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Keep Calm and Carry On by my_voice_rising
Chapter 2: The Job Thousands would Kill For
To no one’s surprise, the next day my head feels like it’s undergoing the Cruciatus Curse. Despite this I am trying to read my favourite newpaper, the Oracle Underground. This is a feat in and of itself.
The watery morning sun that filters into my corner of the Charm headquarters is a poor reading light. Squinting at the headlines, I warm my hands around the tiny flame I’ve charmed onto the desk (a dangeous task while hung over, it became clear). I breathe onto my hands. If light to see by isn’t something the magazine values for its interns, then warmth certainly isn’t either.
This damp corner of the building is where they cram all of the interns. It’s a bit like the Hogwarts dungeons. Something about it feels very Charles Dickens, like at any moment I could be struck with a bout of consumption. A constant drip, coming from God knows where, echoes in the quiet. The trendy part of the building is upstairs. With gleaming white brick and polished stone floors, it’s reserved for those on payroll. There the corridors echo with the clicking of high heels and magical typewriters, like the drumbeat on a Viking ship. Huge moving photographs of waifish models dominate the walls. They keep pretty quiet, containing themselves to the occasional scoff at the food I eat for lunch.
Not helping my grim surroundings is my long-since dead potted plant. A gift from my Mum, meant to brighten my desk, it barely lasted a week. I am the only Hufflepuff to ever receive a T in Herbology. Eventually Professor Sprout assigned me strictly to clear-up duty.
My stomach rumbles. My shoulder bag is charmed to fit a million things, and I know that there’s a cheese sandwich in there somewhere. After searching shoulder-deep for several minutes, I extract the sandwich wrapped in parchment—But even the smell of food turns my stomach.
With an inhuman sound I toss the sandwich onto the desk. “This is the last time I come to work hung over,” I vow, just like I did last week.
Turning my bleary eyes back to the newspaper, I try to focus. (I’ve only got another few minutes before my internship advisor will create another menial task.) The article I’m reading is about the Female Goblin Coalition strike happening at Gringotts. For the past several months they’ve been protesting the bank for refusing them employment. Of course, it’s all under the table; no Goblin in his right mind would actually admit that Gringotts won’t hire 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 withdrawing all of their funds in defiance.
There’s a photograph as well. Grimma Longfinger, the commanding voice for the Female Goblin Coalition, delivers a speech to a crowd of Goblins, witches and wizards alike. She stands on several stacked boxes, her beady black eyes full of fire. I’ve heard that she’s an amazing public speaker. The crowd waves their wands overhead, the sparkling letters that appear forming mantras like EQUAL RIGHTS FOR ALL.
“Bravo for them,” I say.
If only Charm would do some sort of media coverage. We have a politics section, but it usually features a celebrity who donated to a cause. The articles talk about Poppy Lockhart giving up meat, and how her skin is glowing because of it, rather than the actual animals she’s saving.
I try to imagine pitching an article on the FGC to Mr. Ward, my internship advisor, who seems to think women’s heads are filled with body glitter rather than opinions.
I snort. Yeah, that would go swimmingly.
Ward didn’t even know my name for the first two weeks. Now that we’re past that little hiccup, he always calls me “Edith,” my full name. He really draws out that first “E” too, jutting out his jaw and all. I glance at the stack of his correspondence that I’ve spell-checked today. It only takes a moment with magic, but really, should an editor need a Spell Checker Spell?
Why a man like him works for Charm is beyond me. The rumour is that he was a disgraced writer for a men’s quarterly magazine, and was only taken on here because he literally got on his knees and begged.
To be fair, Charm isn’t the worst publication. It does promote young girls being strong, having opinions, and the like. Unfortunately those articles are wedged in-between the “Healthiest Snacks to Trim Fat” and “Ways to Make Him Say ‘Ahh.’”
The magical world certainly has its fair share of gossip rags, and the Prophet has gone to seed. But there are so many important things happening in the world, now that everything’s different. After the War, people are able to make positive, constructive changes in their lives. We’ve taken a step in the right direction, but how many times can a Witch want to find out the right bikini for her body type? (Apparently quite often. Charm is the second highest-selling magazine for witches in the UK, after Witch Weekly.)
Fighting a groan, I turn back at the Oracle Underground. It’s certainly not pretty; a largely homegrown operation has its printing hiccups, typos and layout issues. But I would give my left leg for a job there.
