Theo’s “perfectly sculpted bum” one more time. She had attempted to woo him, which had only resulted in several one-night stands, which apparently left her heartbroken. Our habit of nature kicked back up and she used me to listen to her Theo problems, and I seized the opportunity to have a female drinking buddy. Times were hard after Lisa went back to Justin and started going to bed at 9:00 after their fondue parties or wine tastings or what have you.
I offer Rose a wave as we pass one another, to which she only sighs heavily and continues storming down the corridor. Merlin, what’s up everyone’s arse today? I decide to blame it on lack of coffee.
I am in the midst of pouring my cup, and am probably smiling at it a little too much, when Rose enters the room. She runs a hand through her silky dark hair and sighs again. “I’m sorry, Edie,” she says and there is a moment of silence. Clearly I am to ask her what is wrong. I take the bait. Maybe if she’s upset enough she’ll be down for a pint after work.
“Alright?” I ask and sip from my coffee.
Rose is wearing a purple and orange blouse, turquoise pencil skirt and purple pumps. She wears chunky red glasses that I don’t think she actually needs. Aside from being insanely fashionable she’s a very pretty girl. At first I was surprised at her being single, but after spending more time with her began to pick up on her borderline psychopathic attachment to boys.
Seamus even asked me to set them up once, when he visited WW to bring me Chinese takeaway (he’s softer than you’d think.) By that time Rose had already drunkenly revealed that she often walked by Theo’s flat at the precise time of morning that he went to get coffee--9:36--in the hopes of staging a run-in. So I spared Seamus on that one, telling him that she was actually into girls. Of course that only set him off even more, but eventually it faded. Unfortunately so did his desire to randomly drop by with food.
Rose is saying something. Right. Supposed to be listening. I notice a folder in her hands and wonder what’s in it. “It’s this stupid assignment,” she sighs heavily.
I quirk an eyebrow and bite my tongue. I don’t think you understand how enormous of an accomplishment this is for me. At least you have assignments, I internalise. Bury it deep down inside. Healthy, Edie. I hoist myself up until I’m sitting on the table, because I know Mildred hates it. Maybe she’ll walk in. I’m feeling very passive-aggressive today.
“What’s wrong with the assignment?” I manage.
“Well,” she begins. “It’s an interview piece, for the sports section. It was sprung on me last-minute, on top of a cover story and organising our spread for new winter coats.” I am having a very hard time feeling sorry for her. She goes on, “I mean, it’s a really big piece. For this month’s issue. That gives me, what? Just over a week to have it done from start to finish. And it would require a really in-depth interview. On top of me knowing absolutely nothing about Quidditch--”
“Mmm,” I barely manage to turn my rage into a loud and monosyllabic grunt, amplified by my coffee cup. I should have the article, I love Quidditch! I probably still have Kestrel-green paint on my face from the night before.
“Listen,” I butt in. “I just remembered. I have a--thing.”
She quirks an eyebrow, clearly not buying it as I hop off the counter. “Oh?” she says flatly.
“Yeah. Really huge. Urgent. You know, one of those stop the presses! type ordeals.” I am backing away, mostly to put her out of arm’s reach because I want to slap her. “But hey, really rotten luck with being handed a monumental piece like that. Especially amidst all of those other pesky cover stories.” It’s all I can do to walk away calmly.
As I head down the corridors I realize my hands are clenched into fists, my left threatening to crack the handle of my coffee mug. (Just because I think it is entirely worth mentioning, my coffee mug is one of three that I had made for Dean, Seamus and I. It has a giant red heart on it with a photograph of our three faces smiling hugely. Every few seconds one of us winks. Gets me every time. Except right now, when we look to be mocking me.)
I sit down heavily at my desk. Maybe I was a little too hard on Rose. But going day-in, day-out in a place like this where somebody like me, who is dying to become a writer, is completely ignored is infuriating. More than infuriating. The stack of parchments that need to be proofread has multiplied in my absence. I scoot my bowl of soup over to a corner, where it won’t be in the way. Suddenly I’m not very hungry.
Usually when Mr. Ward calls me into his office, it’s to ask me for a cup of tea or to copy a stack of parchment. I remember the first time it happened, I was so sure that I was about to be handed a major assignment. Beaming, I had marched all the way down to his office, wondering exactly which area of the magazine in which I’d be working. Wardrobe. No, Layout? Maybe even photography!
Well, in the end, the task Ward gave me was serious... -ly irritating.
“Read it back to me, Edith,” he had said calmly.
I paused for a moment and recited, “Smoked, not baked, ham. Spicy, not yellow, mustard. Spinach and one tomato slice. Lightly toasted on two slices of whole-grain bread.”
He smiled and nodded the whole way as if I were reciting The Iliad from memory. When I had finished he said, “Excellent work. I’m very confident that you’ll do well. You do know where Broomhilda’s Kitchen is located?”
Ever since that day I have lost all faith in Mr. Ward.
Today when I walk into his office with my quill at the ready, he is in the midst of editing something. I stop in the doorway, unsure, but he waves me in without lifting his eyes. Mr. Ward is in his late fifties I would say, with a long horse-like face and badly parted hair. The way he is currently reading the parchment looks very affected and I stand uncomfortably as he finishes his work.
Owls periodically swoop in and out of the office, nearly colliding with one another, dropping parcels and letters onto a second wooden desk. (I’m not sure why we haven’t taken a page from The Ministry’s book and moved on to paper airplanes, but I’ve learned not to question the decisions made here.) The papers magically sort themselves, a constant blur of dozens of little envelopes.