Someone is standing at my desk—probably somebody with another mindless task. But with a glance up, I’m more than pleased to see Theo Nott, one of the magazine’s photographers. Like magic, the hangover is gone.
Theo is absolutely stunning. And he knows it. Usually I would find that kind of person unattractive out of spite, as if I could teach them a lesson by not giving them a second glance (at least when they were looking.) But the window in my little corner looks directly onto the exterior of the next building over. It’s nice to have something else to stare at. And I’ve heard more than one Charm employee whispering about Theo’s exceptional bum.
His eyes are on the photo of Grimma Longfinger. “Brilliant, eh?” he says in that soft-spoken way of his.
“I know right!” I always notice how loudly I speak around him.
He sits on the corner of my desk and I can’t say that I mind. He’s wearing a beanie, a v-neck tee shirt and a scarf. It doesn’t make any sense. Hot body, cold neck? 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 kicking him.
“There’s goinna be a huge protest outside Gringotts next month. Grimma Longfinger is going to deliver another speech. Can’t wait to get it on film,” he says. His magical camera is, of course, slung over his shoulder. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him without it.
“Really!” I have to fight my surprise. 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.
“Well, I mean,” I tuck my hair behind my ear. Theo toys with his camera, oblivious. “Maybe we could go together?”
He smiles with a quiet snort of laughter, as if I had told a joke, and goes back to his camera.
Then somebody calls his name from down the corridor and he stands to his feet, tilting his chin in a farewell. “See ya.”
“Right, at the rally then! Bye, Theo! Bye!”
I’m still smiling after him like an idiot, actually leaned over my desk to get a look at his bum, when—
As she passes by, in an outfit comprised of London’s entire tweed reserves, Mildred drops a stack of parchments onto my desk. It rattles my poor brain. I squeeze my head as if trying to choke out the hangover.
“Thank you Mildred!” I call in a desperate-to-please voice. She doesn’t so much as glance my way.
Mildred is Mr. Ward’s secretary. Kind of the second-in-command over my internship. I have no idea how she’s lasted this long at Charm. The woman can’t be over forty-five, but everything about her reminds me of my great-aunt. For someone working at a magazine run by fashionable girls even younger than me, she sure does dress a lot like Madame Pince.
It’s no secret that Mildred didn’t want me for the internship. Apparently she’d set her sights on another girl to fill the position. Top marks, already had a degree in journalism, hundreds of extra-curriculars at uni, volunteered at a library and an owl rescue.
But this year Tallulah Blakeslee, the editor in chief, said that she didn’t want to head the intern programme. The project was pushed onto the executive editor, Mr. Ward. Before Mildred could sink her claws into a position for her protégé, my knight in shining armor stepped in: Dean. He’s done some commissioned illustrations for Charm, and is a client of Matilda Vane, a dear friend of Mr. Ward. Dean pulled a few strings, and here I am.
“And here I am,” I grumble.
I glare at the parchments. Mildred has already got it out for me, and today is not helping. Sure, being hungover at work is not the most professional way of handling myself. But I’m only twenty-six, for Merlin’s sake. It’s not like I’m retiring with pension any time soon.
Unfortunately, Mildred knows that I partied like last night was 1999, due to an encounter today in the kitchens.
I was in the midst of pouring a pain-relieving potion into my coffee from a flask. A stainless steel cauldron that magically removes saturated fat was bubbling away on the table, emitting a nauseating smell. (Charm is a brave new world to me, as my diet consists of cheese and Chocolate Frogs. I’ve also become familiar with those stylish little bracelets that monitor calorie intake and quip motivational things like, “You’re almost down a whole dress size, don’t give up now!” when it catches you eyeing a cupcake.)
The kitchen of Charm is in the basement, and nice and dark This morning I spent a little more time than necessary in there, hiding from the light like a vampire that subsists only on alcohol. As I stirred the pain-relieving potion into my coffee, I cursed myself for being so irresponsible, and Seamus for that last shot of Firewhiskey—
My stomach lurched at the thought. And curse Angus for the free Guinness on top of it all.
There was a quiet “Ahem,” from behind. With my back to the door I hadn’t seen Shelob, as Dean calls 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 had said. Her eyes landed on the pocket of my skirt, where I had stashed my flask. I laughed, whipping it back out, “Oh! 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!”
What is wrong with me?
“No, it’s just a bit of pain-reliever. See, last night I did a little of the...” I winked dramatically and gestured as if drinking from a bottle. And then, with horror, I realized that I must have still been drunk, because I suddenly couldn’t stop talking.
“It’s not a big hobby of mine, in fact I’m rarely known to indulge in an adult beverage. But last night the Kenmare Kestrels beat the absolute shit out of Flanders. Er, sorry, I meant—beat the living daylights out of ‘em.”
There was a long silence. Mildred seemed to be waiting for the red haze to fade from her vision. At last she snapped, “Miss Lennox. You may not take this internship seriously, but may I remind you that this is Charm magazine. You have been given the honour of serving Britain’s highest-selling magazine for women.”
“There are, quite literally, thousands of other young witches who would kill to have your position. These women are, in most cases, more qualified and certainly more dedicated.”
I began to see where this was going.
“There is a parchment in the third drawer of my desk, containing the contact information for each and every one of these women. I suggest that you don’t give me reason to use it.”
By the time she had finished, I had grown three feet shorter and my face was scarlet. Huddled over my coffee, I whispered, “Yes ma’am.”
“And you may consider this your final warning.”
Then she turned and marched out like a soldier. If the soldier were also a grandmother.
I am carrying out my lunch break as usual: alone, and at my desk. The tin of Cauldrons and Bats soup (named for the shapes of noodles) tastes like salt and not much else. I spot one lonely piece of carrot in the murky broth. I try not to dribble it on my proofreading.
A thousand other girls would kill for this job. Hard to believe. But 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’m spending my precious lunchtime finishing a record amount of proofreading.
On the trip for my fourth cup of coffee I pass Rose Zeller, the closest thing I have to a friend here. By “friend,” I mean that we have a mutual understanding that we’re using one another to pass the time. I’m there to listen to her problems with boys and work—or pretend to, while I bewitch office supplies to play Quidditch—and she nods absently through my complaints about Lisa and being skint. Our one shared opinion is about Theo’s perfectly sculpted bum (Seriously. Think Michalengelo’s David.)
Our “friendship” started a few months back, when Rose and Theo had a one night stand. She needed someone to talk to who knew him. And Lisa was on some yoga retreat in Bali, so I was eager for a female drinking buddy.
It took quite some time to get over my initial jealousy. (And by “get over” I mean “compartmentalize and never fully confront, while it continues to fester and occasionally manifests in passive-aggressiveness.”) Rose is three years younger than me and has a journalism career. At Hogwarts, I was writing before she’d even hit puberty.
Today, she’s wearing a turquoise pencil skirt and her signature red-framed glasses. I offer a wave. She only sighs heavily and storms past.
Rose isn’t all bad. She can be fun, most of the time. Not to mention that she’s beautiful in a Hipster-Maleficent way: her skin glows freakishly white, and her grey eyes are in a constant deadpan that most guys find irresistible.
I am in the midst of pouring my fourth coffee, and am probably smiling at it a bit too much, when Rose enters. She runs a hand through her dark hair stressfully. “I’m sorry, Edie.”
There is a moment of silence. Clearly I am to ask her what is wrong. I take the bait; maybe she’s upset enough for a pint later. “Alright?” I sip my coffee.
She holds a folder of parchments in her hand. “It’s this stupid assignment.”
Hoisting myself up, I sit on the heavy wooden table because Mildred hates it. “What’s wrong with it?”
“It’s an interview for our Quidditch section. It was sprung on me last-minute, on top of a cover story and organising our spread for winter coats.”
I’m having a very hard time feeling sorry for her.
“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 knowing absolutely nothing about Quidditch—”
“Mmm!” I barely manage to turn my rage into a noise indicating agreement.
Rose is still talking but the words are washed over by the sudden rush of jealousy. I should have that article! I probably still have Kestrel green paint on my face.
“Listen, I just remembered. I have a…thing.”
She quirks an eyebrow, clearly not buying it, “Really.”
“Yeah. Really huge, actually.” I back away, mostly to put her out of throttling range. “But hey, rotten luck with being handed a monumental piece like that. Especially amidst all of those other cover stories.”
“Uh, yeah, I guess.” Her face has fallen into annoyance. She’s caught on to my childishness, but I don’t care. Obviously this is a sore spot for me; she knows I didn’t apply to be a bloody intern here. I dart out the door.