My eyes wander around the office. An enormous window overlooks the streets of Diagon Alley where passers-by shuffle about their daily business. Mounted to the walls are countless journalism awards, honourary degrees, and other recognitions. In fact there are so many that Mr. Ward has charmed them to shift around so that they may all be seen. This has always been a surprise to me, as I consider Mr. Ward to be completely incompetent. Yet my eyes land on a photograph in which he is shaking hands with the Minister of Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt. Keep writing! is scrawled in the bottom corner, though as I study it closer the penmanship actually looks a lot like Mr. Ward’s.
I don’t have much time to examine it before everything shifts around again. At the same time Mr. Ward makes his last editing mark with an exaggerated flourish before tossing the parchment over his shoulder.
“Sit, Edith,” he says.
For a moment I am caught off guard. Usually whatever he requires of me is insignificant enough that it can be fully communicated from a standing position. The chair is small and uncomfortable and I sit awkwardly while he rearranges his tie. The wall shifts again and the dizzying effect causes my headache to return with a vengeance. I do my best to focus entirely on Mr. Ward’s face as he says fondly, “Edith, Edith, Edith. I have to say, you’ve done very well with all of your assignments so far.”
I fight the deadpan expression that is trying to take over my face. The last assignment of any real substance Ward had given me was to help decide between two equally awful necklaces for his wife's anniversary gift.
He continues, “You have definitely proven yourself to be a valuable part of Witch Weekly. I’d say it’s time for you to take on a...much bigger task.”
I almost don’t believe him. My heart skips a beat. I dare not even open my mouth in case I somehow jinx everything. He says, “The magazine is going to be partaking in an absolutely huge event at Gringotts next month.” He adds with a half-smile, “I’m sure you know exactly which event I’m talking about.”
My face is flushed with excitement. The Female Goblin Coalition rally! Finally, Witch Weekly is going to run more stories than celebrity scandals and best- and worst-dressed. Something of actual substance. And they want me to help. Me! I can finally prove that I’m good for more than a cappuccino!
Mr. Ward folds his hands on his desk and leans forward. I can smell his coffee breath. I don’t care. Whatever assignment this is, having a hand in covering this protest is a life-changing opportunity.
“Edith,” he says. This time I don’t even mind the use of my full name. He pauses. Slight dramatic exhale. “We need you.”
“I will be there!” I gush, emphatically poking the surface of his desk.
But I do this just as he is saying, “To man the refreshments table.”
I cannot stop the “HA!” of disbelief that escapes me. My finger jams harder into the wood grain of the desk. You have got to be joking. Mr. Ward is beaming back like an idiot. “So,” I begin, “this isn’t about the Female Goblin Coalition strike.”
He makes a “Pfft” sound and shoos away the very idea with his hand. “Of course not. Bunch of whinging midgets in skirts, the lot of them.” I open my mouth to protest in horror but he barrels on, “No, Gringotts is holding the reception for the annual WNSG--that’s the Wizarding News Society Gala, Edith--and we are of course attending. It’s just next month, can’t believe you haven’t heard about it.”
As if on cue, a passing owl drops a piece of parchment on my head with a screech. I snatch the parchment, crumpling it a little more than necessary, and bring it to my eye level. “Gringotts Bank Presents the Six-Hundredth Annual Wizarding News Society Gala,” I read barely above a whisper. There was a horrible little illustration of goblin and a business-wizard chortling together over brandy.
“So, what do you say,” says Mr. Ward. He leans back and rests his hands behind his head. I am half expecting him to prop up his expensive dragonhide shoes. “Are you our girl?”
I stare in disbelief, still clutching the parchment. The magazine is actually supporting Gringotts with everything that is going on right now? A publication marketed to women is associating with a blatantly sexist institution? I want to shout that I know what the WNSG is, that I quit, that I’m a better journalist than he has ever bothered to find out. But this internship is all the real-life journalism experience that I have...
In a resigned sing-song, I say, “I’m your girl.”
“Great!” he exclaims, lightly slapping the arms of his chair. Without another word he picks up a parchment and quill and gets to work, doing whatever it is that he does all day. Not that I could possibly know, since as my mentor he hasn’t actually told me what his job entails.
I take this as my cue to leave, forgetting my shoulderbag in all of my shock. I allow myself to stand there, waiting, as if he may suddenly shout “Just kidding!” But Mr. Ward is far too intent on his work to notice. I turn and walk to the door.
“Oh, and Edith?” he calls.
I stop in my tracks and squeeze my eyes shut. Do NOT hex your future character reference, I repeat to myself. It has become my mantra over the past few months. I manage a bright “Yes,” as I turn on my heel.
He looks at me with sentimental appreciation, like somebody who can’t believe how quickly their child has grown. “I would absolutely love a cup of tea,” he nods emphatically.
“Of course,” I reply through my teeth and set off to find his preferred brand, Madame Puddifoot’s Authentic English Breakfast. Decaffeinated, the twat.
Author's note: Hello everyone, and thank you so much for checking out my story. I've gone back and edited this chapter, as per lovely reviews' suggestions that I include more description of WW headquarters and the like :) Also, thanks to princesspatience, ghostfire, EnigmaticEyes16 and JJFuzzyhead on the forums for their help creating grunt-work for Edie to do at her internship.
Thanks again, and please review! I absolutely live for that stuff :)