I sit heavily at my desk and I loosen my death grip around the coffee mug. Maybe I was too hard on Rose. But it’s infuriating to go day-in, day-out in this place where somebody like me, dying to become a writer, is ignored. More than infuriating.
The stack of parchments to proofread has doubled, meaning Mildred is still angry with me. I push my bowl of soup to the corner. Suddenly I’m not very hungry.
Usually when Mr. Ward calls me into his office, it’s to ask for a cup of tea. I remember the first time it happened. I was so sure that I was about to be handed a major assignment. Beaming, I had practically skipped all the way up the stairs to his office, wondering exactly which area of the magazine in which I’d be working. Wardrobe. No, Layout? Maybe I’d even do some writing!
In the end, the task he gave me was serious...
“Read it back to me, Edith.”
My jaw was clenched so tightly I was surprised he could understand me. “Smoked ham, yellow mustard, spinach, one tomato slice, lightly toasted rye.”
He smiled and nodded, listening as if I were reciting The Iliad from memory. “Excellent work. I’m very confident that you’ll do well. You do know where Broomhilda’s Kitchen is located?”
That was the day I had lost all faith in Charm.
Today, when I walk into his office with my quill at the ready, he’s in the midst of editing something. He waves me in without lifting his head. Mr. Ward is in his fifties, with a long, horse-like face and badly parted hair. The way he is currently reading the parchment looks very affected, a finger under his chin.
I stand uncomfortably as owls swoop in and out, dropping parcels and letters onto a second wooden desk. The papers magically sort themselves, a constant blur of envelopes. Behind the desk, an enormous window overlooks the streets of Diagon Alley where people go 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. Apparently, what he lacks in common sense and social graces, he makes up for in writing.
My eyes land on a photograph of him shaking hands with the Minister of Magic. Keep writing! is scrawled in the corner, though the penmanship actually looks a lot like Mr. Ward’s.
With a final exaggerated flourish of his quill, he smiles toothily. “Sit, Edith.”
Usually, whatever he needs is insignificant enough to be fully explained while standing. The chair is small and uncomfortable and I wait as he fixes his tie.
“Edith, Edith, Edith. I have to say, you’ve done very well with all of your assignments so far.” I fight the deadpan expression trying to take over as he says, “You have definitely proven yourself to be a valuable part here at Charm. 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. “Really?”
“The magazine is going to partake in an important event at Gringotts next month. I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about.”
The Female Goblin Coalition rally! Charm is going to run a story with actual substance. And they want me to help. Me!
Mr. Ward folds his hands on his desk and leans forward. I can smell his coffee breath. I don’t care. “Edith.” 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 my “HA!” of disbelief. My finger jams harder into the woodgrain. You have got to be joking. Mr. Ward is still smiling as if frozen. “So…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 in horror but he barrels on, “No, Gringotts is holding the reception for the annual WNSG—that’s the Wizarding News Society Gala—and we are of course attending. It’s just next month. Can’t believe you haven’t heard about it.”
On cue, an owl drops a parchment on my head with a screech. I snatch the flyer, crumpling it slightly. Gringotts Bank Presents the 218th Annual Wizarding News Association Gala. There is a horrible illustration of Goblin and a business-wizard chortling over brandy.
“So, what do you say?” Mr. Ward rests his hands behind his head. I’m waiting for 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 right now? A publication marketed to women is associating with a blatantly sexist institution? I want to shout that I already knew what the WNAG is, that I quit, that I’m a better journalist than he has ever bothered to find out. But this internship is all the journalism experience that I have...
“I’m your girl.”
“Great!” He slaps the arms of his chair. Then, without another word he picks up his quill and gets back 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 rise to my feet but stand there, waiting, as if he may suddenly shout, “Just kidding! You’re our new columnist.” But he doesn’t even look up. I turn to the door.
“Oh, and Edith?”
I squeeze my eyes shut. Do not hex your character reference, do not hex your character reference… It’s become my mantra over the past few months.
I turn and manage a bright, “Yes?”
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 say through my teeth and set off to find his preferred brand, Madame Puddifoot’s Earl Grey. Decaffeinated, the arse.
Author's note: Hello everyone, and thank you so much for checking out my story. Thanks to princesspatience, ghostfire, EnigmaticEyes16 and JJFuzzyhead on the forums for their help creating grunt-work for Edie at her internship ♥